This will just be a quick blow-by-blow—cleaned up notes, basically.
The meeting was relatively well attended. One speaker joked that they would be doing other town hall meetings, and she hoped to see everyone again in the future.
The meeting began by introducing the Session members. Not everyone was present but most were. There were short updates from a few committees. One mentioned that elder nominations would likely be opening up soon for two new elders. The finance update was that the church income and expenses were both on track wrt the budget.
The organizational update said there wasn’t a lot to report yet, but that John would be returning in a role that focused on teaching, preaching, and mentorship, which the elder board agreed were his strengths. They said they were looking for a different way to structure Menlo Church going forward organizationally, but they didn’t know yet what that would be. They were beginning a process of collecting input from staff and leaders of other multi-site churches.
There was a testimonial from one of the campus pastors about how God had been working in their ministries.
Then the Q & A took up the rest of the time. The church did not take live questions; instead they did written questions on cards. Some questions were read off verbatim and others were summarized or grouped with others. I’ll skip the questions that were unrelated to the Ortberg/pedophile issue, but most questions were related.
The following text is not verbatim. Questions were answered by Beth Seabolt, chair of the elder board.
Q: Danny said John said very negative things about gays and transgenders, what should we tell our friends about John’s attitude?
A: I had relative who was gay and not accepted by family, and one day, when life was difficult, he took his life. And I thought: if only he had had Jesus. So John and I have had long talks about this, and I can tell you that John loves gays and transgenders. And he truly believes that everybody’s welcome and nobody’s perfect.
Q: At what grade level did the volunteer work, at which campus? We had two boys in the middle school program.
A: The volunteer worked with middle school and high school on the Menlo Park campus. We did a thorough investigation of all volunteer records, talked to all staff members who had been there, we hired a third party independent investigator, had full license to look into everything, no allegations of misconduct.
Understand it’s concerning, I would be asking the same questions, if anything ever did come up we would contact law enforcement and keep you informed.
Q: The initial email from elders was ambiguous about whether the volunteer continued 2018-2019 after disclosing to John. News claimed the volunteer did, sometimes alone. When did the person stop volunteering? Why didn’t the elders disclose the details of the timing of the starting/stopping?
A: Yes, we did confirm that they continued. No, not alone. They stopped volunteering when the Board became aware of the situation in November 2019. The volunteer volunteered off and on for years, and so the details of starting and stopping– I thought we did put it in the email…? No wait, we didn’t. We are sorry.
Q: The elder email was vague. Why not provide facts what was going on from the start?
A: Well, it was a two page, detailed email, so we apologize that we missed the fact that you wanted. We invited you to write to us, I have answered so many of your emails. Hopefully that is encouraging.
Q: The local news was providing a different message than the elders’ message. It felt like the elders were hiding the truth by providing a vague email.
A: It’s not our goal to hide truth. It is our goal to avoid causing unnecessary anxiety. So we took the time to conduct an investigation so we could give you the good news that there were no allegations of misconduct. Thanks for your patience and trust.
Q: Why haven’t you responded to Daniel Lavery?
A: We are not going to get into a media battle with Daniel Lavery. I had an estranged child who reconnected in the past week. It was almost two years. As people become young adults and need to break away, it’s harder now, we oldsters would call once very two weeks, now kids are so connected, we can speak far too much into their lives into young adulthood, sometimes they need to take a strong stand, sometimes an angry stand, to start their adult lives. What you see here is Danny lashing out. And Danny is breaking away, and Danny is starting Danny’s own life. And I’ve walked that walk, and I hope we can all give John and Nancy some grace because I know how painful that is.
Q: Elders get an A+ for looking at child safety. Elders get a C- for how they treated John. How can John and others be treated better? John’s harsh treatment could make it harder to recruit.
A: John, do you think you were treated harshly?
