Beth Seabolt, Jan 16
I hope all is well. I wanted to get back in touch with you regarding our investigation into the concerns you raised in your email.
Thank you again for bringing this situation to our attention. We greatly appreciate your concern for the Menlo Church community and commitment to doing what is right.
As you are aware, since you first raised this in November, the Board suggested and John agreed to go on leave from Menlo so that the Board could fully investigate the situation. This was done both to ensure the safety and integrity of our community and to examine if John’s judgment did not meet the requirements of his role as Senior Pastor and commitment to our denomination (ECO) policies.
Based on the independent investigation, the Board has no reason to believe that any harm fell upon the Menlo Community or elsewhere.
However, the investigation did show John exhibited lack of judgment and poor decision-making in the execution of his responsibilities as Senior Pastor. The Board has discussed with John its concerns, and he has expressed his full understanding. He has apologized and shown great remorse to the Board and senior Menlo staff for his actions and decisions and is committed to the continued safety and integrity of our community and to ensuring that such a situation does not arise again.
The Board has adopted and communicated to John a specific restoration plan. Based on the Board’s investigation and careful deliberation, the plan involves John’s return from leave on Friday, January 17th, and after a period of working internally with staff and the Board, anticipates his return to the pulpit by the end of February. We feel this course of action aligns with God’s plan for forgiveness and reconciliation.
The Menlo community has been aware of John’s leave and naturally concerned with his continued absence during the Christmas season and into the New Year. We plan to deliver an update shortly to the full congregation, and I wanted to be sure you heard from me first.
I would like to again sincerely thank you for bringing this to our attention, and I wish you and Grace well in your new life together.
Please know you can always contact me for any reason.
Daniel Lavery, Jan 16
Thank you so much for your update. I want to begin by expressing my relief that the Church’s investigation has not revealed instances of child sexual abuse. As you know, however, the reporting of such abuse is notoriously slow and incomplete and cannot be exhaustively concluded within six weeks. I urge everyone at Menlo both to exercise personal responsibility in addressing any such evidence as it comes up, and to ensure that adequate structures are in place to ensure the well-supervised care, publicly-accountable of children.
As to the remainder of your message, I am deeply disturbed by it. I have always believed that for wrongdoing to lead to spiritual growth, there must be consequences. To learn, then, that John Ortberg will be fully resettled in his position after having withheld from you, for eighteen months, the fact that his son was compulsively sexually attracted to children while also seeking out positions of authority over them: this strikes me as both an enormous blow to my family’s possible recovery from this incident, and an outrageous and embarrassing outcome for the church. If withholding information of this kind does not merit firing from Menlo, I wonder what dishonesty or subterfuge your community would regard as a breach of faith. In no other sector of public life would someone who had been found to have acted this way maintain his position. It is my profound hope that, when the wider congregation learns about this whitewash, the community will compel you to act with moral clarity.
I have one question for you, which I believe you can answer before I decide how to proceed from here. You say that no “harm fell upon the Menlo community or elsewhere.” Yet you also say that John Ortberg “has apologized and shown great remorse.” For what, then, has he apologized - and on what grounds have you accepted an apology, if ‘no harm has been done’? I ask because to some - to me, for example, who used to call John Ortberg my father - the secrecy and dishonesty, and the subsequent breach of trust, are a matter of the gravest harm, and speak directly to his judgment as a pastor and spiritual leader. I believe I will not be alone in this assessment when you make your announcement to the congregation.
Beth Seabolt, Jan 16
Thank you for your prompt response.
We are hitting the pause button on our plan and holding a Session meeting tonight.
Beth Seabolt, Jan 21
I can see how my earlier email might not have addressed all your concerns and I’d like to share more details with you. This has been a challenging time for us all, and the entire Board shares your deep concern as it relates to these issues.
With you, we are all relieved that the investigation did not reveal instances, or even allegations, of child sexual abuse. As soon as this issue was first brought to our attention, thanks to you, we immediately took action by placing John on leave and retaining a third-party investigator recognized as an expert in workplace misconduct issues. That investigator had full, independent license to pursue information related to our shared concerns and conducted as thorough a process as he deemed necessary. The confidential participation by you and others helped guide the investigator to his findings. Based on that investigation, interviews with supervising staff across Student’s and Children’s ministries, and a review of detailed volunteer records, the Board has not found any misconduct in the Menlo Church community, and the investigation did not reveal any allegations of misconduct.
We agree that reporting of these cases can come to light years after they occur. Should any reports of abuse or misconduct surface, we are prepared to take immediate action with law enforcement and are fully aware of our obligations as mandatory reporters. We are also reviewing our protective measures for youth. I am pleased that we have significant protective measures already in place.
We approached your original email on two paths. The first was the immediate investigation into any direct harm or allegations of misconduct that might have occurred. Additionally, we required your brother to stop serving at Menlo and put safeguards in our sign-up system to immediately flag and notify us if he attempted to enroll in service opportunities online. He has not done so to date, and has agreed not to. Your brother has entered and continues with professional counseling.
The second path has been to address John’s leadership, judgment and decision making failures which had the potential to place Menlo Church’s youth at risk, as well as Menlo Church itself. Early on, we asked John to come before the Board and share his perspective on what happened. John was processing and his recognition of the impact of his decisions, both on individuals and on the church more broadly was weak. After the Christmas break, we asked John to come before the Board again and we specifically addressed the harm that secrecy had caused to all parties, including creating a lack of trust that needed to be repaired—with the Board and Menlo’s leadership team. John had done significant personal work to recognize, own, and empathize with the personal and organizational impact of his actions and decisions and the potential risk those decisions placed on youth at Menlo and elsewhere. John agreed with our assessment and apologized at length.
We specifically addressed the dishonesty of only partially sharing the cause of the family rift. John again agreed and apologized at length. We addressed the gravity of the breach of trust with Session, CLT, and congregants and John further agreed and apologized at length. John has also articulated clearly his renewed personal commitment to the safety and security of the Menlo Church community and to ensuring that such mistakes and trust issues do not occur in the future. We have full expectation that John will soon extend his message of remorse to the broader church staff and with the entire community.
It’s one thing to agree in principle and apologize, and another thing to move forward. While we have accepted John’s individual requests for forgiveness, the Board continues to keep John out of the pulpit while he works through a corrective action plan created by the Board. This is why we did not give a specific return date for preaching. John’s complete restoration will require the support and trust of the greater community, which will take time. John is committed to restoring the trust of the Board, Menlo Church’s leadership, and the greater community.
Danny, in closing please know that Menlo’s Board and leadership team have collectively spent hundreds of hours addressing the valid concerns your initial email raised. The investigation alone involved discussions with 17 individuals. We will continue to invest the time required to resolve this matter. We share your stated desire that whatever the results of the investigation the matter is resolved in a compassionate way such that any remedial action is designed to ensure the safety of youth, and not to punish.
Thanks again for your concern and for getting back to me so promptly. I will continue to be available to you if you would like to discuss this or any other issue.
Daniel Lavery, Jan 22
Thank you for your detailed response to my earlier email, and for taking my concerns into account when sending the message to the rest of the church. I appreciate it very much, and I’m glad the congregation will be able to participate in the process of accountability. I wish you all strength and clarity going forward.