February 13, 2020 ortberg timeline

Menlo Church & John Ortberg - Child-Attracted Volunteer Allowed In Youth Ministry

My church, Menlo Church, has been in the news, and not in a good way. In brief, the senior pastor, John Ortberg, found out about a person attracted to children and failed to prevent this person from working in the youth ministry—or worse than that, encouraged the person in working with kids, according to the whistleblower, Danny Lavery.

I have attended Menlo Church for over ten years, which means I have been listening to John Ortberg’s sermons for that long. I don’t know John personally, though I have seen him around, and there was that one time our A/V equipment was on the fritz and John drove down to deliver the sermon in person. I was married at Menlo. I know there are many good people at the church.

But I also know what it looks like when church senior leadership isn’t being forthright.

I understand the desire to avoid pointing to troubling information, but I believe everyone, including the church, is best served by having all the assertions out in the open. This post is a chronological account of what has happened, as best I can piece it together.

Update (Sep 1): With the conclusion of the annual meeting, I am going to stop updating this timeline. Please head over to menlo-church.com for a timeline that continues to be updated, or follow me on Twitter for less-structured updates.

Last updated: Sep 1, 2020. [Jump to latest→]

If you believe any of the facts below are in error, please notify me.

Persons of interest

Timeline

July 2018

John and Nancy Ortberg were approached by a person who was sexually attracted to children. In their respective accounts, the Menlo Church elder board and Danny Lavery emphasized different parts of this incident.

The Menlo Church elder board described this meeting in a Jan 21, 2020 email as follows:

In July of 2018, a person serving in the Menlo Church community came to John and shared in confidence an unwanted thought pattern of attraction to minors. The person assured to John’s satisfaction, that the person had not acted on the attraction and sought John’s support. 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.

Compare to Daniel Lavery’s Feb 2, 2020 statement posted to Twitter:

On November 15, 2019 a member of the congregation at Menlo Church disclosed to me that for most of their life, they had experienced obsessive sexual feelings about young children. This person further disclosed that they had sought out unsupervised volunteer positions with children as a method of treating this obsession, including volunteer work at Menlo Church as well as volunteer work that involves overnight travel with minors. Lastly, this person disclosed that although they had never spoken to a therapist about this plan, they had shared it with John and Nancy Ortberg in July 2018. John Ortberg has continually encouraged this person in their pursuit of unsupervised work with children.

It appears this conversation was kept secret from everyone at the time. At the March 1 town hall Q&A, John revealed that he had sought counsel from a psychologist and a psychiatrist without identifying the volunteer. On June 28, 2020, Daniel made a statement on Twitter revealing that John and Nancy Ortberg’s oldest child, Laura Ortberg Turner, who has a young son, was also aware of the situation.

Daniel’s June statement also revealed the “volunteer” was Daniel’s brother, John Ortberg III. According to Daniel, this disclosure was prompted by the volunteer losing his laptop and fearing the police would find it. According to Bob Smietana at RNS, there was a counter-claim that a police report was filed for the lost laptop.

Nov 15, 2019

Daniel Lavery says he discovered the situation and confirmed the information with his father, John Ortberg. Daniel described the conversation as follows:

That same day, my wife Grace and I confirmed all the above with John Ortberg. We expressed the gravest reservations about this scheme, but were told (1) that pedophilia was like homosexuality; (2) that the most important thing was maintaining secrecy around this affair; (3) that we lacked standing to offer an alternative form of treatment for sexual obsessions with children because of our transitions. John could not offer credible reassurance when I asked whether this person had stopped traveling overnight with children, even though John claimed the two of them had spoken often and candidly. “I’m not sure,” he said.

The elder email omitted this incident.

Daniel later described this conversation in a blog post and in his report to Menlo Church on Nov 21. Grace Lavery added that when asked who the Ortbergs had sought spiritual guidance from, the answer was: nobody. It was later confirmed by an athlete’s mother that the volunteer did continue overnight travel as a coach (original tweet now deleted).

Nov 18, 2019

Daniel Lavery says he wrote to the volunteer and his father, John Ortberg:

On November 18th, I wrote to the person in question with the names of therapists specializing in work with pedophiles who want to avoid harming children. I encouraged them to seek treatment, and to resign all volunteer positions working with children, which they did. My wife and I also wrote to my father, encouraging him to disclose every aspect of this affair to the elders at Menlo Church. He did not.

The elder email omitted this incident.

The letter to the volunteer was later published. Grace Lavery later published her portion of the letter to John, Nancy, and Laura Ortberg.

Nov 21, 2019

Daniel Lavery reported the situation to Menlo Church:

On November 21st we made full report of the above to multiple employees and elders at Menlo Church. The following day John Ortberg went on unspecified “personal leave” from his pastoral duties.

The contents of this report were not made public until Daniel Lavery released it (with children’s names redacted) on June 28, 2020.

First published on Twitter:

Dear Beth, Christy, Matt, Sally, and Vicki,

It is with great grief that I write this. I am sending this to the staff of Menlo Church whose roles entail responsibility for children - please ensure that it is forwarded to anyone else with relevant authority.

Last Friday, my younger brother John Ortberg III (Johnny), who is thirty years old, disclosed to me that, for as long as he can remember, he has been sexually obsessed with children - especially, he says, boys between the age of 8 and 13. Among other disclosures, he shared that he feels sad when children graduate and leave his company, that for him the sexual instinct is intertwined with an instinct to nurture, and that close personal contact with children is what gives his life meaning. He has felt this way, he says, for twenty-five years.

My brother told me that he disclosed this to our parents - Nancy and John Ortberg - nearly eighteen months ago, in July 2018. I confirmed this with my father over the phone last Friday. When Johnny told them about his sexual obsession with children, they decided to allow him to continue to work with children - indeed, they encouraged his work as a coach for the [REDACTED] team at [REDACTED]. They did not encourage him to seek therapeutic care. In short, my parents, in collaboration with my sister, worked to expose dozens, perhaps hundreds of children, to very serious emotional and physical risk, while simultaneously ensuring that my brother was never left alone with [REDACTED].

When I told my father that Johnny must seek therapy, and stop working with children at once, my father became enraged and defensive - he told me that I did not have the authority to make such an observation because my brother and I are no longer especially close, that Johnny was “heroic,” and implied that working with children was so important to Johnny that he would commit suicide if someone “took this away from him.” I have never heard my father speak in so panicked or furious a tone as when I questioned the wisdom of his decision to allow his son, a self-avowed pedophile, to work with children without any kind of supervision, therapy, or spiritual counsel. I also asked if he had clarified with Johnny at any point over the last 17 months whether he still spends the night with his [REDACTED] when they travel as I know they have in the past. “I don’t think so,” my father said. I asked him whether he knew that for certain: “I don’t think so,” he repeated.

My father also justified my brother’s refusal to seek counseling thusly: “He’s never done anything, so there’s nothing to report, but he’s afraid…he might get an eccentric therapist, or a weird one, who might decide to report anyways.”

Johnny claimed that he has not hurt anyone. I love my brother. I think it is possible that he has not physically attacked any children at Menlo, or anywhere else. Nonetheless, his work with children has been entirely unaccountable and unsupervised, and the decision to place him in such contexts was an intolerable gamble that my family should never have taken, and which nobody else should be forced to endorse. The very fact that he has sought out this unaccountable contact is itself a sign of his impaired judgment, a fact my family evidently recognized when they decided not to allow him to be alone with [REDACTED]. And of course, Johnny may have no sense whatsoever of the emotional harm that he may have caused.

The disturbingly poor judgment displayed by Johnny, and by the rest of my family, would have been sufficient justification for my writing to you. But two incidents give me further pause, both of which are known to my parents. The first concerns the circumstances of his first disclosing this condition to my parents. The reason he gave them at the time was that he had lost his laptop and was afraid that it might be found by police. Why would he have had such a fear unless the laptop contained incriminating materials? The second concerns Johnny’s participation in the Menlo [REDACTED] trip in 2009. My brother sought out a close relationship with an eight-year-old boy in [REDACTED] and has returned to Mexico almost every year since to stay with [REDACTED]. In 2017, Johnny posted this image on his Instagram account:

[REDACTED]

I believe my brother has volunteered with various youth groups at Menlo many times since my family moved to California in 2003. If he has done so since July 2018, then he has done so with my father’s explicit encouragement. I therefore implore you to conduct whatever inquiries are necessary to determine whether he has been responsible for harming children in the sixteen years since my father accepted his position at Menlo. I have already informed [REDACTED], and at my urging, my brother has stopped working there and is now seeking therapy. I note, too, that my parents at first attempted to accompany him to therapy. My father has a PhD in psychology - he knows how much use therapy will be to an adult patient flanked on either side by his parents.

My father has not reported Johnny’s condition to anyone at Menlo, but rather has continued to encourage Johnny to work in a variety of positions with young people. I take this choice to be entirely at odds with his responsibilities as a mandated reporter, as well as his stated vocation as a pastor.

I am horrified to think of the damage that my family may have done to the Menlo community over the sixteen years of my father’s ministry. I would not share this information with you unless I believed there to be a credible basis for a serious and thorough investigation of every aspect of my brother’s work with children, and the cover-up my parents have conducted. In the most charitable reading possible, my parents have acted with unconscionable disregard for their responsibilities as leaders, ministers, and parents. There are far more disturbing possibilities even than that.

