News

Head of Menlo Church steps down over 'poor judgment'

Pastor John Ortberg, whose last day at church will be Aug. 2, admits error, expresses regret

Menlo Church in downtown Menlo Park is looking for a new leader after revelations about Senior Pastor John Ortberg's son rocked the community. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

John Ortberg, the senior pastor of Menlo Church, is stepping down from his role at the evangelical Presbyterian church that sits prominently in downtown Menlo Park, following community outcry after the church's board learned that he had allowed his son to continue to work with youth for more than a year after learning that his son was sexually attracted to children.

Menlo Church attracts about 6,000 weekly congregants across six Bay Area campuses, and on its website brands itself as a family-friendly faith community, but it faced a reckoning as details emerged regarding troubling revelations in late 2019 and early 2020. Ortberg, who has led the church for 17 years, was put on a leave of absence this winter, and later reinstated. On Wednesday morning, the church announced that its governing board unanimously accepted Ortberg's resignation, according to a statement on the church's website.

Pastor John Ortberg resigned from his job at Menlo Church on July 29. Courtesy Menlo Church.

His last day will be Sunday, Aug. 2, when he is expected to address the congregation.

Ortberg's "poor judgment has resulted in pain and broken trust among many parents, youth volunteers and staff" and he "needs to focus on healing and reconciliation within his own family," the church's board stated.

After an initial investigation that was criticized as inadequate, Menlo Church announced earlier this month it would launch a supplemental investigation, although it has yet to hire an outside firm to conduct it.

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The church board plans to hire an interim pastor to serve in a transitional role during the search for a new senior pastor, according to the statement, and in the interim, Eugene Lee will continue as executive pastor. The congregation pushed back its annual congregational meeting several weeks to Aug. 30, during which some board seats will be up for election.

The board — known as an Elder Board — has nine members, and with the senior pastor, leads the church community. When the board was alerted last November to concerns about Ortberg's decision to permit his younger son to keep working with children, it promptly hired the law firm Coblentz Patch Duffy & Bass LLP to conduct an investigation, which ran from November through early January, after which the pastor was reinstated. Statements from Menlo Church at the time identified him only as a youth volunteer, and not as Ortberg's son.

But in late June, Danny Lavery, the pastor's older son, publicly revealed on Twitter that he had called on the church to conduct the investigation, and that it was his younger brother who had revealed his interest in children. Lavery made his initial letter to the church public in order to push for a more robust, thorough inquiry, he said.

The younger Ortberg son has not been accused, arrested or convicted of any misconduct, according to a spokesperson for the family who asked not to be named. The Almanac's own investigation also failed to turn up any police reports or accusations.

The younger son was removed from his volunteer role immediately after the Elder Board learned of Lavery's initial concerns and church staff has put "safeguards in place" to prevent any future volunteer involvement by him, according to Heather Holliday, senior director of marketing and communications at the church.

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But the revelation of the son's identity raised questions among some current and former members of the church about the adequacy of the initial investigation.

To start, the pastor's younger son, who Lavery said in his November 2019 statement to the church was 30 years old , was not interviewed during the investigation, according to the family's spokesperson.

He "believes that his work with the church has helped the community in many ways, and he has always acted and behaved with the highest levels of responsibility and commitment," the Ortbergs' spokesperson said in an email.

Religion News Service, a respected 86-year-old news service that covers religion throughout the United States, reported that, according to the church's elders, the initial investigator did not interview any parents whose children had contact with the pastor's son, any other volunteers who worked with him, or any outside group where he worked with kids. And in interviews with church staff, the interviewer did not ask specific questions about his conduct. Holliday confirmed this information to be accurate with The Almanac.

The scope of the church's initial investigation was to learn if the pastor had received a confession from his youngest son that he struggled with unwanted thoughts about children, failed to prevent his son from volunteering and failed to inform anyone at the church; and to determine whether his son engaged in any misconduct, and whether there were any specific allegations or information about possible misconduct while he volunteered at the church, according to a July 29 statement from the church responding to questions it had received.

The investigation involved speaking to "relevant student and children's ministry leaders going back to 2008, each of whom was asked to disclose any information about which they were aware involving any allegations of misconduct by any leader or volunteer," according to the statement.

Kelly Morehead, who attended the church for many years, whose children participated in youth programs, and who recently volunteered as a leader for young women, told HuffPost that she was not contacted during the initial investigation.

As alleged omissions in the initial investigation became public, the church's Elder Board announced on July 11 that it would launch a supplemental investigation; form a new committee with church elders, staff, parents and volunteers to provide oversight over the investigation; and conduct a full audit of "policies, practices and training related to child and youth safety" that would be led by an expert, independent outside organization. The policies will be audited regularly, the board announced.

