Menlo Church doesn’t seem to realize that by trying to keep the volunteer secret and doing such an incomplete investigation, they’ve hurt both the volunteer in question and every other volunteer. We are in the worst of both worlds. The volunteer’s name is a guessing game that unfairly puts others under suspicion. Some people will guess correctly, and without a real investigation, the person’s name hasn’t been cleared. If this person is not a predator, just someone struggling to manage a mental illness, they have been put in a terrible position by John and Menlo Church. (Hey, volunteer, if you are reading this and want to clarify what happened with John, you can use ProtonMail to write to me securely.)
Quick reminder: if anyone does have a report of inappropriate behavior, please send it to someone objective, not the Menlo Church elders, who have a serious conflict of interest right now.
Churches often1 close ranks when scandal hits. There is often1 an internal narrative that is quite different from the external one (if the church even gives an external one), and unless someone from the inside breaks ranks and speaks out, it can stay hidden for a very long time. Those who were at Willow Creek will remember the family meetings.
This is very human, and it’s part of church culture. It’s what pastors are taught to do. Last year, in a response to some concerns that had been building up for some time, well-known author and speaker Francis Chan wrote:
Early in my ministry, I had a professor warn “don’t spend your time defending yourself. Let God defend you and those closest to you defend you. You can spend your whole life dispelling rumors.” I have followed that advice for the past 30 years.
The elder board position of “We are not going to get into a media battle with Daniel Lavery” is not surprising. But I wish I could convey the tone of that “Danny is lashing out” response in particular. It reminds me of the moment when Bill Hybels told the media that the Ortbergs and Mellados were colluding to ruin his ministry. That was a huge red flag. Why throw the messengers under the bus? Something else was going on back then—and I believe it is now.
I had assumed at first that the church believed Daniel’s whistleblower complaint. I figured John had admitted it quietly but said he had meant well and was sorry, so the elders believed there was no need to air the full details in public. But as I spoke to more people, and certainly after this Q&A, it became evident that this is not the case.
Danny has a way with words. Sometimes people make things sound worse than they are. Two people can describe the same thing in different ways. We weren’t in the room with Danny and John, so we don’t know exactly what happened. We don’t know what all has been going on in the family. This seems to be a family squabble. I can’t believe John would encourage the volunteer to work with kids. Danny is John’s son; he’s not going to get into a fight in public. John’s turning the other cheek.
I believe John is saying something in private. I don’t know what it is. It seems clear he is denying at least portions of Danny’s allegations.
The church seems to believe their “investigation” confirmed John’s version of events. At the Town Hall Q&A, the elder board said the investigator had “free reign” and “dove into everything.” They said they were very, very confident with the results.
But the church has released very few specifics about the investigation. They chose not to read aloud the questions about it at the town hall—and I know the questions weren’t answered by the vague response. Everything that is known about the investigation raises deep concerns for me:
The investigation began at the beginning of December. The elders decided to restore John on January ~14. Therefore, the investigation’s research, interviews, document review, analysis, report-writing, delivery, reading and decision-making all happened in about 6 weeks—which included Christmas and New Year’s. (correspondence and elder board meeting minutes)
Grace Lavery, who was present for the phone call between John and Danny, was not interviewed. (Twitter)
The volunteer’s name was not always disclosed during interviews. I asked if it had been, and the elders told me that some people who were interviewed already knew the volunteer’s name, and some people were asked questions more generally. (in-person discussion)
“Parents and volunteers were not interviewed," the elders responded when I asked, “The email mentions interviews with Menlo supervising staff but not interviews with volunteers or parents. … Were any parents interviewed by the investigator?” (correspondence)
Parents were not asked for feedback during the investigative period. “Were all parents whose children were in the affected age groups informed of the potential risk (without naming names)?” I asked. The elders responded, “All parents who have children registered in our programs (I believe that is a requirement before parents can leave them during any service) were notified by the previous email you received. This was sent on the day following the email to the broader congregation.” (correspondence)
The elders won’t answer whether or not the investigator looked into the volunteer’s non-church work with minors. When I asked, “What is the investigator’s experience with cases of pedophilia/CSA? Did the investigator interview the third party who reported to you? Did the investigator interview supervisors/peers of this person at other organizations where this person has worked with children?” the elders responded, “I cannot answer any more of your questions on this topic and would like you to direct them to [the Senior Director of Marketing & Communications].” (correspondence)
If they didn’t interview Grace Lavery, they can’t have tried very hard to fact-find between John and Danny’s versions of events. What good is it to say there were no allegations of misconduct if parents and volunteers weren’t asked? The elders may believe they commissioned a thorough investigation, but they must see that isn’t what happened.
Changed from “always” to “often” on 3/7 because as others have pointed out, there are exceptions. ↩︎