I realize that members of my family rightly possess the right to discretion while the Church conducts such investigation as you deem necessary. I ask, then, that you let me know what steps you intend to take at your earliest opportunity. I am not in any contact with any members of my family, and do not intend to resume contact.

I know this news will break your hearts, as it has broken mine. As much as you have loved my parents, please also hold them to account.

Daniel Lavery

Around this time, Daniel says he also reported the situation via an intermediary to the school where the volunteer was coaching minors. The police were called, and a police operator spoke to Daniel on the phone. Daniel said he believed the risk should be investigated. Someone from the police department later left Daniel a message, which he returned, but they did not ask him any other questions and he was not told of any further investigation.

Nov 22, 2019

The Menlo Church elder board had an emergency meeting to discuss Daniel’s complaint. The Board authorized Beth Seabolt and/or David Kim to acquire legal counsel for the remainder of the process. The Board authorized Beth Seabolt and/or Russ Hall to acquire a private investigator.1

John Ortberg went on personal leave. According to the Menlo Church elder board:

John’s personal leave was suggested by the Elder Board (Session), and followed the Board’s need to investigate concerns raised by a third party.

Beth Seabolt wrote to Daniel Lavery:

I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for you to raise this issue, knowing that the family members you love would be impacted. We appreciate the care you put into thoughtfully crafting the detailed account.

According to the elders, they immediately asked the volunteer to stop working with youth once they received the report.

Nov 24-25, 2019

Beth Seabolt wrote to Daniel Lavery to notify him the church had engaged the services of investigator/attorney Fred W. Alvarez and to schedule time for an interview. Daniel replied the next day that he would be available starting Dec 1.

~Nov 25, 2019

The Menlo Church elder board made a report to ECO (the denomination the church is part of):

As soon as these concerns were brought to the Board’s attention, the Board acted immediately and consistent with Menlo Church policy, informed our denomination (ECO) and retained an independent investigator to look into the matter.

It’s unknown whether this report passed along the content of Daniel’s complaint or simply notified them that a complaint was pending. Menlo’s ethical misconduct policy states:

If the charge references an ECO ordained pastor, or a deacon or elder, the Clerk shall notify the Stated Clerk of the Presbytery, forward the complaint, and have the Stated Clerk determine the appropriate jurisdiction for investigation and adjudication, consistent with the processes and procedures as outlined in the ECO Rules of Discipline.

The Stated Clerk of Bluewater Presbytery is Todd Misfeldt.

Nothing was announced to the church congregation at this time.

Mid-late November

From the congregation’s perspective, John had been scheduled to give a sermon, but it kept getting postponed.

Nov 28, 2019

Daniel Lavery posted a public newsletter discussing his sudden estrangement from the Ortberg family and alluding to what had happened:

I on the other hand, was caught completely off guard. Two weeks ago I learned something I could not live with – asked what had been done about it – learned that nothing had been done, nor would ever – was chided for suggesting it was, in fact, morally necessary to take action immediately – estrangement from my family of origin, which had the day before been the furthest thing from my mind, became a matter of the keenest urgency.

In the last week, I have been able to hastily rewrite the portions of my book concerning my family of origin, and have taken Grace’s last name – feeling, I think quite naturally, a little tired of how many times I have changed my name in the last two years. I have made choices I know I can live with, choices that prioritize loving accountability over secrecy, and encouraged my family of origin to do the same.

~Dec 1-2

The investigator hired by Menlo Church began his investigation.2 Until RNS reported on July 6, Menlo Church refused to share the investigator’s name or the scope of the investigation with congregants who asked. However, the name was leaked online – the investigator was employment attorney Fred Alvarez of Coblentz Law. The official statement I received from Menlo Church on Feb 4 was:

A third-party investigator had full, independent license to pursue misconduct information related to our shared concerns and conducted as thorough a process as deemed necessary. 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. As the investigation was led by a third-party, and due to the subject matter of the investigation, further details are confidential at this point.

In July 2020, RNS reported that according to the elders, the investigator did not speak to parents, co-volunteers, or the volunteer himself, “deeming it unnecessary.” RNS also reported that the investigator did not speak to anyone at outside organization(s) where the volunteer worked with children.

Both Daniel Lavery and Nicole Cliffe (a family friend who spoke to most of the Ortbergs on the matter) have mentioned speaking to Alvarez.

According to the elders in a July email, concurrent to Alvarez’s investigation, senior staff also interviewed current and former staff internally:

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.

According to RNS, staff who were interviewed were not asked specifically about the volunteer or told there was a concern with him.

Menlo Church has repeatedly called this investigation “independent,” but a practicing attorney with a duty to his client can’t be considered independent. GRACE is one organization that does true independent investigations in the church space.

Dec 3

The elder board had a regularly scheduled meeting. John was not present. The agenda involved an update on the investigation and the response from the presbytery, which were redacted. I was told that the presbytery’s response was to delegate investigation of the complaint to the Menlo Church Session and that they asked to be updated on the investigation progress, which they were.1

Dec 11, 2019

Menlo’s December newsletter included a brief snippet mentioning that John was on personal leave, unrelated to illness:

This year, our Christmas message will be from Eugene Lee, our Executive Pastor of Campuses. Our senior pastor, John Ortberg, is on personal leave. He is not ill, and we ask that you join us in praying for him and our church family. While John is out, the work of the church continues under the leadership of our Session and Central Leadership Team.

There was no indication at this time that the leave was related to an investigation or requested by Session. No further details were given.

Mid December (?), 2019

Sometime before Christmas - I don’t remember the exact date - the elder board met again. The update on the investigation was that a written report would be coming soon.1 Note: does this mean the investigator concluded the interview portion of his investigation in only a few weeks?

Jan 14(?), 2020

In mid-January (exact date unsure), the Elder Board met again and discussed what appears to be the investigation results. At this meeting, the board decided that John should be allowed to begin a restoration plan.1

Jan 16, 2020

Beth Seabolt wrote to Danny Lavery thanking him for bringing the matter to the church’s attention. She wrote that John had shown remorse and apologized and the Board planned for John to return from leave the next day (Jan 17) and, after a period of internal work, anticipated his return to the pulpit by the end of February.

Daniel responded expressing concern:

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.

Beth responded that they would put the plan on pause, and that the Board would meet that evening.

The Board met and discussed whether “this new information” changed anything about their previous decision. It did not. They called John in to inform him of the decision. They also decided that they would communicate with the complainant (Daniel Lavery) on Jan 20, the church staff on Jan 21, and the congregation on Jan 22. (Seems like that last one ended up accelerated.)1

Jan 21, 2020

On Jan 21, Menlo Church sent out a church-wide email announcing the results of the investigation and John’s return from personal leave:

We wanted to provide an update as it relates to John Ortberg.

As you might be aware, John has been on personal leave since November 22. John’s personal leave was suggested by the Elder Board (Session), and followed the Board’s need to investigate concerns raised by a third party. In July of 2018, a person serving in the Menlo Church community came to John and shared in confidence an unwanted thought pattern of attraction to minors. The person assured to John’s satisfaction, that the person had not acted on the attraction and sought John’s support. 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 Board takes these concerns very seriously and believes the bond of trust around our children’s safety is among our highest callings as a Menlo Church community. As soon as these concerns were brought to the Board’s attention, the Board acted immediately and consistent with Menlo Church policy, informed our denomination (ECO) and retained an independent investigator to look into the matter. 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. Nevertheless, the investigation showed John exhibited poor judgment that was inconsistent with his responsibilities as Senior Pastor.

John fully understands the Board’s concerns regarding his handling of this situation. John is saddened by the potential risk he now realizes he brought on the Menlo community and wholly agrees that he did not handle this matter consistent with his responsibilities to Menlo Church and the Board’s expectations of him. He deeply apologizes for his action and decisions, and is committed to the safety and integrity of our community and to ensuring that such a situation does not arise again.

The safety and integrity of our community is of paramount importance at Menlo Church, and we hold all members of our community, especially Menlo Church staff, to the highest ethical standards. The Board’s role includes setting expectations for Menlo’s pastors and staff, and in holding them, including John, accountable. This includes ensuring that their actions and decisions are consistent with Menlo Church policies, as well as those of our denomination, ECO. The Board is ultimately accountable to ensure that the right safeguards are in place and that the operational policies and actions of Menlo Church staff are consistently followed. We believe we took timely action consistent with our policies and will continue to demonstrate great care and governing oversight.

Should any reports of abuse or misconduct surface at a later date, 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 children. We have significant protective measures already in place, including the two adult policy and background checks for all regular volunteers. In the coming days, we will communicate those measures to you directly as well as to share any improvements we make. Please know if you ever witness or experience any kind of inappropriate conduct or wish to report something, you can confidentially contact Beth Seabolt at Elders@Menlo.Church. Also, if you are a parent seeking resources for how to discuss these difficult topics with your child, please contact Sue Kim-Ahn in Central Ministries.

Our shared beliefs are among what bind us together at Menlo Church. Among our core beliefs is God’s Redemptive Plan – that we believe God does not intend for sin and suffering to get the last word, but is at work to redeem and reconcile what He has made, with the affirmation that “everybody’s welcome, nobody’s perfect, and with God anything is possible.” To that end, and based on the Board’s investigation and careful deliberation, the Board has adopted a specific restoration plan setting John’s return from personal leave on Friday, January 24th. John will only be working internally with staff and the Board during this interim period, focusing on his restoration plan and seeking to rebuild trust. We hope for his return to the pulpit in the near future, if approved by the Board after closely monitoring John’s progress. John will share a brief word on these matters with the congregation this weekend.