The church announced July 29 that the supplemental investigation is moving forward and that it was in the process of creating an "Investigative Advisory Committee" with staff, volunteer, parent, elder and denomination representatives to vet and recommend a new firm with expertise in child safety and sexual abuse to lead the investigation into the pastor's son's involvement in Menlo Church or church-sponsored activities involving minors.

The church's youth program works with more than 1,000 children each Sunday, according to a church document by ministry leader John Garrison.

The church board also said it would, with guidance from experts, conduct a full audit of its child and youth safety practices, which will be regularly audited.

What happened

Last November, Menlo Church publicly announced a series of actions in response to what church leaders determined to be "poor judgment" by Ortberg when he permitted "a person serving in the church community" who admitted an "unwanted thought pattern of attraction to minors" to continue to work with children for about 16 months after disclosing that information, according to a Jan. 21 statement from the church's Elder Board.

Pastor Ortberg did not respond to the Almanac's request for an interview or comment. In his resignation letter, Ortberg acknowledged his error and his "regret for not having served our church with better judgment. Extensive conversations I had with my youngest son gave no evidence of risk of harm. ... However, for my part, I did not balance my responsibilities as a father with my responsibilities as a leader."

His younger son volunteered with the church for several years, on and off, until mid-2019, according to the spokesperson for the Ortberg family.

Lavery said he also told the board that his brother had traveled a number of times on mission trips to Mexico where he may have been with children unsupervised. According to the Ortbergs' spokesperson, the travel was supervised.

The day after Lavery went to the Elder Board, on Nov. 22, church elders suspended Pastor Ortberg. And by Nov. 24, the board had retained an independent investigator, Fred W. Alvarez, whose bio says he specializes in employment law, to look into the matter.

The investigator did not find any misconduct in the Menlo Church community, board chair Beth Seabolt reported in a January statement to the church. But Ortberg was found to have "exhibited poor judgment that was inconsistent with his responsibilities as senior pastor," Seabolt said at the time.

Ortberg, who has served as senior pastor since 2004, according to the church website, acknowledged in a July 6 statement to the church community that it was his younger son who was the volunteer in question and apologized for not taking action to stop him from working with children.

"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," he wrote in his statement.

His son also continued to work with high school students as an Ultimate Frisbee coach. As of June 2019, he was listed as the coach of Gunn High School in Palo Alto's Ultimate Frisbee team, Gunn Control. He stopped coaching the Gunn Control team in November 2019 after sending a note to team members saying he had stepped down because of a family crisis, Religion News Service reported.

He was also listed as a coach for the Bay Area's Red Dawn team in the 2019 U.S. Open Club Championships Under-20 division.

He was a coach for about five years, according to the Ortbergs' spokesperson.

After the investigation, the church put Ortberg on a "restoration plan," a faith-based process in which he worked with the church's staff and board members to rebuild trust. He was reinstated as senior pastor on Jan. 24 and returned to the pulpit the week of March 7, as previously reported in The Almanac.

During a March 8 sermon, Ortberg said he had had 80 meetings with individuals or small groups to listen to the church community's input.

Then, on June 28, Lavery identified his brother on Twitter as the unnamed volunteer. Lavery told The Almanac that his primary goal was to make sure there would be a robust investigation.

"I don't believe you can investigate 16 years in a month and a half," Lavery said.

In the aftermath of Lavery's announcement, current and former church members raised questions over the thoroughness of the investigation and what confidence the faith community could have in its findings.

"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," the Menlo Church Elders stated in a July 11 online message to churchgoers. "Based on the feedback we've received, we are initiating a supplemental independent investigation into concerns raised about the volunteer."

Parishioners push for transparency

The Almanac spoke with several former parishioners who are parents. Several said they wanted the church to dig deeper to see if the younger son was responsible for any misconduct while working with children, and others urged the church to be more transparent with how it is conducting its supplemental investigation. Some called for Ortberg to step down.

Ruth Hutchins, a church member and parent who has been chronicling the church's statements to parishioners and writing her opinions about them on her personal blog, gave her own suggestions on how the church should have handled the situation: "If your son attended the Menlo Park middle school or high school youth program over the past 10 years, and if his group leader was someone close to John Ortberg, I think the church owes you answers. Menlo Church should have given you a copy of their investigation report. In fact, you should have been interviewed," she wrote on her blog.

Morehead, the church parent and volunteer who said she was not contacted during the initial investigation, told The Almanac that church volunteers have rules they are expected to follow while working with youth. Volunteers undergo background checks, provide personal references and attend regular training, she said. They are taught about being a mandated reporter and said there are rules in place for the type of physical contact volunteers are permitted with children side hugs are OK, front-to-front hugs are not. Volunteers are trained to be supportive and to be involved in children's lives by attending sports games or performances. Many work with the same cohort of students through middle and high school.

