A former children’s minister at a Southern Baptist megachurch in Texas has been indicted and is being prosecuted for indecency with a child stemming from allegations involving a minor at a church youth camp in 2012.
Matthew David Tonne, 35, former associate children’s minister at the The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, faces between two and 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine if convicted of indecency with a child by contact, a second-degree felony in the state’s penal code.
Tonne turned himself in to authorities and is out of jail on $25,000 bond.
Matt Chandler, pastor of the five-campus congregation attended by more than 10,000 people a week, told church members last September that police were investigating the six-year-old allegations after “the minor came to a place where it was possible to verbalize the memory of what happened for the first time through ongoing therapy.”
“We want to clearly state that there are no persons of interest in this investigation that have access to children at The Village Church,” said Chandler, president of the Acts 29 church-planting network. “We would not allow anyone who is under investigation for a crime like this be near children at TVC.”
Matt McCauley, family minister at The Village Church Flower Mound Campus, sent an e-mail last May saying Tonne was on leave of absence “for personal reasons” after 11 years of service. A June 15 e-mail from Chandler reported that Tonne was subsequently “removed” from the position due to “an alcohol problem.”
Tonne’s wife said on social media the dismissal was “because of some sin reasons I won’t get into on social media.” She added at a later date that she almost lost her husband to suicide.
According to his social media profile, Tonne works for a big-box electronics retailer and studies counseling at the University of North Texas.
In an update posted last Thursday, Village Church leaders addressed questions of whether Tonne’s firing had anything to do with the police investigation.
“We removed Matt from The Village Church staff in June of 2018 for other reasons, and we communicated those specific issues to our staff, as well as to members and volunteers in his ministry department at that time,” the statement said.
The new statement advised parents: “If your child has spent time under the ministry of the accused, then we believe it would be wise to have a discussion about this situation.” If they learn anything that might be helpful to the prosecution, church leaders urged parents to contact the investigating officer at the Cedar Hill Police Department.
In 2015 The Village Church made headlines for disciplining a member for annulling her marriage after learning her husband was addicted to child pornography. The woman reportedly had signed a membership covenant agreeing to seek reconciliation through church processes before filing for divorce. The husband was not disciplined, the church said, because he repented and entered counseling. Church leaders later apologized for mishandling their disciplinary process.
Chandler, 44, speaks regularly at national events sponsored by the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the agency working with convention president J.D. Greear to improve the denomination’s handling of abuse allegations.