In the midst of this matter, our commitment to our vision remains firm: to help people find and follow Jesus. We invite you to join us in continuing to pray.

Beth Seabolt
Elder Board Chair,
on behalf of Session

The overall impression given was that John had met with a person attracted to minors once, about a year and a half ago, and referred this person to counseling, but failed to file the paperwork with the church to prevent the person from volunteering. The email did not specify whether the “minors” involved were children or teenagers. It did not specify whether the volunteer was working with the age range he or she had a problem with.

The email claimed that the Board had “retained an independent investigator to look into the matter.” It did not say who was retained. According to the email, the investigation included “interviews with supervising staff” and “a review of detailed volunteer records” and did not reveal any “misconduct” or allegations of misconduct. John’s actions were summed up as “poor judgment that was inconsistent with his responsibilities as Senior Pastor.”

The email announced that starting January 24, John would be working internally for an interim period on a “restoration plan” and “seeking to rebuild trust.” It concluded, “We hope for his return to the pulpit in the near future, if approved by the Board after closely monitoring John’s progress. John will share a brief word on these matters with the congregation this weekend.”

Also on the 21st, Beth Seabolt wrote to Danny Lavery and reiterated that the investigator had found no misconduct, and the volunteer was no longer volunteering at church and would be flagged if he attempted to. She said that while initially, John’s “recognition of the impact of his decisions” was “weak”, John had done significant personal work to recognize and own his decisions and had apologized at length. Beth Seabolt noted that John’s dishonesty about the cause of the family rift had been addressed. She said the Board had spent “hundreds of hours” addressing Danny’s concerns, and the investigation had involved interviews with 17 people. She concluded that the church desired to resolve things in a “compassionate” way designed for the safety of youth, not to punish.

The press did not pick up the story at the time.

Jan 25 & 26, 2020

John Ortberg spoke briefly before the sermon at Menlo Church on Saturday night. Menlo Church has a multi-site model where the Saturday night service is recorded and the video played at each campus for Sunday services.

Audio posted by Julie Roys on SoundCloud:

I want to talk from my heart to our church family for a few moments. You’ve got, you know, that email from our elders this week that describes how I made a ministry decision about a volunteer’s participation that I should not be. And when I did this, I failed to meet our church’s important and appropriate standards and failed to meet my responsibilities as a leader of our church. And this lacked transparency and collaboration and wisdom. And because I failed in this way, it has placed a burden on many people. And I want to take a moment to acknowledge that.

I think of everybody who is a parent, whose greatest nightmare is, “What if something should happen to my child?” I’m a parent of three children that I dearly love, and I know that fear. I think of people who have experienced the evil of abuse, or molestation, or violation, and the shame and pain that can wound a soul. I think of people who wrestle with secret, unwanted thoughts and wonder, “Is there a safe place where I can get help?” I think of all of our staff and our volunteers who serve so diligently. Menlo has one of the best and safest ministries I know, especially for young people, and I deeply regret my actions contributed to that being questioned instead of being celebrated.

So I have said this to the elders, and I have begun to say it to our staff, but now I want to say it to each one of you: I am so very sorry. I’m sorry I failed to do the right thing and I’m sorry for the weight and the burden this has created for so many. I’m beginning now a restoration plan that is designed and overseen by our elders to seek to rebuild trust and repair relationships with staff and elders and our congregation. And this is an elder decision. They will monitor it and evaluate it. But it’s important for you to know, I think it’s a very good thing. It has to be a robust, unhurrying process where staff and elders and others have great freedom to ask every question and seek discernment.

You all know church ministry can only be done if there’s a community of trust and transparency at its core. And if that can be rebuilt and restored, we will all move into the future together. And if it’s the best sense of our elders, with staff and congregation input, that it cannot then we will move into the future, trusting that God is guiding all of us in exactly the right way. For my part, my clear desire is to remain here and to serve at Menlo Church as best I can. Paul said, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” I believe God can use weakness and brokenness to build deeper and more honest and more real community.

I’ve already started talking with the elders about the future, and that, if and only if the restoration process leads in this direction, I think I can contribute to our church best by focusing most on preaching and teaching and spiritual formation and to have our elders and staff look at how we might find additional help in real important areas like strategic excellence and managerial leadership. I think our current challenge is one of the indicators of how much our church could benefit from greater strength in those areas than what I bring.

So I want to ask everybody to join me, to please be in prayer. Sometimes churches don’t respond well in moments like this. People get divided or they split into factions and then the unity and harmony and beauty of the church is threatened. And we know God doesn’t want that. This is not a human organization. This is the body of Christ. Know that our elders have been praying and working tirelessly the last few months to discern God’s will. Know that our staff has been bearing an extraordinary burden of concern and pressure and added weight. So this is a real important time for me and for a lot of us to be our very best selves, as God enables us: humble, confident, truthful, courageous, filled with love. And there’s no way we can do that without God, so would you pray with me.

John said that he “made a ministry decision about a volunteer’s participation” that he should not have and which failed to meet the church’s standards. He said, “I deeply regret my actions contributed to [the safety of Menlo’s children’s ministries] being questioned.” He apologized generally to the congregation and staff, saying, “I’m sorry I failed to do the right thing and I’m sorry for the weight and the burden this has created for so many.”

John said he was beginning a “restoration plan” overseen by the elder board in order to “rebuild trust” and “repair relationships.” He emphasized that it was not yet known whether he would return to his position but said his desire was to remain at Menlo, and he had already started talking to the elders about focusing his future work on “preaching and teaching and spiritual formation” while finding someone else to help in strategic/managerial areas.

He exhorted the church to remain unified, saying, “Sometimes churches don’t respond well in moments like this. People get divided or they split into factions and then the unity and harmony and beauty of the church is threatened. And we know God doesn’t want that.”

Feb 2, 2020

Daniel Lavery posted a statement on Twitter, saying that parishioners and journalists had reached out to him asking to understand the church’s response better:

Originally posted as screenshots on Twitter, Feb 2, 2020:

On November 15, 2019 a member of the congregation at Menlo Church disclosed to me that for most of their life, they had experienced obsessive sexual feelings about young children. This person further disclosed that they had sought out unsupervised volunteer positions with children as a method of treating this obsession, including volunteer work at Menlo Church as well as volunteer work that involves overnight travel with minors. Lastly, this person disclosed that although they had never spoken to a therapist about this plan, they had shared it with John and Nancy Ortberg in July 2018. John Ortberg has continually encouraged this person in their pursuit of unsupervised work with children.

That same day, my wife Grace and I confirmed all the above with John Ortberg. We expressed the gravest reservations about this scheme, but were told (1) that pedophilia was like homosexuality; (2) that the most important thing was maintaining secrecy around this affair; (3) that we lacked standing to offer an alternative form of treatment for sexual obsessions with children because of our transitions. John could not offer credible reassurance when I asked whether this person had stopped traveling overnight with children, even though John claimed the two of them had spoken often and candidly. “I’m not sure,” he said.

On November 18th, I wrote to the person in question with the names of therapists specializing in work with pedophiles who want to avoid harming children. I encouraged them to seek treatment, and to resign all volunteer positions working with children, which they did. My wife and I also wrote to my father, encouraging him to disclose every aspect of this affair to the elders at Menlo Church. He did not. On November 21st we made full report of the above to multiple employees and elders at Menlo Church. The following day John Ortberg went on unspecified “personal leave” from his pastoral duties.

I have no firsthand knowledge of any criminal activity, and I have real compassion for anyone trying to treat sexual compulsions with accountability and oversight. But the situation they had created was risky, unsafe, and unsustainable.

Menlo Church has recently issued a statement regarding John Ortberg’s “personal leave” from pastoral duties since November 22, 2019. They report that he “exhibited poor judgment that was inconsistent with his responsibilities,” but that “the investigation did not reveal any allegations of misconduct.” John Ortberg has offered a non-specific apology despite Menlo Church’s assertion that no one has done anything wrong. Parishioners and journalists have reached out to me, asking me to explain this apparent contradiction. I cannot.

As a non-churchgoer, I have no position on what an appropriate ecclesiastical response might be, and I’m not aware of the full scope of the investigation. This has been personally devastating, and broken the trust that once existed between myself and the Ortberg family. I have no further public statements to make at this time.

Danny Lavery

For the first time, the congregation became aware of the full extent much more of Daniel’s report to the church. According to Daniel:

The story was then picked up by multiple news sources, including RNS/Christianity Today, The Daily Mail, and local news.

Feb 6, 2020

Daniel Lavery posted Thoughts on a Phone Call, which described his experience of the Nov 15, 2019 phone call between himself and John Ortberg using a format that included paraphrased lines from John Ortberg (identifying information removed) interspersed with commentary from Daniel.

Daniel wrote that John pushed strongly for allowing the volunteer to work with children secretly, alternately cajoling and demanding he keep the secret. Daniel said John went to the extent of implying the volunteer’s suicide would be Daniel’s responsibility if he told the church:

Daniel also indicated that the volunteer did not follow John’s referrals for therapy, and that John knew it and allowed the situation to continue anyway:

Feb 27, 2020

Menlo Church never responded to Daniel. A few weeks later, they sent out a congregation-wide email announcing John’s imminent completion of his restoration plan and return to the pulpit:

DEAR MENLO CHURCH COMMUNITY,

The Board of Elders met this week and we wanted to share an update based on our discussion.