Morehead said she wants the church to take responsibility and say, "'This was a horrible violation of trust on the part of the church by John. We are going to make sure this absolutely never happens again.'"

"If you substitute school for church, principal for pastor, and school board for elder board, there would be no room for debate," she said. "I've tried to put myself in John's position, and what I don't understand is how he could continue to put at risk not only the children with whom (his son) worked, but also (his son)."

Mountain View resident Madeleine Lux, who attended the church for about a year and a half in 2017 and 2018, said before the July 29 announcement that she would like to see Ortberg fired and for members of the church's board to turn over. "What they did was neglectful and harmful to the community," she said.

Tiger Bachler, an Atherton resident who was married at the church, volunteered regularly with youth and baptized her children there, but hasn't attended regularly for a number of years, also called for a supplemental investigation and said that Ortberg should resign or be fired. "It seems so clear to me that what he did was wrong," she said. "The children are the most vulnerable of his flock and he failed them."

The Almanac has attempted to reach church community members who may feel differently, but — due to the size of the congregation and the constraints of reporting during a pandemic and the fact that in-person services are on hold — it has been difficult to interview a larger number of parishioners.

Anyone in the Menlo Church community who wishes to report abuse or misconduct can contact the church's Elder Board by email at [email protected] or contact a campus pastor. People should also contact law enforcement if appropriate, said Holliday, the church spokesperson.

The church board released a document providing additional answers to parishioner questions on July 29, which is available online.

Kate Bradshaw writes for The Almanac, the sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

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Editor's note: The Almanac has chosen not to name Pastor John Ortberg's son because our reporting has not uncovered any accusation of improper or criminal behavior.

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Head of Menlo Church steps down over 'poor judgment'

Pastor John Ortberg, whose last day at church will be Aug. 2, admits error, expresses regret

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Thu, Jul 30, 2020, 9:49 am

John Ortberg, the senior pastor of Menlo Church, is stepping down from his role at the evangelical Presbyterian church that sits prominently in downtown Menlo Park, following community outcry after the church's board learned that he had allowed his son to continue to work with youth for more than a year after learning that his son was sexually attracted to children.

Menlo Church attracts about 6,000 weekly congregants across six Bay Area campuses, and on its website brands itself as a family-friendly faith community, but it faced a reckoning as details emerged regarding troubling revelations in late 2019 and early 2020. Ortberg, who has led the church for 17 years, was put on a leave of absence this winter, and later reinstated. On Wednesday morning, the church announced that its governing board unanimously accepted Ortberg's resignation, according to a statement on the church's website.

His last day will be Sunday, Aug. 2, when he is expected to address the congregation.

Ortberg's "poor judgment has resulted in pain and broken trust among many parents, youth volunteers and staff" and he "needs to focus on healing and reconciliation within his own family," the church's board stated.

After an initial investigation that was criticized as inadequate, Menlo Church announced earlier this month it would launch a supplemental investigation, although it has yet to hire an outside firm to conduct it.

The church board plans to hire an interim pastor to serve in a transitional role during the search for a new senior pastor, according to the statement, and in the interim, Eugene Lee will continue as executive pastor. The congregation pushed back its annual congregational meeting several weeks to Aug. 30, during which some board seats will be up for election.

The board — known as an Elder Board — has nine members, and with the senior pastor, leads the church community. When the board was alerted last November to concerns about Ortberg's decision to permit his younger son to keep working with children, it promptly hired the law firm Coblentz Patch Duffy & Bass LLP to conduct an investigation, which ran from November through early January, after which the pastor was reinstated. Statements from Menlo Church at the time identified him only as a youth volunteer, and not as Ortberg's son.

But in late June, Danny Lavery, the pastor's older son, publicly revealed on Twitter that he had called on the church to conduct the investigation, and that it was his younger brother who had revealed his interest in children. Lavery made his initial letter to the church public in order to push for a more robust, thorough inquiry, he said.

The younger Ortberg son has not been accused, arrested or convicted of any misconduct, according to a spokesperson for the family who asked not to be named. The Almanac's own investigation also failed to turn up any police reports or accusations.

The younger son was removed from his volunteer role immediately after the Elder Board learned of Lavery's initial concerns and church staff has put "safeguards in place" to prevent any future volunteer involvement by him, according to Heather Holliday, senior director of marketing and communications at the church.

But the revelation of the son's identity raised questions among some current and former members of the church about the adequacy of the initial investigation.

To start, the pastor's younger son, who Lavery said in his November 2019 statement to the church was 30 years old , was not interviewed during the investigation, according to the family's spokesperson.

