In November of last year, I reported to the Elders of Menlo Church that their senior pastor, John Ortberg, had conspired in secret to provide a person experiencing compulsive sexual feelings towards children with unsupervised access to young people through youth groups. At that time, it was my hope that the Menlo Elders would conduct a confidential and thorough investigation of the report, and make such arrangements as were necessary to protect the community. In January, Menlo Church published the broad outlines of their investigation.
In my opinion, it was not a thorough one. The investigator did not, for example, interview a number of the key witnesses, nor do I believe did they investigate church-related work on international trips. Although Ortberg returned to the pulpit acknowledging vague regret, neither he nor the church ever made clear what, exactly, they thought he had done wrong. Parishioners were not given the full story of Ortberg’s relationship to this volunteer, or his interest in keeping their strategy a secret.
Around that time, I published a statement expressing dismay at Menlo’s institutional failures. At a town hall meeting, Beth Seabolt responded to my comments by smearing me, claiming that I was “lashing out” at my family and insinuating I was mentally unstable because I am trans.
Here are a parishioner’s notes of that meeting: https://ruthhutchins.com/post/menlo-church-town-hall/.
Here is my wife Grace Lavery’s response to Seabolt’s comments at that meeting: https://twitter.com/graceelavery/status/1234931525419843584
Here is the public statement I made on February 2nd: https://twitter.com/daniel_m_lavery/status/1224119384374939648
I had hoped that Menlo would conduct a robust, thorough inquiry, coordinating with other organizations this volunteer has worked with, and that the volunteer might receive safe and responsible treatment. Given the brevity of their investigation, I no longer trust that inquiry process. So I’m now publishing the letter I sent to staff at Menlo in November, redacting only details that might identify children.
I make this public in the absence of institutional accountability, so that members of the community can create a democratic, transparent process for investigating this volunteer’s history of unsupervised visits to, trips with, and work involving children.
The volunteer was my brother, John Ortberg III. When we last spoke, he admitted to seeking out unsupervised contact with children (including overnight travel) for well over a decade. I believe his unique relationship to my father, John Ortberg Jr., is the sole reason why John Jr. went out of his way to protect his secret and facilitate his continued contact with children.
During the conversation where he admitted his sexual obsession towards children, John III repeatedly described his work with children as the most important thing in his life, and described his feelings for the children in his care over the years in deeply romantic terms.
“The instinct to nurture children,” he told me, “is for me bound up with a sexual response to them.” My understanding of that phrase was that he indicated physical arousal. He acknowledged difficulty “letting them go” from his care, and said he struggled to avoid telling them “how [he] really felt.” He claimed to avoid working with the group for which he felt the strongest fixation, which is pre-pubescent boys. I know that he has not avoided them. As an adult, he has habitually sought out contact with young boys, both professionally in his past work as a tutor, as a music teacher, and youth group volunteer.
My brother only resigned from his positions working with children in November when I said I was going to do it for him. I believe that if I had not threatened to do so, he would never have stopped. I do not know whether he has ever[*] harmed a child, as he claimed. I do not wish to punish John Ortberg III for a condition he cannot control. However, he can control whether he spends time alone with children he desires sexually. He colluded in a desperately unsafe conspiracy on the grounds of a discredited belief—seemingly derived from the “Virtuous Pedophile” movement, whose values both he and my father defended to me—that close, unmonitored contact with children is therapeutic for pedophiles.
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. I did not then, and I will not now, accept that responsibility. I hope that my brother is safe, healthy, in treatment, and never alone with another child. I hope that his previous work with children, at Menlo Church and everywhere else he pursued such work, is thoroughly scrutinized.
*To be clear, there is a typo above: John Ortberg III claimed that he had never harmed a child. I do not know whether that is true.