We recognize these past few months have been challenging. Since our last update, John Ortberg has remained focused on his Restoration Plan and shown great progress. John has appropriately faced difficult discussions with congregants, volunteers, staff members, and elders. In each encounter, John has sought to understand the pain and concerns his actions have caused, apologized personally for his mistakes, offered to make amends where possible, and asked for help in restoring trust. We are pleased to hear the constructive and positive feedback John has received following his meetings. John has also reaffirmed his support for and compliance with Menlo Church’s key policies and beliefs as well as those of our denomination, ECO.

After thoroughly reviewing the input from all constituencies and considering the progressive nature of building trust, and after prayerfully seeking God’s guidance, the Board believes John is ready to move beyond his Restoration Plan and prepare for his return to the pulpit. The Board has full confidence in John as our spiritual leader and together we look forward to him preaching again starting the weekend of March 7 after being away from the pulpit since mid-November.

We will now also work together as a Board and at John’s request, to consider changes to responsibilities that will involve John focusing a greater portion of his time and gifts on teaching, discipleship, and mentorship while we discern alternative means to provide excellent day-to-day operational leadership for Menlo Church.

We are so proud of our dedicated staff and volunteers and the incredible care and diligence they bring to ensuring the safety and security of all who enter Menlo’s doors at every campus. We will continue to look for ways to further improve and maintain the highest standards in providing a safe, God-honoring environment. We will also continue to provide a community where those who face challenging issues can find a confidential way to receive spiritual support.

We are grateful for your trust and patience through this season. Your prayers and intercession for the church, the members of our congregation, our staff, our volunteers, our campus pastors, John and his family, and our surrounding communities have been, and continue to be deeply appreciated. We have seen God move in response to our prayers and are committed to being obedient to his call to reach the Bay Area for Christ. And now let’s look forward together to continuing our mission of helping people find and follow Jesus.

In Christ,

Beth Seabolt
Chair, Board of Elders

Mar 1, 2020

Menlo Church held a town hall meeting which consisted of brief updates from the elders, an update from a campus pastor, a guided prayer, and a Q&A. The updates were all positive and only briefly touched on the Ortberg situation by mentioning that his return would kick off an organizational restructuring at his request.

Most questions in the Q&A were about the pedophile situation. The elders did provide some new information: first, that the volunteer worked with middle and high schoolers; and second, that the volunteer had been working off and on for years. The investigator, they said, was “outstanding,” “very well-received, nationally,” and had worked in Washington. They said they would not be responding to Danny Lavery, who they said was “lashing out.” They asked the church to show grace to John and Nancy.

John spoke briefly and reiterated that while he did not believe there was reasonable suspicion of risk, he wished he had prevented the volunteer from working at Menlo because of how sensitive the subject is and how concerning it is to people. He said he had consulted a psychologist and a psychiatrist who agreed with him that the situation did not trigger mandatory reporting.

Full summary of questions & answers here, and my analysis here.

Mar 3, 2020

Grace Lavery posted a statement on Twitter and Daniel Lavery syndicated it on his newsletter.

The statement was a response to Beth Seabolt’s comments about Danny Lavery at the town hall on Mar 1. Grace said Beth should apologize for smearing Danny and for misleading the congregation. The statement included snippets of emails from Beth, showing how at the time, Beth never gave any indication to Danny that she considered his allegations non-credible. “Indeed, were it not for Danny’s ‘lashing out,'” Grace wrote, “neither she nor anyone at Menlo Church would even know that one of their volunteers believed themself to be treating their pedophilia with the explicit and sustained encouragement of the Ortbergs.”

Grace concluded:

In his own remarks at the Menlo Town Hall, John Ortberg acknowledged, albeit half-heartedly, that his secret plan to treat someone’s pedophilia by covert immersion therapy under his own supervision was a “mistake.” Does he therefore also regret attempting to bully Danny into keeping his secret? And if so, will he offer a public apology to his son? Do the Elders of Menlo Church not think that the absence of such an apology is quite disturbing, in this context?

Read the full statement here.

Mar 7, 2020

John gave his first sermon since November, “Lessons Learned on Leave." [Transcript]

Mar 8, 2020

The elder board hosted another Town Hall meeting. The content was similar to the first, although the mix of questions and answers was different. John reiterated several times that he did not believe the volunteer was or is or will be a risk to anybody. He also said that he “did not encourage a volunteer to seek to treat their condition by seeking unsupervised access with minors.”

Jun 28, 2020

Daniel Lavery posted a statement on Twitter naming the volunteer and publishing the report he had sent to Menlo Park elder Beth Seabolt and four Menlo Kids staff members. Daniel released several new pieces of information in this statement.

According to Daniel:

Daniel reiterated that he did not know if his brother had ever harmed a child and it was possible he had not physically done so.

Grace Lavery added:

One thing I would like to say on my own behalf is that I participated the phone call with Danny and John Ortberg to discuss these matters. John has contested Danny’s account of that conversation, but no investigator has ever asked me to give independent testimony.

Jun 29, 2020

Daniel’s older sister, Laura Ortberg Turner, responded on Twitter (and later deleted her account):

There is so much I would like to address and say right now! But I won’t say it all. What I can say is this: I love my brother Danny, and always will. I can also say that the statement he shared yesterday is full of half-truths, lies, and exaggerations. (1/2)

I would like very much to talk with him about this and offer corrections, but he cut off all contact with our family in November and made it very clear that we were never to contact him again. That is all I’m going to say! (2/2)

Grace Lavery responded:

Accusing someone of lying is actionable. Accusing someone of lying, but refusing to say what they’re lying about, is weak. Everything that Danny said in his statement yesterday can be [typo: attested] by several witnesses. I’m so disappointed that Laura has decided to join the cover-up.

I am interested to hear which of the statements Laura thinks are lies and exaggerations. Could someone try to figure this out?

Often, when Danny and I told someone about this situation, their first response was “Laura too?” And we would say “Laura too.” And they would call Laura, and listen to her tell this mind-wiped narrative about why everything was fine, actually. And then come back with “Laura too.”

(cont’d on Twitter)

Grace also posted:

As you may know, before this all happened Danny and I used to be very close with the Ortbergs. And so some of Danny’s friends became close with them too. Danny and Laura, in particular, had many close people in common.

I want to recognize how absolutely devastating this was so many of our friends. Nicole Cliffe, among others, called the Ortbergs to confirm what we had told her (which they did) before she cut them out of her life. I admire her so much for that.

A number of other friends had similar phone calls. I won’t name them here, in case they’d rather remain private, but I just want you all to know how much strength Danny and I drew from their assurance, knowing that our response to the situation with Johnny was not eccentric.

The Ortbergs did everything within their power to make Danny the problem. When pushed, they admitted we were right on the ethics but blamed us for reporting to the church, rather than urging John to do so. But our friends held us up, and kept us in the light. Thank you.

And:

Danny and I do NOT believe that outing people with sexual compulsions towards children is good general policy. That this is necessary is a tragedy—and solely the fault of those who have perpetrated a cover-up for six months. PLEASE seek institutional accountability.

Grace also opened a Twitter thread for questions from Menlo parishioners.

Q: Why did the volunteer disclose to Daniel?

A: See, there is actually a little more to this. For a couple of years, J had been very resistant to Danny’s transition, deadnaming/misgendering. A meeting was arranged for Danny to try to explain his transness. And Johnny was like “…well I have something to share too.”

The irony is that Johnny talked for hours - two hours? - about how hard his life is, how sad and alone he feels watching kids graduate, before Danny had a chance to talk about transition. And then, when D did say something, J responded “hm i’m sorry i just don’t get it.”

And one of the things that makes me angriest, on a personal level, is that Johnny’s rampant transphobia was excused again and again, and John, Nancy, and Laura ALL took me aside at some point to explain that Johnny just needed time to understand the transition, that he loved D…

When all the time they all knew that Johnny was keeping a FAR more consequential secret, that was being applauded and sanctimoniously mourned by all of them, which evidently warranted none of the panicked “family meetings” occasioned by D’s queerness and transness over the years.

to answer Ruth’s question directly, I believe that Johnny wanted to bargain with Danny: I will stop misgendering you, if you help me cover this up. But I stress that that is my speculation.

Q: Did you and/or Daniel report/speak with police?

A (from Grace): We reported to the school, who reported to the cops. After a game of phone tag, Danny spoke with a phone operator at the police station and described his conversation with Johnny. The phone operator said that a detective would call him back, but the detective never did.

Danny and I have slightly different commitments in this respect. I oppose cooperation with the police at any time, and would not cooperate here. Danny believes police should be abolished, but until they are he will cooperate in matters related to child endangerment.

A (from Daniel): If it’s helpful to break down the timeline, I can: Grace and I knew the high school staff were mandatory reporters. I wanted them to report. When we instructed our friend to call the school in 2019, we told them to share my contact information in that call, so both the school and the police could confirm the story with me. The school contacted the police, who contacted me later that month.

