July 20, 2020

Menlo Church correspondence with individuals (July)

If you would like to include your correspondence here, send it to me and let me know what you would like redacted and how you would like to be identified (or unidentified).

Elders & Congregant B

Congregant B (summary), Jul 20

This congregant wrote a long and heartfelt email which they’ve asked me not to quote in full. Instead I’ll summarize:

Elders, Jul 21

My name is [REDACTED] and I am currently a member of the Menlo Church session. Sharing your thoughts, concerns, pain and anger is courageous and I thank you for taking the time.

There is so much I want to share. The most important thing is that I am sorry. I am sorry you are experiencing such pain. I will humbly try to respond.

As of this writing, we are continuing to process and consider actions that will rebuild the trust that is needed for our community along with balancing the right quantity and frequency of communication.

I am not a therapist or counselor. I am like you - a wife, a mom, a worker, a believer, a volunteer. This is not an easy time and I share your sadness. My family is suffering, my heart is heavy. I am fervently praying to our mighty Savior for wisdom, discernment, grace and mercy. He is with us. He is our rock and He definitely hears our prayers.

Trust is a difficult thing. As you mentioned your concern about leaving your children in the care of volunteers I can only offer that my children also went through the kids and student ministries at Menlo and I believe that Menlo Church has excellent protocols in place to protect our children. I would like to share that the Board has asked that staff engage someone skilled in safety measures for children and youth to review all of our policies, procedures and training and to implement recommendations to ensure that our practices are above reproach. The staff has selected (GRACE) as that outside agency.

I cannot explain John’s actions or those of his family. It is difficult to understand. I only know that I am a sinner. I praise God that his mercy to me is new every day. I try to bring my best self - desiring to do God’s work in every element of my life.

What I can explain are the immediate steps the Session took when we received Danny’s letter. I hope this provides some additional information for you.

John was placed on leave the day after the complaint was received and two paths were pursued to investigate the complaint. The first was to engage the services of a qualified independent and neutral investigator who was given complete authority to conduct his work without any restrictions by the Board. The independent investigator’s work included two distinct parts - whether the volunteer was guilty of any misconduct and whether John was culpable for his actions (or inactions) linked together by a common set of facts. For this reason the investigator came from a firm with a variety of skill sets available including for instance forensic computer analysis which was used to search the relevant computer records and emails in the church.

Additionally, upon learning of the complaint staff put a system in place to block Johnny from volunteering in the future. In addition and concurrent to the independent investigation, internal to Menlo Church, senior staff reviewed policies, and interviewed current and former ministry leaders who served during the same period of time as this volunteer to see if there had ever been a complaint or questionable behavior.

Neither the work done by the independent investigator nor the staff uncovered any wrongdoing that would have prompted mandated reporting or further investigation. I can see now that we still could have done more.

Many like you have shared their anger and pain. The Board has been praying for wisdom and discernment on how to best proceed. While the initial investigation did not disclose wrongdoing, in response to the concerns voiced by many and our own desire that children and youth be safe while participating in our programs, the Board has authorized a supplemental investigation by someone with experience in child and sex abuse.

A committee with members that will include staff, volunteers and parents is being established. No one currently serving on the Board will be a member of the committee. The committee will be tasked with the selection of a new investigator qualified in child and sex abuse.

I would add that our communications were too few and far between. This is one of the greatest areas of improvement. I believe we can improve. Please know that we did nothing to cover anything up. We did our best to adhere to the church policies and the guidelines of the initial investigation.

I pray with you that the new supplemental investigation does not reveal any harm or any abuse. I pray boldly with all humility. We want to do what is best for the church. God’s church. The bride of our Lord Jesus Christ. Somehow, I want God to use all this pain and suffering for His Glory.

I want to offer that I am very willing to also follow up via a phone call. You have written anonymously so I understand that may not be an option. But, if it is, please suggest a few days and times that work for you.

Friend, thank you for writing and sharing your personal experience. Thank you also for your passion for protecting the vulnerable.

I hope that you will pray for the children and youth who participate in our programs, the parents, the staff, the elders, and the entire congregation as we go through the days ahead.

