As Southern Baptists continue to face scrutiny—and now a federal investigation—for the handling of sexual abuse cases, a Texas megachurch within the denomination has angered victim advocates with recent comments. After The Village Church, a large Dallas-area congregation led by Acts 29 president Matt Chandler, settled a high-profile abuse case earlier this month, it released a statement emphasizing its innocence.
The church also makes claims that the family of the alleged victim calls “not fully truthful, transparent, or caring for the traumatized.”
The Village Church: Criminal Charges Had Been Dropped in 2020
As Church Leaders has reported, a young woman filed a civil lawsuit against The Village Church in 2019 for $1 million. Speaking to the New York Times, her mother described an alleged sexual abuse incident at a church camp back in 2012, when the girl was 11. In 2018, the daughter first told her mother about the incident, naming Village Church children’s pastor Matt Tonne. The family made immediate reports to the church and law enforcement.
Although Tonne insisted he was innocent, he was fired—but congregants were told the reason was alcohol abuse. Tonne was indicted in 2019, but a year later prosecutors dropped the charges. “The complainant cannot and has not positively identified [Tonne] as the person who committed this offense,” they noted.
In its August 1 statement about the civil-suit settlement in the “Kids Camp Case,” The Village Church says: “With the dismissal of both the criminal and civil case, litigation has now come to an end. The safety of our children and the vulnerable among us has been, and remains, our highest priority. After a thorough and lengthy legal investigation, we maintain and firmly believe that we committed no wrong.”
The church adds it “will continue to take accusations of or suspicion of abuse seriously” and it prays “the individual and their family continues to heal and receive care following this resolution.”
Family’s Attorney: Client’s Testimony ‘Never Wavered’
“The attempt to communicate care in one sentence followed by language that invalidates and dismisses the merits of the victim’s claims is not the way to express care, compassion, and truth,” said the family in a statement responding to The Village Church.
The family’s legal team also pushed back against the church’s content and tone. Plaintiff’s attorney Boz Tchividjian tells Christianity Today, “Our client’s testimony regarding the assault and who committed it has never wavered. It’s tragic that The Village Church never really seemed to grasp that. We are so grateful to our client for taking the profoundly difficult and brave step forward to bring darkness to light in this egregious matter.”
On August 5, Tchividjian tweeted: “It’s been a profound privilege to represent this amazing family as they’ve traveled to hell…and back.
Sexual abuse victims and victim advocates also are taking The Village Church to task for its settlement statement. Author Mary DeMuth tweets that the post “sounded more like slick PR wording than lament over a devastated Jane Doe One. Question: would Jesus write a letter like this?”