I confirmed the details over the phone – that I had heard the confession directly from my brother, that I did not know if a crime had been committed, but that I believed there had been a risk that should be investigated. Later someone from the police department left me a voicemail saying they were calling to follow up. I returned the voicemail. They did not ask me any other questions and I don’t know who else they spoke to, or whether they did any formal investigating.

Q: Did you &/or Daniel report/speak to child protective services?

A: No. We did not know of any part of the situation that would have been helped by such a report.

Q: Do you know if the 8 yr old Johnny befriended has ever been asked if he was sexually abused by him?

A: I do not know, but I do not believe that he has been. Certainly the time frame of the Menlo investigation seems too short for such an inquiry. And I do not believe Fred Alvarez traveled to Mexico.

Q: Do you know the two men John sr. consulted with? re: reporting Johnny.

A: I don’t believe he gave us names. He said he spoke to them hypothetically, and they suggested therapy, which John said Johnny felt (in John’s view understandably) to be an intolerable risk. John has sometimes sought medical and psych advice from Rick Blackmon and Chuck Bergstrom.

Q: What exactly was the plan the Ortbergs were following? Who came up with it, and when? In what ways did they believe the work with kids was therapeutic? Were they explicitly trying to do some form of exposure therapy?

A(Grace): I am afraid I don’t know the answers to most of these questions. I know that the cornerstone of the plan was secrecy, and the goal was to “turn this part of [Johnny] to good use” by encouraging his work with children.

A2(Nicole Cliffe via text message): 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.

Grace also posted screenshots of a group text from August on Twitter, showing the Ortberg family celebrating a recent game John III had coached, and a copy of the letter Daniel had sent to his brother on Nov 18, 2019, telling him he needed to resign from his volunteer work immediately.

Nicole Cliffe, a friend of Daniel and the Ortberg family, posted in support of Daniel on Instagram. Alexis Coe also wrote in support:

Last year, Danny called to tell me this. We’re a part of a group that included his sister, Laura, who called & asked me to let her get through the entire story before I responded. She proceeded to tell me the exact same story.

Today, she vaguely called DL a liar. He is not.

Jun 30, 2020

Grace Lavery wrote:

This, from John Ortberg, reveals (1) that he believed that Johnny was the best judge of whether he had harmed anyone. He is not. Johnny could believe that he has never hurt anyone and be wrong. This is why oversight is so, so necessary.

I can say having asked the volunteer when we had that initial conversation very stringent questions, I am absolutely certain that that person did not harm anybody and would not and will not harm anybody.

In the aftermath of our breaking away, the Ortbergs framed this as a whodunit, insisting that Johnny had never “hurt anyone.” But they knew that he had a pattern of forming intense, romantic friendships with young boys. These were damaging whether or not he assaulted them.

And it reveals (2) that John made a decision on whether to report based on his personal assessment of the risk the volunteer posed. About which he could not possibly have been objective.

Daniel posted, via Grace, a response to criticism for naming the volunteer:

you are not the first person to tell me I am responsible for my brother’s life or death. The last person who made this argument wanted me to keep this a secret so my brother could be alone with children whenever he wanted, with only himself to answer to, in order to soothe his sexual urges. I did not find the argument persuasive then, and I do not find it persuasive now. Naming him publicly was not my first choice, but a last resort after multiple institutional failures and coverups, every single of one of which my brother participated in. I do not believe my brother can live healthily and safely with this secret any longer. You think he needs the secret to be protected and preserved at all cost. Our disagreement is vast. I hope you abandon your position. Safety, secrecy, and collusion are not what pedophiles need.

Friends of Daniel posted in support:

Jul 2, 2020

Grace Lavery posted a thread recapping the disclosures of the past few days and ending with the following call to action:

We propose the following remedy as a matter of urgency:

(1) The Ortbergs, Beth Seabolt, and all who participated in this cover-up must be removed from position at Menlo Church.

(2) GRACE [ed: netgrace.org] must impanel an independent body to establish accountability in the Ortberg case, and improve safeguarding at Menlo Church.

(3) Their investigation must cover the Menlo Missions to Baja, the Youth Groups, and all other child-facing aspects of the institution, at all Menlo campuses.

(4) Daniel Lavery to receive a written apology as the pinned tweet for the Menlo Church account.

An email address was opened to reach Daniel and Grace with information or concerns about Menlo Church and related matters: menloallegations@gmail.com. Grace said they had already heard from multiple people of failures of safeguarding at Menlo youth ministries. A mother of an athlete confirmed that the volunteer was still doing overnight travel with students after his disclosure to John Ortberg in July 2018 (Twitter account now deleted).

Daniel disclosed that he had also been placed in a risky situation as a child:

It should not be this hard. It should not take this much, or this long.

I was knowingly exposed to similar risk repeatedly as a child. There is no version where “nothing happens.” I was not the victim of a crime, but I was regularly terrified, hypervigilant, baffled, and left to fend for myself.

As upsetting as the contact was, I was also harmed by the response of the adults in charge — avoidance, vagueness, no explanation, a continued absence of supervision. I asked for help and nothing changed. This made me doubt my sense of safety and reality.

Jul 3, 2020

A newly created Twitter account, allegedly belonging to John Ortberg’s brother-in-law via domestic partnership with John’s brother, replied to several threads accusing Daniel and Grace of acting for financial gain. Both the account and the brother’s account were subsequently deleted.

New statements:

Jul 5, 2020

Menlo Church’s online sermons did not have the usual chat enabled. Nor was there an introduction to the guest speaker, Eugene Cho.

Daniel Lavery posted a statement marking one week since he had come forward with his brother’s name:

Grace and I both knew pushing for accountability and further investigation at Menlo was going to come at a cost. We knew it would be slow, difficult, painful, and that we’d meet with resistance. @graceelavery

We’ve spoken to school administrators, the police, current and former parishioners, parents, investigators, lawyers, and church staff. We’ve gone public when other avenues failed. Almost eight months after our first report in November, and still no one has interviewed the children who were in my brother’s care over the years.

We’ve also met with a lot of support, and we’re both so grateful for it. We have never had to do this by ourselves. Trusted friends helped us draft emails, review process, seek legal and therapeutic counsel, clarify our goals, and looked after us when we needed it.

In the last week, while my father has remained silent about his cover-up, three other relatives have attacked Grace and me in public. My sister claimed to be broken-hearted over our “exaggerations,” but declined to clarify what she meant when asked for more detail. My uncle’s husband said we must be doing this for money. This one’s pretty straightforward: We haven’t made any money off this. I’m not sure how we would go about making money from asking for an investigation into my brother’s work with children at a church we do not attend, in a state where we do not live. Of all the ways a person can make money, this has got to be pretty far down on the list.

And, of course, over and over, the same claim: This can’t really be Danny (often, “This can’t really be Mallory,” because they don’t believe I’m really Danny, either). This must be Grace’s fault – she must have brainwashed me somehow, poisoned me against my loving family, dragged me out of a happy home and whispered venom into my ear until I was programmed to attack. It’s an old transmisogynist chestnut: Trans women are all-powerful malicious actors hell-bent on the destruction of the nuclear family, and trans men are confused, idiotic dupes in their thrall. In this scenario, I am a permanent child, forever frozen into a petulant adolescence, capable only of sensible filial piety or irrational lashing-out.

And Grace, despite working tirelessly to help safeguard children, supporting and comforting and working with me both in public and in private, is forever suspicious, alien, duplicitous, untrustworthy, dangerous, all by virtue of her transition. It makes a mockery of everything I’m proud of in Grace: Her moral clarity, her energy and persistence, her attention to detail, her dedication to bearing me up when I’m exhausted and demoralized and heartbroken over the loss of my entire family, her intelligence… her commitment to safeguarding and collective decision-making, are all leveraged against her, as evidence that she is acting for me rather than with me and alongside me. I am so proud of Grace, and take great delight in her strengths.

I know part of the reason why, a full week after we first made the details public, most of the Christian press has not yet touched the story is because we are both transgender, and therefore not credible. This was Menlo Church’s early strategy in dismissing our concerns and excusing my father’s attempt to stop my initial report. I’d ask those Christians to remember John 16:13: “However, when the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.”

It’s been seven days now since I made the decision to name the volunteer as my brother. Grace supported me in this decision; I made it. I did not need Grace to tell me what was wrong when my father said “I don’t know…I’m not sure” when I asked him if my brother still took children on overnight trips without supervision. I knew it was wrong. I knew it had to stop. I knew it wasn’t good enough to say, “Well, Johnny says nothing happened – investigation over!” I knew exactly what kind of risk those children were being exposed to, because my parents exposed me for years to a very similar risk as a child.

I suffered many overnight visits where I was not safe, where I knew I was not safe, and I knew that the adults in my life would not believe me if I told them I was not safe. That contact harmed me deeply, and it took me years to recognize the scope and extent of that harm. Part of the harm came from the cheerful silence of the responsible adults, after I asked for help and nothing changed. I was not credible then because I was a child; I am not credible now because my wife and I are trans. We stand nothing to gain here, except the hope of breaking a cycle where the feelings and reputations of powerful men and self-loathing pedophiles are more important than safety and accountability.

and while we are not the victims here, it’s come at a very high cost. We’ve been degraded, ignored, smeared, dismissed, and it has hurt so badly to be torn apart by my own family in public like this. I don’t have words for how much it has hurt.