John: I’m very grateful for our church and our elders. They faced a situation that’s as complex and challenging and difficult and messy as I’ve ever seen. They serve with no money, unless things get difficult, nobody notices or thanks them. They’ve sought to keep the best interests of our church at the core of their hearts. They’ve brought accountability. Some churches don’t do that, become about one person in leadership, there’s no accountability. Very grateful for the diligence and love and labor and hours and prayer our elders have given to our church. I think we all owe them a huge debt of gratitude. (applause)
A: Thanks John. You know we love you. (applause)
Q: What was the restoration plan?
A: I thought we wrote that in the email, but so many people have asked me. We structured a time for John to meet with staff, elders, stakeholders, and some people from congregation to express to them how he believed his decisions had caused them pain and concern. Hour meetings back to back to back. So he wasn’t over at Kara’s Cupcakes. And so after John prepared for those meetings by thinking through, he asked them also, how else did my decision to allow this volunteer to continue serving impact you? And then he listened. And then he apologized. And then John asked, how can I make amends? And then he asked, can we work toward rebuilding trust?
Lot of staff members had questions and concerns, particularly those who do student ministries and kids ministries. And this decision was really difficult for them. And yet, by the time the month was up, they agreed that John had deeply apologized, they believed him, they forgave him, they’re willing to move forward and rebuild trust. So we feel like we have taken the time to meet with everybody and to listen and to work through this.
It’s the Christian way to work through reconciliation. There are some of you who say this is too short, and plenty of you who say this is too long. But we really wanted to take the time to work through, the way Jesus would work through, and bring John back. Thanks for putting your trust in us. Thanks for your patience. It wasn’t easy for John at all.
Q: OK, we got three questions about the investigator.
A: Wow, we were lucky to get this investigator. Very well-received investigator, nationally. Speciality is in workplace misconduct. No specialty in pedophilia. However, outstanding work. Worked in Washington. We were blessed to have someone so capable. We gave investigator free reign to go into every area of interest of his. He dove into everything. So we felt very, very confident when the investigation was done.
Q: (Question for John) John has doctorate in clinical psychology, does he still have his license or did he lose it? If he still has it, what will he change?
John: I have a PhD in clinical psychology but I never got licensed. It’s a process of many hours of therapy, and I never did that, because I wanted to work at a church and I wasn’t good at therapy (laughter). Never been practicing, never been licensed.
A year and a half ago, a person came to me and disclosed to me confidentially unwanted thoughts. Knew could require reporting. I’m a pastor and a mandated reporter. Because of my background I’m very familiar. I asked this person a series of uncomfortable questions. If there’s a reasonable suspicion they might harm themselves, or others, or be a danger to children or elders. So I asked all the questions and all of the answers that came back made it clear there would be no grounds for mandatory reporting. But I contacted a psychology in SoCal who specializes in this area and a psychiatrist in the Bay Area and walked them thorugh what this person had said without identifying, both asked if I had seen this person at the church, anything suspicious, anybody alleged anything strange. No. In both cases the feedback was you do not report somebody for disclosing secret thoughts.
I’m so very sorry I did not handle it better. One question I did not ask was as the leader of this organization, now that I hold this information, what should I do, how do I relate to the board about this. I wish so much I would have asked, and been able to walk through that better. And that I did not exert my full influence as a pastor to make sure that person would never be volunteering at a Menlo event with minors, I wish I had done that, not because I think there was a reasonable risk of suspicion, because I believe there are very good grounds that that was not the case, but because this subject is a very sensitive one and would create for the congregation deep concern.
Anyway, I am not a licensed psychologist. (applause)
Q: (Inquiring roundabout the identity of the volunteer)
A: No, we’re not going to tell you the identity of the volunteer. We’re going to keep that private and confidential. Interesting thing about unwanted thoughts. I had several people write in about OCD. Doesn’t every one of us have unwanted thoughts? Thought about Joyce Meyers, Battlefield of the Mind. No crime in coming in to ask for help with unwanted thoughts. So we are going to protect the privacy, confidentiality of the volunteer.