Two days ago, Menlo Church sent out an email announcing John Ortberg’s upcoming return to the pulpit. They didn’t respond at all to Danny Lavery’s Feb 2 statement or his Feb 6 blog post. They did say they have full confidence in John as their spiritual leader. They said John has been having great conversations with various folks in the church, so I guess I’m just one of those constituencies whose concerns were weighed and found wanting.
One of the strange things about the current situation is how it echoes the Willow Creek one, with the cast shuffled. Back then, John wrote eloquently about how investigative processes needed to be truly independent and safe for anyone to come forward. He emphasized that hiring a law firm that usually represents one side could not be considered independent or safe.
Then again, Willow took over a year to even hire a lawyer at all, whereas it appears Menlo has skipped straight to that part. Menlo is taking the further unprecedented step of refusing to say who did their investigation. But in both cases, the churches refused to bring in a truly independent, outside party.
When I received the December email which finally admitted that John was on leave, I immediately checked Daniel Lavery’s social media. I knew Daniel had transitioned the year before, so I assumed there might be something going on with that. Instead, I found Danny’s posts about estrangement from his family over discovering “something” that he could not live with.
My reaction was, “There’s a pedophile in the family and John is protecting him. Danny has disowned them over it, and John is on leave to try to reconcile with him and/or process the loss.” It sounded sad and I hoped the family could resolve the issue. I also hoped that some form of justice would take place with respect to the pedophile, even though I knew it wasn’t likely.
So I was shocked at the Jan 21 email which revealed that the situation intersected with Menlo Church. The email raised more questions than it resolved, to me. Everything had to be inferred by reading between the lines. I waited to see what John had to say for himself that weekend and my heart sank. I’ve heard enough church leaders playing word games to recognize image repair when I hear it.
Over the past weeks, I’ve tried on multiple occasions to engage with the elder board. I asked for a meeting and they were too busy, so I communicated with them over email. I asked what I thought were reasonable questions for a parent to ask. Who was the investigator? What did he look into? What’s his experience and expertise in child sexual abuse? It all boils down to:
- Are there kids out there we failed to help and need to help now?
- If something happened to my kids in the future, could I trust Menlo Church to handle it, prioritizing my kids over the church’s reputation?
The elder board has been the opposite of helpful. I’m concerned they would choose to reinstate John without even bothering to acknowledge or counter Daniel’s allegations. When I asked the elder board point blank if the allegations were true, they refused to answer and referred me to the church’s Senior Director of Marketing & Communications. Her response was:
Thanks for your message and concern with this issue. At this point, Menlo Church has shared all information it can related to this matter. Any updates will be shared with the entire congregation.
The next update was the email announcing John Ortberg’s return to the pulpit.
So I’m in an odd position where I have a lot of questions and concerns but the church representatives have basically told me to stop asking. I must be a vanishingly small minority, or I can’t imagine the church would be doing this. I guess we’ll see at the Town Hall tomorrow.