Grace Lavery posted a statement describing the process she and Daniel went through after hearing the volunteer’s disclosure in deciding how to report. It concluded:

Once more, we didn’t know that people would support us. We thought they wouldn’t, in fact: people tend to flock to the side of the vulnerable straight guy, rather than the loud and dramatic trans people. We did what we thought was right, not what we thought would be popular.

Since I knew this wouldn’t be a one-and-done thing, I agreed to take the lead doing social media work this week. Which I have: part lawyer and part reporter. It isn’t a natural position for me but I’ve done my best. Once the press report, I can stop.

It goes without saying that I am so proud of Danny. And, a week out, I am proud of this decision. It is not the only decision we could have made; not everyone who thinks otherwise is on our shit list. But I am proud of this choice that Danny made, and grateful to be useful. 💖💖

Menlo Church sent an email to families saying:

DEAR FAMILIES,

Earlier this year, we notified our church about a decision Pastor John made regarding an individual who was volunteering with Menlo Church students. An independent, third-party investigation found no evidence of misconduct, and we have no reason to believe there was any wrongdoing. This past week, the name of the volunteer was made public. While our elders have been aware of the identity of the volunteer, based on the fact that no misconduct or wrongdoing was found, we have kept the name of the volunteer confidential. We realize, however, that this new development could raise questions and concerns for students, parents, and volunteers at our church. My purpose in reaching out to you is to affirm that the safety and well-being of our students have always been of utmost importance. We love and care deeply for our students.

I realize you may be processing this information in a new way and may have questions or concerns. So I wanted to let you know that we are here for you and available to talk to you by phone or Zoom. If you would like to be contacted by one of our pastors or elders, or believe your family might benefit from access to a professional counselor, you can reach me at elee@menlo.church or one of our elders at elders@menlo.church. In addition, should you wish to share your perspectives directly with John or have a dialogue around this topic, please mention that to a staff member or directly to me.

All staff, as well as volunteers for Kids’, Student’s, and Missions’ areas, are background checked and have been for many years. We also extended the program several years ago to include background checks for all regular volunteer roles. Additionally, all staff are required to go through workplace training and all mandated compliance training. Volunteers also receive “behavior and conduct” training during onboarding, which is repeated at regular intervals. The Elder Board is ultimately accountable to ensure that the right safeguards are in place and that the operational policies and actions of Menlo Church staff are consistently followed.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if we can help or support you in any way.

A new website launched: Menlo Allegations. It contained a timeline of Grace and Daniel’s communications with Menlo Church as well as testimonials from former Menlo congregants with their reasons for leaving.

Jul 6, 2020

RNS published the first news coverage since Daniel’s June 28 statement: Megachurch pastor John Ortberg kept a family member’s attraction to children secret. Then his son blew the whistle. From the article:

The Menlo Church Elder Board emailed a statement to the congregation:

DEAR MENLO CHURCH COMMUNITY,

Earlier this year, we notified our church members about a decision pastor John Ortberg, Jr. made allowing an individual to volunteer with Menlo Church youth. That situation resulted in the Board placing John on personal leave. Upon learning of this situation, the Board immediately stopped the individual from volunteering, and staff put safeguards in place to prevent any future volunteer involvement. The Board promptly informed our denomination (ECO) and retained an independent third-party investigator to understand fully John’s actions regarding the concerns raised, as well as to ensure the safety of our community, including our youth.

The Board gave the investigator and his team full discretion to investigate the matter thoroughly. The investigation included an interview with the individual who raised the concerns initially, interviews with church members and staff to whom this individual directly raised these concerns (and disclosed the identity of the volunteer in question), interviews with current and former supervising staff across Student’s and Kids’ ministries over the past decade, and a review of relevant emails, documents and volunteer records.

In addition, we informed the church of this investigation and its results last January, and solicited input in real time from the congregation on multiple occasions (including at our town hall meetings), encouraging anyone with knowledge or concerns of any kind of misconduct to come forward with that information. We received no complaints. Nevertheless, should any reports of any level of abuse or misconduct surface at a later date (regarding the volunteer in question or otherwise), we will take immediate action, including as appropriate with law enforcement and are fully aware of our obligations as mandatory reporters.

Recently, a name for the volunteer has been alleged publicly, but no new information has been presented. 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, Menlo Church has not disclosed the name of the volunteer. In conducting any investigation, and insofar as possible, we seek to protect the confidentiality and anonymity of both the complainant and the subject of any concerns raised to the church.

As we reported earlier, but wish to reiterate here, the investigation did not find any indication of misconduct by the volunteer in question in the Menlo Church community or otherwise, and similarly did not learn of any allegations that the volunteer had engaged in any misconduct of any sort. As we reported in more detail in earlier communications, the Board did determine that John exhibited poor judgment inconsistent with his responsibilities by unilaterally allowing the individual to volunteer with Menlo’s youth, and determined that John should have discussed this situation with the Board. John agrees with the Board’s conclusions on these points and communicated that to the congregation on more than one occasion. After John’s leave of absence starting in November 2019, he successfully completed a Restoration Plan structured and approved by the Board, and returned to the pulpit on March 7, 2020.

The Board is ultimately accountable to ensure that the right safeguards are in place and that the operational policies and actions of Menlo Church staff are consistently followed. All staff as well as volunteers for Kids’, Student’s and Missions’ areas are background screened and have been for many years. Leadership has extended the program to include background checks for all regular volunteer roles, as well. Additionally, all staff is required to go through workplace training and all mandated compliance training. Volunteers also receive “behavior and conduct” training during onboarding. This training is repeated at regular intervals.

The safety and integrity of our community are of paramount importance at Menlo Church, and we strive to hold all members of our community, especially Menlo Church staff, to the highest ethical standards.

In Christ,
Menlo Church’s Elder Board

It included a brief statement from John, which appears to be the same statement given to RNS:

Dear Menlo Church Family,

I am deeply sorry for my shortcomings in handling this 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.

Again, I am deeply sorry about my poor judgement and acknowledge that I betrayed my sacred trust as Senior Pastor. I have sought forgiveness from God, from our church Elders, our staff, and from our congregation. I am thankful for the restoration process the Elders put in place for me, which while difficult, has enabled me to grow and seek forgiveness.

Humbly,
John Ortberg

Jul 7, 2020

Christianity Today published: John Ortberg’s Church Says ‘No Evidence of Misconduct’ As More Details Emerge: Megachurch pastor’s son named as the volunteer who confessed sexual attraction to children.

A former youth group member wrote that her youth minister had been allowed to resign for “personal reasons” after allegedly raping a youth group student (called an “affair” by the church). She added that the minister who had announced this to the group had later also resigned “for personal reasons” after a sex scandal.

Jul 11, 2020

Daniel Lavery posted:

I’ve just learned that @menlochurch has initiated a second investigation of John Ortberg III’s volunteer work, but has retained John Ortberg, Jr in position as senior pastor. This plan is a non-starter, a confession of failure, and a disgrace.

It must not be allowed to stand.

First, and most importantly, John Ortberg’s position as senior pastor will materially impact any possibility for a full and scrupulous report. Who is likely to report misconduct by the boss’s son? Let alone a boss who has already intervened, and allowed other members of his family and staff, to attack whistleblowers publicly.

Second, there would be no need for a follow-up investigation were it not for the Ortberg- and Seabolt-led cover-up effected by the Alvarez investigation. By initiating a second investigation, they give the lie to the statement John Ortberg gave to RNS this week: that Menlo had “extensively investigated” my report. It has not. That was a lie.

I’m very skeptical that this fix will last the weekend: the case for the investigation IS the case for firing Ortberg. It makes no sense to do one and not the other. We will not remain silent until consistency and accountability have been established. John Ortberg must go. He must go NOW.

Late in the evening, the Menlo Church Elder Board sent out an email update:

DEAR MENLO FAMILY,

After carefully listening to our community these last several days about the investigation into a former church volunteer, we want to first acknowledge the Board’s ownership in what we have done to contribute to the pain and distrust many of you are feeling right now. Fundamentally, we did not provide the transparency that our community deserves and as a result have eroded the trust some of you place in our leadership. We are writing you today to show how we’re moving forward as a community.

While many of you know that the Board took immediate action (see previous updates) upon learning of these concerns, we understand our initial investigation could have gone further and included specific expertise in child safety and sex abuse issues, and it could have been informed by conversations with a wider group of people. Based on the feedback we’ve received, we are initiating a supplemental independent investigation into concerns raised about the volunteer.

The Board will also form a new committee, comprised of representatives from elders, staff, parents and volunteers, to provide transparent oversight of the new investigation and ensure all impacted perspectives are represented.

We also have directed staff to conduct a full audit of policies, practices and training related to child and youth safety, to be led by an independent outside organization with expertise in this area and are committed to conducting regular audits on an ongoing basis. Our staff and volunteers run incredible ministries for children and youth. Our community deserves to have full confidence in their work and that the systems safeguarding our children and volunteers are best-in-class.

We sincerely appreciate your patience as we finalize further actions in the coming days. As a reminder, we encourage you to report any instances of inappropriate conduct or behavior in our community.

We know what Menlo Church means to you, and each one of us on the Board shares a deep sense of mission and partnership with our community. We commit to be in better communication with you, our church family. We covet your prayers as we seek to discern the Lord’s guidance for how best to serve our community.