He "believes that his work with the church has helped the community in many ways, and he has always acted and behaved with the highest levels of responsibility and commitment," the Ortbergs' spokesperson said in an email.

Religion News Service, a respected 86-year-old news service that covers religion throughout the United States, reported that, according to the church's elders, the initial investigator did not interview any parents whose children had contact with the pastor's son, any other volunteers who worked with him, or any outside group where he worked with kids. And in interviews with church staff, the interviewer did not ask specific questions about his conduct. Holliday confirmed this information to be accurate with The Almanac.

The scope of the church's initial investigation was to learn if the pastor had received a confession from his youngest son that he struggled with unwanted thoughts about children, failed to prevent his son from volunteering and failed to inform anyone at the church; and to determine whether his son engaged in any misconduct, and whether there were any specific allegations or information about possible misconduct while he volunteered at the church, according to a July 29 statement from the church responding to questions it had received.

The investigation involved speaking to "relevant student and children's ministry leaders going back to 2008, each of whom was asked to disclose any information about which they were aware involving any allegations of misconduct by any leader or volunteer," according to the statement.

Kelly Morehead, who attended the church for many years, whose children participated in youth programs, and who recently volunteered as a leader for young women, told HuffPost that she was not contacted during the initial investigation.

As alleged omissions in the initial investigation became public, the church's Elder Board announced on July 11 that it would launch a supplemental investigation; form a new committee with church elders, staff, parents and volunteers to provide oversight over the investigation; and conduct a full audit of "policies, practices and training related to child and youth safety" that would be led by an expert, independent outside organization. The policies will be audited regularly, the board announced.

The church announced July 29 that the supplemental investigation is moving forward and that it was in the process of creating an "Investigative Advisory Committee" with staff, volunteer, parent, elder and denomination representatives to vet and recommend a new firm with expertise in child safety and sexual abuse to lead the investigation into the pastor's son's involvement in Menlo Church or church-sponsored activities involving minors.

The church's youth program works with more than 1,000 children each Sunday, according to a church document by ministry leader John Garrison.

The church board also said it would, with guidance from experts, conduct a full audit of its child and youth safety practices, which will be regularly audited.

What happened

Last November, Menlo Church publicly announced a series of actions in response to what church leaders determined to be "poor judgment" by Ortberg when he permitted "a person serving in the church community" who admitted an "unwanted thought pattern of attraction to minors" to continue to work with children for about 16 months after disclosing that information, according to a Jan. 21 statement from the church's Elder Board.

Pastor Ortberg did not respond to the Almanac's request for an interview or comment. In his resignation letter, Ortberg acknowledged his error and his "regret for not having served our church with better judgment. Extensive conversations I had with my youngest son gave no evidence of risk of harm. ... However, for my part, I did not balance my responsibilities as a father with my responsibilities as a leader."

His younger son volunteered with the church for several years, on and off, until mid-2019, according to the spokesperson for the Ortberg family.

Lavery said he also told the board that his brother had traveled a number of times on mission trips to Mexico where he may have been with children unsupervised. According to the Ortbergs' spokesperson, the travel was supervised.

The day after Lavery went to the Elder Board, on Nov. 22, church elders suspended Pastor Ortberg. And by Nov. 24, the board had retained an independent investigator, Fred W. Alvarez, whose bio says he specializes in employment law, to look into the matter.

The investigator did not find any misconduct in the Menlo Church community, board chair Beth Seabolt reported in a January statement to the church. But Ortberg was found to have "exhibited poor judgment that was inconsistent with his responsibilities as senior pastor," Seabolt said at the time.

Ortberg, who has served as senior pastor since 2004, according to the church website, acknowledged in a July 6 statement to the church community that it was his younger son who was the volunteer in question and apologized for not taking action to stop him from working with children.

"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," he wrote in his statement.

His son also continued to work with high school students as an Ultimate Frisbee coach. As of June 2019, he was listed as the coach of Gunn High School in Palo Alto's Ultimate Frisbee team, Gunn Control. He stopped coaching the Gunn Control team in November 2019 after sending a note to team members saying he had stepped down because of a family crisis, Religion News Service reported.

He was also listed as a coach for the Bay Area's Red Dawn team in the 2019 U.S. Open Club Championships Under-20 division.

He was a coach for about five years, according to the Ortbergs' spokesperson.

After the investigation, the church put Ortberg on a "restoration plan," a faith-based process in which he worked with the church's staff and board members to rebuild trust. He was reinstated as senior pastor on Jan. 24 and returned to the pulpit the week of March 7, as previously reported in The Almanac.

During a March 8 sermon, Ortberg said he had had 80 meetings with individuals or small groups to listen to the church community's input.

