July 15, 2020

Email from Grace Lavery to Menlo Church staff (Jul 15)

Originally published on Twitter. Grace Lavery sent an email to the Menlo Church staff:

Dear friends,

I am writing to you as staff of Menlo Church, across all campuses, to address the current crisis centered upon Senior Pastor John Ortberg. I do so because I want to make myself available to discuss this matter with you if you would like, and because I believe that you, the staff of Menlo Church, have been misled by John Ortberg and the Elder Board chaired by Beth Seabolt. I believe now is the time for you to publicly affirm your mission to serve your community, and publicly to demand the resignations of John Ortberg and every currently-serving member of the Elder Board.

I realize that you will not be inclined to trust me. I am not a Christian, so I cannot come to you in that spirit. I am, however, a recovered alcoholic, having experienced in 2016 a profound spiritual experience that led me to recovery. The Ortbergs, indeed, helped steward me through that recovery, during which time I fell in love with their son Daniel, to whom I am now proudly married. My experiences in recovery have proven to me that at the root of spiritual growth is personal accountability, and that facing our errors without euphemism and without deception, while one of the hardest tasks to which human beings are called, is also a precondition for any healing.

I want to be clear, then, that whatever criticisms I have made of the Church leadership at Menlo, I believe that your collective mission is absolutely right and just, and that at its core is helping communities to find spiritual and material solutions in their lives, and to form lasting and deeper bonds with the source of spiritual power.

As you now know, in Summer 2018, John’s son Johnny reported to him a long-standing pattern of sexual obsession with young boys. John made the fateful decision to help him find ways to spend unsupervised time with children, in the hopes that it might be therapeutic to him. That decision exposed dozens, perhaps hundreds, of children to serious risk of harm—harms not limited to sexual assault, but encompassing a wider range of damaging relationships between adults and children, including harms that Johnny may well not have believed he was causing. It also prevented the necessary audit of Johnny’s sixteen years of volunteering at Menlo and elsewhere, during which time we have seen (and presented to Menlo management in November 2019) evidence relating to very serious offenses, including potentially possession of child pornography, the cultivation of inappropriate intimacies with children as young as 8, and countless unsupervised overnight trips.

I am glad to say that our inquiries have not yet revealed evidence of children being sexually assaulted by Johnny. I am also aware that no systematic investigation has taken place to date, and that only 15-17% of survivors of child sex abuse ever report it to anybody.

But let me be very clear about this: even if the investigation returns no more information than is already known and admitted, the Ortbergs will have been responsible for profound harm to the Menlo community, which John has so far refused to acknowledge. Exposure to risk of child sexual assault is itself a harm, both in California law and according to basic moral principles. Dishonesty with one’s spiritual community is itself a harm. And, centrally, the romantic friendships that Johnny had with sometimes very young children, and which John had known about both before and after Johnny’s disclosure, are themselves very serious harms. Very serious harm has been done to Menlo Church, both by Johnny Ortberg and his father

Danny and I have published details and evidence relating to all of the above at menlo-church.com. Our account has been borne out by meticulous investigative reporting by Bob Smietana at Religious News Service and Carol Kuruvilla at the Huffington Post. John Ortberg, by contrast, has been evasive and dismissive when asked questions about this issue. You all, who have been led by John for many years, would be justified in feeling profoundly frustrated by your leaders’ responses.

These events have exposed a structural problem with safeguarding at Menlo Church, for which senior management and the Elder Board are ultimately responsible. As I mentioned above, only 15%-17% of survivors of child sex abuse ever report their experiences to anybody. Nevertheless, survivors of sex abuse at Menlo have begun to make themselves known, both on social media and in private to me and my husband. Amidst the disclosures, Menlo Church has now been forced to acknowledge publicly that its first “investigation” into the Ortberg affair was nothing more than a cynical exercise in indemnification, and pledged to conduct another one.

However, as staff must realize, the second investigation will be no more successful than the first while John Ortberg and the current Elder Board are in place. Their position acts as a material disincentive against others coming forward. This is not a hypothesis. In the last three weeks, Danny and I have received many messages from people who were served by the Menlo Youth Ministries over the last fifteen years, and who experienced grooming, sexual harassment, and sexual assault at the hands of people representing Menlo Church as staff and volunteers. None of them feel safe reporting to Menlo at present, when the management team comprises the father of one of the central figures, and an Elder Board led by Beth Seabolt, who has already led one cover-up for John, and is now trying to arrange a second one.

I believe that our proposed remedy—the immediate resignation of John Ortberg and the entire Elder Board—is in the best long-term interests ofMenlo Church. But I also believe that holding your leaders accountable is central to your spiritual mission in California. And even more fundamental than that, is your responsibility to ensure that no vulnerable people, who come to Menlo Church seeking guidance and care, are met instead with manipulation, exploitation, and cruelty.

I therefore ask you to consider two remedies that you have at your disposal.

The first is collective action. You are entitled, as workers and colleagues, to bargain collectively for your interests without losing your jobs. Though full-scale unionization is unlikely in the necessary time-frame, preliminary action taken towards the goal of collective bargaining is also protected against employer intervention. Were you, as a body of workers, to decide to withhold labor from Menlo Church until John Ortberg and the Elder Board have stepped down and an external investigation into failures of safeguarding in the youth ministries commissioned, you would be protected from retaliatory action by management.

The second is individual statements of conscience. A petition is circulating among Christian faith leaders—pastors, educators, writers—calling for the goals that I am advocating here. You may sign it at https://menloscandal.weebly.com/, and it will be published later today. Enough signatures from Menlo Church staff would go a long way towards ensuring the long-term viability of the Church after, as is surely inevitable at this point, John Ortberg has stepped down.

But I am not writing to appeal to your self-interest. That is not enough. On the contrary, I write to urge you to serve your community, and to protect the children and young people who look to you for moral guidance. I urge you to take action today.

I am available to talk in case this message raises questions for you. You can contact me on this email address, or by phone at [REDACTED]. If you would rather communicate by phone, please send a text introducing yourself before you call.

I wish you the best as you navigate a challenging moment, in which a serious ethical choice lies before you.

Sincerely yours,

Grace Lavery