In prayer,
Menlo Church Elders

Jul 12, 2020

Executive Pastor of Campuses Eugene Lee shared a brief statement before his sermon:

And now I just want to say a word about this week. It has been a hard week for our church family. I’ve talked to so many of you who are hurting, disappointed, confused, and heartbroken, and I am so sorry you are feeling that way. I want you to know that we are listening. We’re listening, and praying, and we hear your concerns. We are listening to your questions and we understand your disappointment. We are praying for wisdom and courage and healing and unity for our church, and I want to thank you for your patience and your love. We are grateful for your prayers, and we are grateful for your concerns, too. We’re working on some significant next steps, which we hope to share with you this coming week. In the meantime, if there’s any way we can pray for you, please, please let us know.

RNS published an update regarding Menlo’s statements in response to their reporting: John Ortberg’s megachurch announces new investigation.

Jul 13, 2020

Menlo Church posted an apology from Beth Seabolt, still chair of the elder board, on Instagram:

Hi Danny,

I’d like to offer a long-overdue apology for my comments at our Town Hall on March 1, 2020. When elders were asked why we were not responding to more of your comments and requests, I offered that we were not going to engage in a social media battle with you. Then I added that your posts were likely motivated by needing to lash out and separate from the influence of your parents. This was discrediting and obviously very hurtful. I’m so sorry. I answered that poorly and caused you pain. I hope you will be able to forgive me someday. All the elders were and continue to be grateful that you brought the volunteer to our attention and applaud your very right and real concerns for the safety of children and youth at Menlo Church. So Danny, I thank you for your courage to voice these concerns and motivate the Board to initiate a supplemental investigation.

Sincerely,

Beth

Jul 14, 2020

The Huffington Post published an article including comments from several parishioners expressing their disappointment in the church’s handling of the situation: A Megachurch Reels After Learning Pastor Let His Professed Pedophile Son Work With Kids.

Grace Lavery posted the text of an email allegedly from John III to parents and kids of a frisbee team he had coached. According to RNS, he had left the team in November citing a “family crisis.” The email said that the descriptions of him being passed along were wrong and that Daniel’s statements stemmed from a family feud going public:

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

(Note: I also believe this email is authentic based on certain phrases and punctuation tics.)

Jul 16, 2020

Grace Lavery posted the text of an email from Laura Ortberg Turner showing that the Turners had consulted therapists and held family meetings to discuss “appropriate guidelines” to ensure John III was around his nephew in “only the most appropriate contexts”:

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.

Nicole Chung, a mutual friend of Daniel Lavery and Laura Ortberg Turner, wrote on Twitter:

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

Jul 17, 2020

Bluewater Presbytery, the presbytery Menlo Church belongs to, responded to an inquiry and said that they and the denomination were aware of the situation and working with the church:

The denomination, the presbytery, and the church are working together in this process. While social media has called for a public response from the denomination, we do not comment on the status of any ongoing or potential investigative process. Your information was received and given to the appropriate parties.

Sarah Watson, a former Menlo Church youth group member when a staff member was let go in 1991 for predatory behavior with a minor, talked to Menlo Church staff:

Was able to speak to current leaders who confirmed CPS/police were never called after a @menlochurch minister raped a student. (Churches are legally mandated to report.) It feels good to have the truth and not just rumors, but my heart is broken for all the kids put at risk.

Grace Lavery posted the email she had sent to John and Nancy Ortberg and Laura Turner on Nov 18, 2019. Snippet:

… I have known for some time that something was very wrong with the way you all talk about Johnny. There has always been a strange attempt to excuse or mitigate his rudeness, and an inexplicable acquiescence to his whims. But I did not know - how could I, could anyone, have guessed - the extraordinary depth of your depravity in this matter. You have, for eighteen months, colluded in secret to supply an avowed pedophile with unsupervised access to children, with no accountability of any kind, on the grounds of his claim that it helps to treat his compulsions. You have taken his word, unquestioned, about the nature of his relationships with children, without reflecting that, even if he is telling the truth to the best of his ability, Johnny is, of course, singularly unqualified to judge whether his interactions with children will create emotional harm. …

Menlo Kids sent out an email to parents:

DEAR PARENTS,

By now, I am sure most of you are aware of the serious situation concerning a former student ministry volunteer. You can learn more here. As parents, you undoubtedly have questions and concerns. As a parent of three young kids, I carry the concern of children’s safety each day. In fact, every member of the Menlo Kids team has dedicated their lives to the physical and spiritual wellbeing of children. During this time, some of your questions may surround specific security measures put into place that help keep our kids safe. For that reason, we want to make sure that you have all of the information as it relates to safety in Menlo Kids. Menlo Kids exists to connect kids to Jesus so that they can follow him forever, but we know that unless our kids and leaders are safe, then nothing else we do matters. For this reason, we have put into place many policies, checkpoints, and safeguards to ensure that the people in our care are as safe as possible.

Menlo Kids is made up of dynamic volunteer leaders. These leaders help make our church personal and warm. It is because of these leaders that we are able to serve more than 1,000 kids every Sunday. Our volunteers are committed to creating safe places for kids to come back to again and again. To that end, every person applying to volunteer with kids must go through a rigorous screening process.

Volunteer applicants must:

  • Have attended Menlo Church regularly for six months, have completed our five-week Starting Point course, or have references from a staff leader at a previous church. (This ensures that those wanting to volunteer are known by others in the church and prevents quick access to children.)
  • Fill out an application.
  • Submit to a background check, which includes federal, state, and county criminal records and the national sex offender registry.
  • Give two personal/professional references that can attest to the applicant’s character and their ability to work with children.
  • Have a sit-down interview with a staff member.
  • Read the Menlo Kids Volunteer Handbook and sign a “Handshake Agreement” document stating they agree to practice the policies outlined.

In addition to our volunteer screening process, we also put in place policies as safety guardrails. Some of these strictly enforced policies include:

  • A two-person rule. Two adults must always be present with children. An adult is never to be left alone with a child. (Including in bathrooms and when changing diapers.)
  • Child check-in and check-out process. (Which includes parent claim tags and matching security codes.)
  • Doors locked during services. (In order to keep our rooms secure and to be better prepared in case of a possible intruder situation.)
  • Appropriate adult-to-kid ratios.
  • Menlo Kids Online Safety Protocols

Because we know the best prevention is the awareness of our leaders, throughout the year we offer continued training on safety and conduct. For further understanding of our policies, please read our Menlo Kids Volunteer Handbook.

We also wish to mention that Menlo Church is committed to initiating an independent audit of our systems and protocols. We have reached out to the organization, GRACE, and asked if they can perform this audit to help us make any necessary changes or additions to our procedures. You can learn more about GRACE here.

The leadership of Menlo Kids will continue to do everything possible to maintain that we are:

A SAFE PLACE

A JESUS-CENTERED PLACE

A PLACE TO BELONG

A PLACE THAT PARTNERS WITH PARENTS




John Garrison

Central Ministry Leader | Menlo Kids

Jul 19, 2020

No statement was given during Sunday services.

At least two campuses had “Town Hall” Zoom meetings where questions were taken before the meeting. One attender reported:

Had a town-hall style call with my local campus leaders of @menlochurch . The goal was to answer questions from those attending that campus and provide transparency to the extent that the campus staff are empowered to do so.

though the goal was not to announce anything, there were several tidbits of new info. Please understand the context of “tension” between staff and leaders - with many staff wanting all of the elders and John to step down

A)We should be hearing something else from the elders this week, something was prepared and ready for release over the last few days but they held-off for some reason that may become apparent later.

B)The supplemental investigation will NOT be overseen by any elders; a change from what was previously communicated. Only staff and members of the community will be involved in any oversight. Choosing the agency will be within the scope of the oversight group.

C)There will be another Town Hall on August 9th and it sounds like this will be a conversation with elders. (No mention if John would be included)
D) If John and Elders will be asked to vacate their leadership roles is “on the table.”

I also feel it important to note the respect paid to Danny by the campus staff - any time his name is mentioned it is done so with an appropriate air of respect and appreciation for alerting staff/leaders to the issues we are now all aware of.

Though in saying this, I’m not suggesting anyone applaud the church or any individuals in the church for treating a person with dignity and respect, especially after that person and his wife have earned it a thousand times over.

The publicized July letters from John III and Laura Turner were not addressed.

Jul 20, 2020

Daniel Lavery posted snippets of text messages from Laura Turner to mutual friend Alexis Coe, dated January 30, 2020:

We can now prove John Ortberg lied when he told @BobSmietana at @RNS the family “never considered [Johnny] a threat to himself.” In fact, the family repeatedly implied J3 was on the verge of suicide. Here’s a message from Laura Turner to Alexis Coe on January 30:

“I am in this because I believe Johnny and want to help keep him accountable, have healthy boundaries and support, and most of all, keep him alive.”

In that same conversation, Laura argued that she had no responsibility to report J3, or to compel him to seek therapy, because she believed “with my whole heart” that he had “never offended.” Despite the discrepancies in J3’s stories, and no investigation into his work.

[ed: LAURA:] “I’m not at all trying to avoid the questions you’re asking of me, and I’m sorry that I’ve come across that way.

“Here’s why I keep bringing this up: it feels like you are coming from a place of assuming that Johnny has offended, and are asking me to act based on that. And I’m coming from a place of believing with my whole heart that he never has. We are approaching this situation from different places, and that feels very relevant to me, which is why I bring it up again.”

