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.

Last updated: July 5, 2020. 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.

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 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. A snippet of the letter to John Ortberg was also later published.

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 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. 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 investigation2. Very little has been released about this, not even the investigator’s name. However, the name was leaked online – the investigator is apparently 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.

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:

Thank you again for bringing this situation to our attention. We greatly appreciate your concern for the Menlo Church community and commitment to doing what is right.

Also on the 16th, the Board met and discussed whether “this new information” (unspecified) 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:

I can see how my earlier email might not have addressed all your concerns and I’d like to share more details with you. This has been a challenging time for us all, and the entire Board shares your deep concern as it relates to these issues.

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 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: 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.

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: Megachurch pastor John Ortberg kept a family member’s attraction to children secret. Then his son blew the whistle. From the article:


Due to the shelter-in-place order, no further meetings or live services have taken place.


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.

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  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. ↩︎