Then, on June 28, Lavery identified his brother on Twitter as the unnamed volunteer. Lavery told The Almanac that his primary goal was to make sure there would be a robust investigation.

"I don't believe you can investigate 16 years in a month and a half," Lavery said.

In the aftermath of Lavery's announcement, current and former church members raised questions over the thoroughness of the investigation and what confidence the faith community could have in its findings.

"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," the Menlo Church Elders stated in a July 11 online message to churchgoers. "Based on the feedback we've received, we are initiating a supplemental independent investigation into concerns raised about the volunteer."

Parishioners push for transparency

The Almanac spoke with several former parishioners who are parents. Several said they wanted the church to dig deeper to see if the younger son was responsible for any misconduct while working with children, and others urged the church to be more transparent with how it is conducting its supplemental investigation. Some called for Ortberg to step down.

Ruth Hutchins, a church member and parent who has been chronicling the church's statements to parishioners and writing her opinions about them on her personal blog, gave her own suggestions on how the church should have handled the situation: "If your son attended the Menlo Park middle school or high school youth program over the past 10 years, and if his group leader was someone close to John Ortberg, I think the church owes you answers. Menlo Church should have given you a copy of their investigation report. In fact, you should have been interviewed," she wrote on her blog.

Morehead, the church parent and volunteer who said she was not contacted during the initial investigation, told The Almanac that church volunteers have rules they are expected to follow while working with youth. Volunteers undergo background checks, provide personal references and attend regular training, she said. They are taught about being a mandated reporter and said there are rules in place for the type of physical contact volunteers are permitted with children side hugs are OK, front-to-front hugs are not. Volunteers are trained to be supportive and to be involved in children's lives by attending sports games or performances. Many work with the same cohort of students through middle and high school.

Morehead said she wants the church to take responsibility and say, "'This was a horrible violation of trust on the part of the church by John. We are going to make sure this absolutely never happens again.'"

"If you substitute school for church, principal for pastor, and school board for elder board, there would be no room for debate," she said. "I've tried to put myself in John's position, and what I don't understand is how he could continue to put at risk not only the children with whom (his son) worked, but also (his son)."

Mountain View resident Madeleine Lux, who attended the church for about a year and a half in 2017 and 2018, said before the July 29 announcement that she would like to see Ortberg fired and for members of the church's board to turn over. "What they did was neglectful and harmful to the community," she said.

Tiger Bachler, an Atherton resident who was married at the church, volunteered regularly with youth and baptized her children there, but hasn't attended regularly for a number of years, also called for a supplemental investigation and said that Ortberg should resign or be fired. "It seems so clear to me that what he did was wrong," she said. "The children are the most vulnerable of his flock and he failed them."

The Almanac has attempted to reach church community members who may feel differently, but — due to the size of the congregation and the constraints of reporting during a pandemic and the fact that in-person services are on hold — it has been difficult to interview a larger number of parishioners.

Anyone in the Menlo Church community who wishes to report abuse or misconduct can contact the church's Elder Board by email at [email protected] or contact a campus pastor. People should also contact law enforcement if appropriate, said Holliday, the church spokesperson.

The church board released a document providing additional answers to parishioner questions on July 29, which is available online.

Kate Bradshaw writes for The Almanac, the sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Editor's note: The Almanac has chosen not to name Pastor John Ortberg's son because our reporting has not uncovered any accusation of improper or criminal behavior.

Comments

Jonette Brockway
another community
on Jul 30, 2020 at 10:48 am
Jonette Brockway, another community
on Jul 30, 2020 at 10:48 am
58 people like this

I am saddened that the elder son of John Ortberg, (Daniel) and his wife, Grace Laverty, made it their mission to try and destroy the Ortberg family and Menlo Church. The editor of this article states they chose not to name Ortberg's son because no misconduct was ever reported. Exactly - NO CHARGES WERE EVER MADE. Of course Daniel made sure to publicly name her younger brother and destroy his future. John Ortberg is a great pastor. His sermon's brought hundreds of people back to Church. We will miss the Ortberg family and wish them well. We hope that John Sr. will return to public life soon.


Jennifer
another community
on Jul 30, 2020 at 11:13 am
Jennifer, another community
on Jul 30, 2020 at 11:13 am
20 people like this

Stepping down is the appropriate thing to do. Poor judgment is an understatement. He should've been fired. He put a lot of children at risk. My compassion is for the children, and hopefully there aren't any victims. Unless someone comes forward, we'll never know. This pastor was in denial about his son.


Magenta
Gunn High School
on Jul 30, 2020 at 12:18 pm
Magenta, Gunn High School
on Jul 30, 2020 at 12:18 pm
5 people like this

Is the younger son still coaching the Ultimate Frisbee team at a local high school?


