John Ortberg, the senior pastor at California’s Menlo Church, is under fire for allowing his son, John Ortberg III, to work with minors after he knew of his son’s attraction to children, according to the Religion News Service.
The church released an official statement saying it is launching an additional investigation after its initial investigation into the matter didn’t go far enough. Ortberg III is not accused of any wrongdoing with children.
The statement, and several earlier statements from the church, did not name Ortberg III. However, Ortberg’s estranged son, Daniel Lavery, came forward in June as a whistleblower with a public Twitter thread naming Ortberg III as “a person experiencing compulsive sexual feelings towards children with unsupervised access to young people through youth groups” at the church.
Menlo Church refused to name Ortberg in public statements despite the fact the name of the volunteer had been “alleged publicly,” because “no new information has been presented.”
The church said in the statement, “While the Board and independent third-party investigator have at all times been aware of the identity of the volunteer in question and have acted with that knowledge,” they sought “to protect the confidentiality and anonymity of both the complainant and the subject of any concerns raised to the church.”
The statement went on to say an initial investigation “did not find any indication of misconduct by the volunteer in question in the Menlo Church community or otherwise.”
Here’s what you need to know:
John Ortberg Was Placed on Personal Leave but Returned to the Pulpit in 2020
Pastor John Ortberg was placed on personal leave in November 2019 while an investigation took place. A statement released in January 2020 said “the investigation showed John exhibited poor judgment that was inconsistent with his responsibilities as Senior Pastor.”
Ortberg returned to the pulpit in March 2020.
Lavery, a Trans Writer & Ortberg’s Estranged Child, Was the Whistleblower in the Controversy
Lavery, Ortberg’s trans-identifying, estranged child, revealed the identity of the church volunteer as Ortberg’s son.
In late June, Lavery posted on Twitter that he was not satisfied that the church investigation into the matter had been “a thorough one.” He detailed conversations with Ortberg III in which Ortberg III had “described his work with children as the most important thing in his life [and] his feelings for the children in his care over the years in deeply romantic terms.”
Discussion about the matter online dates back to February and March, when Lavery’s wife, Grace, posted her own statement directed at Beth Seabolt, an elder of Menlo Church, who addressed a March meeting at Menlo.
She noted Seabolt’s public comments, including her claims her 33-year-old husband was “lashing out” and taking “an angry stand to start [his] adult [life.]”
Highlighting messages from Seabolt expressing gratitude for Daniel Lavery bringing the matter to the church’s attention, Grace Lavery accused the church of infantilizing her husband in the narrative, saying, “The thing I can’t get over is that the church didn’t need to say *anything* about Danny, except maybe ‘we’re grateful to Daniel Lavery for bringing this matter to our attention.’ But they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to smear him.”
Daniel Lavery posted a public statement in February outlining his knowledge of the issue since November 2019. He claimed “the person in question” (who he later went on to name as Ortberg III) had sought out unsupervised volunteer positions with children in the church and disclosed Pastor John Ortberg had encouraged the volunteer “in their pursuit of unsupervised work with children.”
The statement went on to say the pastor had encouraged Lavery to keep the matter secret. While “the person in question” had resigned from all volunteer roles with children, Lavery said his father did not disclose the issue to the elders at Menlo, leading to Lavery and his wife reporting the issue.
Ortberg III Was ‘Suicidal’ at the Thought of Being Kept Away From Children
Lavery made a host of other claims in his Twitter confessional regarding his brother, from Ortberg III outlining his “instinct to nurture children” to Ortberg seeking out contact with young boys.
Lavery claimed Ortberg III had told him, “‘The instinct to nurture children … is for me bound up with a sexual response to them.’” Lavery concluded, “My understanding of that phrase was that he indicated physical arousal.”
Ortberg III had said he had not acted on the feelings by harming a child, Lavery recounted.
He continued, “When my parents learned I intended to inform the church staff in November, they sent my wife a message through a third party that my brother was suicidal at the thought of being unable to volunteer with children.
“Rather than seeking medical attention for him, they wanted me to promise not to say anything, and to imply that I would be responsible for his suicide in the event that I reported,” Lavery tweeted.
A further post on July 12 by Lavery decried the retention of his father, John Ortberg, as senior pastor at the church, and said the second investigation was “a non-starter, a confession of failure, and a disgrace.”
Menlo Church Has Been Aware of the Accusations Since 2018
The January 2020 church statement said a volunteer had come forward to John Ortberg as early as July 2018 “and shared in confidence an unwanted thought pattern of attraction to minors,” which he had not acted on.
“John believed the person and provided prayers and referrals for counseling. However, John failed to take the required steps to prevent the person from volunteering with minors at the Menlo Park campus and did not consult anyone else at Menlo Church about the situation,” the church said.
The church claimed all staff being onboarded to roles, including volunteers, undergo extensive background checks and careful screening.
John Ortberg issued an apology for “mishandling” the situation “and for not fully considering the legitimate concerns of our congregation and my responsibility to ensure the safety and security of everyone who comes through our doors.”
When my son first spoke to me, I should have immediately asked our church Elders for counsel and I should have exerted my full influence to ensure that he did not volunteer again at any event with kids and youth.
This situation has been extensively investigated by Menlo Church and the independent investigator found no misconduct or allegations of misconduct towards anyone in the Menlo Church community.
At the same time, I urge anyone who is aware of any form of wrongdoing to come forward and report this to the authorities.