According to Coe, in context Laura had at times referred to both the risk of suicide should the volunteer be prevented from working with children and the risk of suicide should he be “outed”.


Daniel also posted text messages with executive pastor Eugene Lee side by side with Eugene’s response to my email inquiry. Daniel wrote:

A few weeks ago, Grace and I spoke to Eugene Lee, an executive pastor at Menlo. He had been kept out of the loop, was distressed by evidence we gave him, and agreed that Ortberg had to be fired. Now, he appears to be running a cover-up of his own. Eugene: what changed?

The text messages with Eugene (undated but “a few weeks ago”) said:

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.

The email response from Eugene (Jul 20) to myself said (full context here):

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

Jul 26, 2020

No statement was given during Sunday services.

Jul 29, 2020

John Ortberg announced his resignation, effective August 2 after addressing the congregation one last time.

Local news coverage: The Almanac, San Jose Mercury News

Jul 30, 2020

Additional coverage: Huffington Post, SF Chronicle

Aug 1, 2020

Johnny Ortberg commented publicly on a congregant’s (TB) Instagram. According to Johnny, he and the congregant’s son had been good friends. He also replied to the congregant’s daughter:

TB: “I personally can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t react to what happened with immediate concern for children who may have been harmed, but they are blinded by John’s ability to deeply speak to them in his sermons,” Bachler said. “They seem to attribute their faith journey specifically to John rather than the church or even God.”

JO3: Your sons been good friends with me for 16 years now. Did you even bother to ask him if any of this is true about me? You don’t even know me and you think you can label me a threat.

BB: Even I, as a 17 year old, can understand that this isn’t about Johnny’s character but the responsibility of his father, the supposed leader of the church. It doesn’t matter if Johnny is a wonderful person with good intentions. That is IRRELEVANT.

JO3: elaborate.

Aug 2, 2020

John gave a farewell address/sermon. The sermon began with an elder prayer for unity. John did not speak specifically about the reason for his resignation, saying some had asked if he had learning to share, but, “To tell the truth, this has been such a raw experience, and it is so fresh, and there’s still so much to process, that I don’t have anything like a clarity or well-ordered sequence of lessons-learned. I believe that will come someday.” He did apologize, along the same lines of his Jan 25 apology, to staff: “You have had to carry so many heavy burdens; you have had to answer questions you had no answers for; you had to solve problems you could not solve and I am so sorry.”

Johnny and a congregant (TB) had another back-and-forth on Instagram:

TB: Hi Johnny. First, I want you to know that I have a great deal of compassion for you. You bring up my son whom I have a very close relationship with and yes, we have spoken about this. This is not an easy situation to navigate but regardless, I have felt compelled to speak up because I truly believe that your dad made choices that were not in the best interest of the flock he was supposed to be shepherding. I’ve based my comments and my opinions on the facts as they have been presented by Menlo Church’s and/or your Dad’s statements. I truly hope that no children have been harmed in any way and I’m inclined to believe that they haven’t been. But your admission to your dad (as revealed in Menlo statements) should have immediately resulted in your dad taking action and ensuring you did not volunteer with youth any longer as well as notifying the Church. Whether he believed you hadn’t acted on your professed attraction or not is irrelevant to his responsibility to his congregation. The church and it’s pastors should ALWAYS err on the side of caution and being overly protective of the children in their care. Your dad chose not to do that for 16 months until your brother went to the church. None of the facts I’m basing my opinion on are in dispute. Removing you from volunteering immediately would have been the right thing to do because it not only protects the children it protects you. Telling the church so that they could confirm no children were harmed was your Dad’s duty to the congregation. I do hope you get the help you need and I look forward to hearing a statement soon declaring that no children have been harmed and welcoming an investigation whose results can set minds at ease. Please know that I am not judging you or your character. I am seeking to hold a powerful leader accountable and ensure Menlo Church always seeks to protect children to the highest degree.

JO3: first of all, plenty of the facts you’re basing your opinion on are in dispute. The elders statement about what I spoke to my dad about was intentionally harsh and inaccurate because they were operating out of fear of what Danny would do if they weren’t harsh enough (obviously backfired). What I spoke with my dad about is private and will remain that way. Second, even if that was the “condition” I struggled with, your assumption that being attracted to someone makes you a risk to harm them is wildly naive and inaccurate. Saying you’re not judging my character while also insinuating I might harm a child if I was allowed to volunteer is one of the most contradictory statements I’ve had someone say about me. It is remarkably dehumanizing. In any case, the entire argument that my dad failed to protect children relies on me being a potential harm to children, so don’t pretend like the way you’ve spoken up on this issue isn’t a direct attack on me. I’ve grown to expect it from complete strangers who only know the fictional version of me created on twitter, but to see it from one of best and longest friends mom who actually has the ability ask around and see who I really am before treating me as a subhuman creature in desperate need of help is incredibly hurtful.

Aug 14, 2020

It’s unknown when exactly this policy took effect, but we realized that Menlo Church was automatically hiding comments on Facebook that contained the keywords “abuse”, “sexual” or “cover up”. These comments would be “hidden”, meaning the poster would think they had been posted successfully, but other users would not see them. An administrator could go in and manually unhide them afterwards. (If you notice that the comment count on Facebook does not match the number of comments visible, sometimes hidden comments are the reason why.)

Aug 21, 2020

Menlo Church sent out an elder update email. This email confirmed the annual meeting date and sent out some logistical information. It also announced three committees had been formed: the supplemental investigation advisory committee, the transitional pastor search committee, and the senior pastor search committee. (At the Annual Meeting, they announced this last one had been premature and was not yet finalized.)

They said they had received feedback which was thankful for the Q&A sent out in the prior email but said the link was easy to miss. They said they would be updating the website to make that information easier to find, as well as adding more information

Aug 28, 2020

The Statements from our Leadership page was updated. The separate Q&A document was folded into this page and several additional Q&As were added. Of note was this section about the supplemental investigation, which confirmed the scope would be limited to the volunteer’s Menlo-affiliated activities:

  1. What is the scope of the Supplemental Investigation?

The newly authorized Investigative Advisory Committee will be responsible for interviewing and recommending a new, independent fact finding firm with expertise in child safety and sexual abuse to conduct a supplemental investigation of John Ortberg’s youngest son’s (“volunteer”) involvement in Menlo Church or Church-sponsored activities involving minors.

The FAQ also said that John Ortberg would not be investigated:

  1. Why isn’t John Ortberg being further investigated?

The first investigation was focused on John Ortberg and no additional information has surfaced to warrant any further investigation.

Regarding their decision not to name the volunteer, they wrote:

At the time, because of the dynamics of the family conflict that we were aware of, we believed that the identity of the volunteer would eventually be made public. However, we did not believe (and still do not believe) it was appropriate or just for the church to disclose the volunteer’s name as there was no evidence of any misconduct.

A page for updates on the Transitional Pastor search was also added.

Aug 30, 2020

Menlo Church held its annual meeting, followed immediately by a brief Town Hall. The time allocated for questions (30 minutes) was not enough to handle the volume of questions that came in, so the elders promised to hold more Town Halls and also update the website with additional answers. Much of the information given was already on the website.

Of note, the elders said that their decisions around not releasing the volunteer’s name in January were not because they were hoping to keep his name confidential. Indeed, they said that “because of the family dynamics” they “knew that this would eventually come out, so that was not a surprise.”

They said one reason they felt it was time for John to step down was because he would need to retire soon anyway, causing another transition. They also said that, because another restoration process would be required, “to try to have him go through that restoration process while he’s dealing with all the battling going on in the Twitterverse and still be able then to preach and teach, that’s asking a lot of John, and we think it’s really important for him to use this time to find peace and reconciliation in his family.”

For more details and context, see my summary of the annual meeting and notes on the questions and answers.


Regarding whether or not Danny had received reconciliation overtures, Grace Lavery answered:

No. Also, we reached out to both John and Nancy (twice each) and received no response to any of our inquiries. I’m not going to provide receipts for that or get drawn into a thing about it, but it’s true.

Aug 31, 2020

Grace Lavery sent an email to Beth Seabolt following up on her previous unanswered email. Regarding the references to the “Twitterverse” in the annual meeting, Grace wrote:

If you are wondering, incidentally, why so much of this conversation has taken place over Twitter, you may consider the fact that neither you, nor Eugene Lee, nor the Ortbergs themselves have so much as acknowledged the emails that I have sent to you all during that time.


As of Sep 1, 2020, this timeline is no longer being updated. Head over to menlo-church.com for a newer timeline, or follow me on Twitter for less-structured updates.


Correction on 3/7/20: According to the Q&A on Mar 1, the volunteer worked with middle and high school students. Therefore, I have changed the title from “Kids Ministry” to “Youth Ministry”. Fixed one more reference to “children’s ministry” on 6/29/20.

Thoughts on this post? Reply on Twitter.


  1. Some parts of this timeline are based on my memory of the elder board meeting minutes. Note-taking or duplicating the minutes is not allowed, so I’ve done my best to be accurate but I don’t have a source I can point you to. The minutes were heavily redacted on advice of counsel, and they were only for the board-wide meetings, not for the Ethical Misconduct Subcommittee, so there wasn’t much information. ↩︎

  2. I was told in private correspondence that the investigator began about 10 days after the complaint was received. ↩︎