Respectfully,

[REDACTED] (on behalf of the Session members)

Elders & Former congregant A

Former congregant A

I attended Menlo Church (main campus) periodically between 2017 and 2018. I respected and admired John Ortberg, found him smart and compassionate. Since the disclosures of Daniel Lavery, I could never come back to Menlo as long as he remains there. I urge Menlo Church to do the right thing. Grace and forgiveness do not trump the safety of children. Menlo Church has a responsibility to fully investigate, and to declare itself on the side of children and victims. Anything short of removing John Ortberg is a statement that the safety of children is less important than John Ortberg’s personal pride and reputation. Please remove John Ortberg. Bring in a GRACE investigator. Do the right thing by your community. I will continue to share this message to everyone I know until Menlo Church does the right thing.

Elders, Jul 18

Thank you for your email and for taking the time to share your concerns with us. We are listening and appreciate hearing inputs from our congregation and community, including yours. This is a difficult situation on many levels and we are grieved at the pain that has been caused in the church in part as a result of the decisions we as elders and John as Senior Pastor have made. And we are sorry that this has caused you personal pain.

We appreciate your concerns for the safety and security of children and youth and we wholeheartedly agree with your emphasis on ensuring trust in Menlo’s programs. For this reason we have decided to launch a supplemental investigation that includes a firm with expertise in sexual misconduct related to minors implemented by a committee with representatives from elders, parents, volunteers, and staff. Despite many public comments and assumptions to the contrary, including many originating outside the Menlo community, that we are aware of no misconduct or even allegations of misconduct related to the volunteer - only a pattern of unwanted thoughts. Also once the elders were made aware of the situation by Danny, we immediately took action to ensure that the volunteer was no longer involved in Menlo programs with children and youth.

We have and will continue to invite anyone with information around an issue or situation to report that to the church and/or to local law enforcement authorities so that the full truth is known.

We have also directed staff to find an outside party to conduct a full audit of Menlo’s policies and procedures related to safety. We have great confidence in the dedicated staff and volunteers who serve Menlo’s children and youth and want their work to be held in high confidence by parents and the community.

You comments around John’s continued service are received and heard, and your rationale is clearly passionate and heartfelt. We are listening and seeking to discern the right next steps for Menlo Church, both during the supplemental investigation and beyond.

We are grateful that Menlo Church is not led by humans with frailties and weakness, but is under God’s care and that he can and will act to redeem this and us from our human imperfections through his merciful grace and abounding love. Our actions have consequences and his forgiveness extends to each of us.

We are hopeful that as you have stopped attending Menlo that you have found another church home, especially during these trying times in our country. We pray a blessing on you for personal safety and physical health and ask that God will meet you and you will feel his presence guiding you along your personal faith journey.

Blessings,
The Elders

Exec Pastor Eugene Lee & Laverys (~Jul 7-12)

Text messages with the Laverys, undated but soon after the July 6 RNS reporting:

EUGENE: [ed: beginning of message cut off] conduct a 2nd investigation, independent with full access to all parties. Also, an audit of programs/ policies/safeguards/training. Both will be taking place immediately

LAVERYS: thanks for the update, Eugene, my big concern right now is that if a new investigation takes place with john and beth still in position, (1) the investigation will lack credibility because people may not come forward; (2) the church might be seen to be saying that john will only have done something wrong if proof of child assault is found, these things must be separated for the good of the investigation itself.

in other words, this is a great start, the personnel issues will of course have to go along with it. once the need for a new investigation has been admitted, the case for retaining ortberg and seabolt seems to me unwinnable.

EUGENE: Yes you are correct. And those decisions are pending, but definitely related to how we do this. Will keep you posted.

Exec Pastor Eugene Lee & Congregant Ruth Hutchins

Ruth, Jul 10

Hi Eugene (and cc Scott and Mark),

As you may know, I had multiple conversations with the elder board and Scott and Mark in February/March regarding the disastrous handling of this situation, and specifically the choice to conduct a cover up investigation. Those attempts to handle things quietly and privately went nowhere. I am very unhappy this had to go to news and social media due to the elder board’s poor choices and lack of integrity.

At the time, when I asked to speak to John, that was denied. The elders said John had nothing more to say on this matter. I would like to know if that has changed. Your email last weekend offered the chance to speak directly to John and I still would like one.

Thanks,

Ruth Hutchins

Eugene, Jul 11

Hi Ruth,

I’ve reached out to John about a time to connect. I haven’t been able to confirm his schedule yet, but will let you know as soon as I can. Thanks for your patience!

Eugene

Ruth, Jul 14

Hi Eugene, thanks, please let me know when you find out.
Ruth

Ruth, Jul 19

Hi Eugene, just checking in on this. It’s been a week. What’s the status?
Ruth

Eugene, Jul 20

Sorry Ruth, John is not available to meet this month. He is on his summer writing leave. If you need anything in the meantime, please let me know.

