Sexual assault cases involving evangelical Christian leaders are no less common, it seems, than incidents in the Catholic Church or the Southern Baptist Convention. A story documented in the New York Times today by Elizabeth Dias has all the ingredients we’ve come to expect in these cases: A family that misplaced trust in religious leaders, a church that refuses to be transparent about its process, and an apparent cover-up to protect the church itself.
Last year, Matt and Christi Bragg informed leaders at the Village Church in Texas that their 11-year-old daughter had allegedly been abused while attending the church’s 2012 summer camp. The culprit was eventually identified as Matthew Tonne, an associate children’s minister, who has since been arrested by local police.
But the church’s pastor Matt Chandler (below) never told the congregation about those allegations in conjunction with Tonne’s name.
He told everyone there was an allegation of abuse by a member but that the unnamed culprit did not have “access to children at the Village Church”… which was only technically true because Tonne no longer worked there. He had separately emailed the congregation to say Tonne was leaving the church due to an “alcohol abuse problem.” When a group called MinistrySafe, which is meant to prevent church abuse, got involved, the Braggs soon learned the company’s leaders were also legal advisers for the church.
It’s just a huge mess in every way. The church and Chandler never responded to Dias’ questions about their handling of all of this. Even when church leaders were in a mediation session with the Braggs, no pastors showed up and no resolution was reached. All we hear from Village Church are platitudes about caring for members, and praying for truth, and doing all they can to protect kids… but there sure as hell is no movement to make their actions more transparent.
Instead, the Church just offered bromides like this:
The church paid for Ms. Bragg to have eight counseling sessions, and gave her family $1,000 at Christmas — not earmarked for her daughter’s care, but “to bless us,” Ms. Bragg said.
The Braggs no longer attend the Church. And if more members realized what the Village Church did to cover up an abuse allegation involving one of its own leaders, maybe they would leave too. No wonder Chandler doesn’t want anyone to find out. This is a church with five campuses in Dallas, 10,000 members, and a new $70 million building on the way. So what if a little girl is assaulted? No one needs to know the details.
If that’s what Jesus teaches these monsters, members of the church should get out of there before they start getting large checks from the pastor for no apparent reason.
(Screenshot via Vimeo)