Jan
Southgate
on Jul 30, 2020 at 1:58 pm
Jan, Southgate
on Jul 30, 2020 at 1:58 pm
40 people like this

I love John ortberga sermons and he has reached me and many other people . I don’t think he should be let go because of this: There is no proof of his son acting in a bad way, and why would a brother accuse his brother of that . Even if true I find it appalling that John be let go for such a thing . I hope that he comes back soon ... sorry for the whole family to have to go thru this . This breaks my heart . Jan


sarah
Old Palo Alto
on Jul 30, 2020 at 5:04 pm
sarah, Old Palo Alto
on Jul 30, 2020 at 5:04 pm
43 people like this

I'm sorry to see this happening in one of the most popular churches in the Bay Area.
It seems to me that there is some kind of grudge going on between siblings that has caused a disaster in this family, let alone the church.
I don't this the father did anything wrong; there is no evidence of misconduct and frankly the blamed son seems pretty trustworthy in that he told his dad about his thoughts, most would not have. This should be put to a vote of the Congregation and abide by their decision.


Hmmm
East Palo Alto
on Jul 30, 2020 at 5:22 pm
Hmmm, East Palo Alto
on Jul 30, 2020 at 5:22 pm
14 people like this

This should’ve happened awhile ago.


Jennifer
another community
on Jul 30, 2020 at 5:54 pm
Jennifer, another community
on Jul 30, 2020 at 5:54 pm
16 people like this

Whether he abused any children or not is beside the point. There is potential for abuse having someone who admittingly attracted to children in charge of children's groups. They ALL have the potential to offend. They're sick individuals. Any church is a haven for pedophiles, and they're a threat to all children, as well as the congregation.

I understand the argument "why would a brother" but it was for the protection of the children in the church, the most vulnerable members. Anyone who doesn't understand this is an enabler. I hope anyone defending this pastor or his youngest son aren't parents. If you are, would you want your young children left alone with a man who is attracted to children? If so, you're very naive.

When he admitted to being attracted to children, he knew the consequences. He has nobody to blame but himself.


Fiona Dowle
Fairmeadow
on Jul 30, 2020 at 6:18 pm
Fiona Dowle, Fairmeadow
on Jul 30, 2020 at 6:18 pm
42 people like this

i am devastated that Jon Ortberg has been let go. He was the most wonderful preacher. I loved Menlo church and only attended because of his brilliance as a speaker and a religious man. I am so sad that his son decided to destroy him. Jon was the shining star of Menlo Church. He was one of the bext speakers I had ever heard. Menlo Church...what have you done. I hope and wish Jon well and hope he can find peace somewhere. Nothing has been proven against his younger son and yet the Father is punished. madness in this world


Nayeli
Midtown
on Jul 30, 2020 at 7:08 pm
Nayeli, Midtown
on Jul 30, 2020 at 7:08 pm
39 people like this

Is it true that the estranged child of the minister was the same person who made all of this public? I wonder what motivated that adult child. Why was the child estranged?


Paul
Menlo Park
on Jul 30, 2020 at 10:32 pm
Paul, Menlo Park
on Jul 30, 2020 at 10:32 pm
46 people like this

John Ortberg is the most intelligent, articulate, caring and dynamic Christian speaker I have heard in my 75 years of constant church attendance. I went to Wheaton College as did John and Billy Graham. I heard the best Christian speakers from all over the country there. John was the best of the best. He combines a brilliant mind with a humble and caring heart and thought provoking and eloquent speaking. His vicious attack by an estranged adult child who has now done his best to destroy both his father's and her brother's reputation is shameful. There is no one I have met in my long life I admire and respect more. Menlo Church will miss John in so many ways and I morn my personal loss as well. I wish John, Nancy, and their family all the best and I hope the deep wounds and hurts caused by the bitter estranged child can be overcome and the joy John had brought to so many others can be his and Nancy's again.


TMI
Barron Park
on Jul 30, 2020 at 11:24 pm
TMI, Barron Park
on Jul 30, 2020 at 11:24 pm
12 people like this

@Nayeli, you really don't want to know.


Nick
Professorville
on Jul 31, 2020 at 2:22 pm
Nick, Professorville
on Jul 31, 2020 at 2:22 pm
32 people like this

Certainly it is a good deed to alert the public to a church that knowingly allows a pedo near children. I don't dispute that.
But unless a crime was committed, why is Danny Lavery airing his family's dirty laundry so publicly? No outlet covering this story has mentioned charges pressed or the involvement of the police or any lewd acts or CP. Doesnt the brother have the right to seek treatment privately if he hasnt committed a crime?