Eugene

Ruth, Jul 20

Dear Eugene (and cc campus pastors),

You said:

Sorry Ruth, John is not available to meet this month. He is on his summer writing leave. If you need anything in the meantime, please let me know.

I have been a part of this community for ten years, so I’m well aware of John’s July writing break, as were you on July 5 when you offered the chance to meet with John and on July 11 when you said you would talk to John to find a time. Why don’t you just say, “John doesn’t want to talk to you,” or, “Our lawyers say ixnay on the meetings with John,” or whatever the real reason is? Should I feel good about my pastors and church telling transparent half-truths and giving me the silent treatment?

“In the meantime” I am asking my pastors and church to engage honestly. I would like responses to the following pieces of information. It is unclear to me whether or not the staff have engaged with them, since I haven’t received responses from when I sent some of these earlier. I’ve included the full text below.

  1. The letter from Laura Turner showing that she consulted therapists and discussed “appropriate guidelines” for Johnny to be with her son “in only the most appropriate contexts”. This contradicts the Ortbergs’ claims to the investigator and to news that there were no restrictions on Johnny’s access to his nephew.

  2. The statements from Nicole Cliffe that Laura confided in her that Johnny was not allowed to be alone with her son. Again, this contradicts the Ortbergs’ claims to the investigator and to news that there were no restrictions on Johnny’s access to his nephew.

  3. The statement from Nicole Chung, who spoke to Laura, saying that she and many others impressed on Laura the seriousness of exposing other people’s children to risk without informing them and she was not willing to change course.

  4. The letter from Johnny Ortberg to his frisbee team calling Danny’s claims false and stemming from a family crisis – despite mutual friends who knew both Danny and his family saying there was no crisis prior to this issue. Johnny’s letter also encouraged the readers to speak directly to him. By any objective standard, this would be considered interfering with a pending investigation.

  5. The statements from Nicole Cliffe that John, Laura, and Johnny all made it clear that self-harm was a concern and motivation behind their choices and actions, despite John telling both Bob Smietana at RNS and Carol Kuruvilla at Huffington Post that he has never considered his son a risk to himself. The Menlo Church elders also were allegedly told that Johnny’s name needed to be kept quiet because of concerns he was suicidal.

  6. The statement from Nicole Cliffe that all family members described to her Johnny’s volunteering work as a deliberate therapeutic choice, contra John’s claims otherwise.

Thanks in advance,

Ruth


  1. LAURA TURNER EMAIL (emphasis mine):

Hi [REDACTED] First of all, thank you for writing to me with your honest questions. I have been so grateful for our friendship and correspondence, and want you to feel like you can ask me whatever you need to. This is such a difficult and complex topic, and I’m a little loathe to say much right now for fear of saying the wrong thing. Does that make sense? I hope so. Here is what I want to say to you: I absolutely know that you are asking these questions out of a place of care, love, and accountability. We absolutely have talked extensively about appropriate guidelines for [REDACTED] being with my brother, and are continuing to discern wisdom moving forward, because I want very much for [REDACTED] to have a loving relationship with my brother that takes place in only the most appropriate contexts. At this point, Zack and I have consulted with three different therapists (one being my regular therapist; two others to get outside opinions) about the best ways to move forward with our relationship with my brother and my whole family, and feel very good and confident about those steps. Protecting [REDACTED]‘s safety is our highest priority in this life.

  1. STATEMENTS FROM NICOLE CLIFFE (emphasis mine):

(part 1) Cliffe later broke with the family after being interviewed by Alvarez. Cliffe said she told the investigator that her friend, Turner, would not allow her child to be alone with her younger brother — a choice Cliffe said Turner had confided in her. The investigator, Cliffe said, acted surprised and told her he had not known of the restriction. John Ortberg said in an email that no such restriction exists.

(part 2) The only other thing I would ever want to say publicly is that I feel that Johnny, if he is telling the truth and has never offended, is the least culpable member of the remaining Ortberg family. And that I encouraged him to up his treatment sessions (sessions which only started because of Danny) to multiple times a week, and repeatedly asked him to not hurt himself. I broke off all contact with the family after finding a large factual discrepancy between a statement made to me and a statement made by the same person to the investigator. I had hung onto a lot of hope that engaging would lead to cooperation and self-reflection and full disclosure to the church, and I don’t regret trying but it became clear it was a bottomless well of secrecy built around preserving a certain image. I loved and trusted all of them so deeply.