Peter Hardt
College Terrace
on Jul 31, 2020 at 4:00 pm
Peter Hardt, College Terrace
on Jul 31, 2020 at 4:00 pm
14 people like this

This is the same church that, in the 1990s, covered up the the high school youth leaders affair with a student. he was allowed to walk away and the church just kept the message “everything’s fine”.


Jennifer
another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 4:51 pm
Jennifer, another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 4:51 pm
15 people like this

We don't know if a crime was committed or not. I remember reading years ago the average pedophile molests 87 children before he is ever caught. Out of all the volunteer positions he could've held in the church, the fact that he was in charge of kid's leaves me with the impression that he did that for one reason, and one reason only. Pedophiles DO NOT deserve the benefit of the doubt. Wake up. He deserves no defense, and neither does his dad. Protecting pedophiles should be a crime in itself.


Nayeli
Midtown
on Jul 31, 2020 at 5:17 pm
Nayeli, Midtown
on Jul 31, 2020 at 5:17 pm
29 people like this

@ Jennifer: That's just the thing. Apparently, no crime has ever been reported about the son in question. I don't know that church, that minister or that family. Despite the willingness of so many to be a jury in the Court of Public Opinion, it should be pointed out that there are no alleged crimes here (from anything that I've read).

That said: I do think that there is something fishy about the estranged son who went public with this debacle. This isn't normal. It makes me think that there was some sort of preexisting motivation with the eldest estranged son to drag his family through the mud.

Since I don't know this church or family, I did some internet sleuthing today and found a website that had the son's wife (well, at least the person claimed to be the wife of the eldest and estranged son). On that message board, "Grace" seemed to gloat over this issue behind words that seemed to express a deep-seeded disgust for the family of her husband.

That person (Grace) and the rest of the posters didn't seem to allege any other wrongdoings. If my interpretation skills were correct, it just seemed like they had finally found something to embarrass that particular family and church with.


Jennifer
another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 5:58 pm
Jennifer, another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 5:58 pm
17 people like this

@ Nayeli

Whether or not the eldest son had an axe to grind with his dad or not, we're talking about the protection of children. After reading some of these comments, it doesn't surprise me that so many kids are molested. The denial and enabling of pedophiles (especially in the church) by adults is pathetic. Are people really that ignorant?

Pedophiles flock to churches because it's the one place they feel they'll be "excepted." They also flock to churches because there are plenty of children, and naive and trusting parents won't think twice about leaving their children with "that nice man."

Most people deserve the benefit of the doubt. Not pedophiles around children. And this pastor has no one to blame but himself that he had to resign. And if this pedophile didn't want to get his dad in trouble, why did he admit to being attracted to children?

I know the history of this family (I've never been a member of this church) and they're horribly dysfunctional.


Nick
Professorville
on Jul 31, 2020 at 6:00 pm
Nick, Professorville
on Jul 31, 2020 at 6:00 pm
9 people like this

In the interest of public safety I would like to know if Lavery contacted social services with this information. Did social services say their hands were tied in the absense of any complaints by the children or their families? Did he show them all his correspondence with the church and were social services aware this church was knowingly exposing children to a pedo? Did Lavery only decide to out his brother on Twitter after getting nowhere with social services and the church elders?

If yes to all that, it's deeply concerning that social services could not intervene and notify all the parents who had children at this church. And i cannot believe anyone with children would still support this church. Some parents might have grounds to sue.


Nayeli
Midtown
on Jul 31, 2020 at 10:08 pm
Nayeli, Midtown
on Jul 31, 2020 at 10:08 pm
24 people like this

@ Jennifer - Like I said, I don't know the family, the church or even the estranged eldest child. I don't know the mental state of any of them. I don't even know the specific level of "attraction" to minors that the youngest son purportedly said that he had felt.

That said: I'm not making excuses for the parents or their children. I am not making excuses for either of this minister's sons. Obviously, I am also not making excuses for pedophiles either. In fact, maybe the family is as dysfunctional as you describe. Maybe there are things that few people know about.

Yet, I do think that it's interesting how you describe that family as "dysfunctional" despite not seeming to know them personally or being a part of the church. Yet, the people in that church (the ones that they are around more than anyone else) didn't seem to feel the same way. I'm not saying that I believe them over you. Rather, I'm just saying that I am not easily persuaded by anyone -- because there's always another side to every story told.

I do think that the motivation of the estranged eldest child is important. It would obviously be important if that child had a history (good or bad). It would also be relevant if that child's story is one of a child who feels ostracized for one reason or another.

During grad school, I sat in on some "group therapy" sessions (such as anger management sessions) as a requirement for one of my courses. I remember hearing people who had been convicted of things like theft and violence blaming their families.

One of those individuals was a young white man who was caught after having broken into someone's home. That man went on and on about how bad his family life was -- that he was neglected at home (which he also described as "dysfunctional"). It turns out that his family was somewhat religious and he was not. They didn't want him sleeping around. They didn't want his girlfriends spending the night. They didn't want him smoking pot or drinking alcohol.