  1. STATEMENT FROM NICOLE CHUNG (emphasis mine):

When I talked w/ L last year, I told her I’d find it impossible to forgive anyone who knew of a risk to my child and unilaterally decided that risk was acceptable while leaving me in ignorance of it. She said, “that’s really hard to hear, but I hear you.”

not to make this about me in any way, but thinking about all this as a parent still infuriates me and just breaks my heart. all this to say—she was pressed on this particular point by several people, myself included, and…nothing any of us said appears to have mattered.

I specifically remember telling her this is any parent’s 3am nightmare but it’s particularly true for parents of disabled children at higher risk of abuse, and…again, am sure it made no difference

  1. JOHNNY ORTBERG EMAIL (emphasis mine):

Hi all -

By now most or all of you are aware of what my brother has been saying about me on twitter, and/or have received an email from Mike McGuirk of BADA essentially echoing the claims my brother has been making.

My brothers’ actions/statements have stemmed from the much larger family crisis I mentioned back in November. I’m not going to get into the family issues/rifts that have led to this increasingly public feud, but I do feel very strongly I need to clarify the descriptions of me (that have been forwarded by Mike) are wrong. The situation is a mess, and not a good source of information on me.

I know that many of you who have known me longer know this, but I coached because I loved the chance to watch the team together year after year, I loved to watch players grow and be challenged, and I loved to watch the friendships that developed on the team between the most unlikely of students - many of which last longer than their tenure on the team. I’ve never committed any act of child abuse/grooming, that’s simply not a temptation to me. Furthermore I’ve always been extremely mindful of the trust parents and kids give to someone in a role like mine - it’s sacred and I would never break it. I hope most of all that the positive impact the team had on players - sometimes small, sometimes big - would not be lost in all of this. I know I have not been a perfect coach, but I want you to know I took this role seriously and tried to give the team the best I had.

I realize this is a sensitive, triggering subject and empathize with the burden/pain it must put on a lot of you to even hear about. I also understand given what is being said it may be difficult to trust that I’m speaking the truth, so I understand if there are still feelings of anger or mistrust - I simply needed to share the truth. I’m happy to speak with anyone who wishes and/or help provide support/resources to people trying to move forward with the team next year. I understand if the nature of the situation makes anyone uncomfortable with any contact - do not worry about that hurting my feelings.

Johnny

  1. NICOLE CLIFFE STATEMENTS (emphasis mine)

(part 1) The only other thing I would ever want to say publicly is that I feel that Johnny, if he is telling the truth and has never offended, is the least culpable member of the remaining Ortberg family. And that I encouraged him to up his treatment sessions (sessions which only started because of Danny) to multiple times a week, and repeatedly asked him to not hurt himself. I broke off all contact with the family after finding a large factual discrepancy between a statement made to me and a statement made by the same person to the investigator. I had hung onto a lot of hope that engaging would lead to cooperation and self-reflection and full disclosure to the church, and I don’t regret trying but it became clear it was a bottomless well of secrecy built around preserving a certain image. I loved and trusted all of them so deeply.

(part 2) It’s unfathomable to me that John Ortberg would claim via email that he has never considered his son a harm ‘to himself’ in addition to others. The possibility of self-harm and the underlying threat was raised in every phone call. With John, with Laura, certainly with Johnny.

  1. NICOLE CLIFFE STATEMENT re: “therapeutic” volunteering (emphasis mine):

To me it was indeed described by all family members as a deliberate therapeutic choice to work with children slightly older than his “preferred” demographic in order to still be around children with less personal risk/temptation. … …also specify that Johnny had been doing this prior to disclosing to his family and his family then supported and reinforced this plan.

Eugene, Jul 20

Hi Ruth,

I realize you want more information than you currently have. I hope you can hear this the right way, but the questions you are asking are none of your business. If you want details about a conversation someone had with Laura or Nicole, you should talk directly with them. We will be launching another investigation soon and will keep you and the rest of our church updated along the way. Also, I know that Mark and Scott have graciously spent time with you on related matters, but going forward I have asked them to keep you in the communication loop along with the rest of the church.

Thanks for understanding,
Eugene

Ruth, Jul 20

I have, in fact, spoken directly with people who had these conversations, which is why I’m asking for the church’s response. Thanks for making your position clear.