This guy said that his family should have loved him unconditionally -- no matter what he was doing. He perceived their inability to accept his lifestyle as "they don't love me." When he turned 18, he already had several drug convictions that he said prevented him from receiving financial aid for college. Because his lifestyle was incompatible with the home, he was forced to move out.

This guy had a deep-seeded hatred for his family (even his "perfect" siblings). He was blaming his need to steal on them. He said that they "didn't love him" -- and he "hated them for it."

The counselor tried to ask whether his family ever did good things for him. The guy admitted that he never went hungry at home. He had food, books, video games, clothes, etc. His parents never beat him. They even bought him a car. When he was in high school, he said that they wanted him to go to a particular college too -- and that they would try to help pay for it.

Yet, if you had listened to this guy talk about his family, you would have thought that he lived in the Manson household or in some crazed cult. He felt that all of the problems in his life were because he didn't live according to their rules. He felt that they hated him for it.

The counselor tried to reason with him. He was Mexican-American too. He said that his parents were strong Catholics. He said that his mom used to smack him with la chancla (the sandal) on him throughout his youth. Yet, the counselor said that he still loves both of his parents (and missed his now-deceased mother more than he can say).

All of this talk just frustrated the young man. He rolled his eyes. I'll never forget feeling like the counselor was wasting his time.

If I had heard that young man speak (prior to the counselor getting him to open up), I would have questioned whether or not the family was as dysfunctional as he claimed. However, I came to the conclusion that this person's story might not be quite accurate an assessment as he presented.


Common sense
another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 11:25 pm
Common sense, another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 11:25 pm
22 people like this

Thank you Nayeli, for trying to get at the truth here. "Whether or not the eldest son had an axe to grind with his dad" could be important here (even if some commenters want to brush it aside) in view of the positive testimonials. For a man to seek to ruin his father implies something very unusual in the background.


Jennifer
another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 11:33 pm
Jennifer, another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 11:33 pm
11 people like this

Regardless of the motivation of the oldest son, it doesn't change the facts. The youngest son admitted to a "lifelong attraction to children" (I've read the report from the church), the youngest son admitted this to his older "brother" and his dad, and his dad refused to remove him from volunteering with children, including overnight trips. He also refused to tell the elders that the "volunteer" who admitted this attraction to children was in fact his son. The trust was broken, and the pastor said he was willing to resign several times during the investigation. The motive is irrelevant. Facts are facts. If the church was willing to ask for his resignation (getting a pastor to resign is almost impossible in any church) why can't others accept this? Who cares what his motivation was. It doesn't change anything, and it's an excuse to deny REALITY.


Nayeli
Midtown
on Aug 1, 2020 at 12:42 am
Nayeli, Midtown
on Aug 1, 2020 at 12:42 am
19 people like this

@ Jennifer: Again, I am not defending anyone. Nor do I want to be perceived as attacking anyone. I just think that people should avoid hysterics when it comes to such a grave issue.

You've labeled the man as a pedophile (you've written this word nine times). You're basing this upon what you've read. The one thing that I haven't read is whether or not this man told his father that he is an actual "pedophile."

The term is harsh but has a very specific meaning in which the individual has "a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children." Since I don't know anything about this particular son and haven't read anything about what he told his father, I can't say whether such a label is fittingly descriptive.

All that I can go by is the fact that no one has yet reported any inappropriate act by that man. As troubling as the reports about attraction to minors is, it doesn't seem that he ever acted on that "attraction" (and, of course, we don't know the extent of that "attraction" either). This is true even if I do think that the father should have prevented his son from volunteer work at the church.

And, yes, I do think that the motivation of the older brother matters. He apparently wrote a letter that he sent to the church's board. Because he didn't like the outcome of the board's investigation (or the father's agreement to only temporarily step down), this son decided to make his letter public for all to see (thereby exposing his brother's identity) as well as sending it to the Menlo Park PD and Gunn High School (which, I suspect, might have been his brother's employer).

While "facts are facts," the manner by which those facts are presented to the public could be done so with the intent to influence for more nefarious purposes. This is evidenced by how TV "news" outlets (e.g., Fox, MSNBC, CNN, etc.) construe selective sets of "facts" into a narrative for their target audiences.


Jennifer
another community
on Aug 1, 2020 at 7:39 am
Jennifer, another community
on Aug 1, 2020 at 7:39 am
9 people like this

The pastor's daughter refused to let her own children be around her younger brother. Maybe you should contact the church and tell them they made a mistake by asking for his resignation. You continue to say you don't know anything, and then you continue to say "this is the way it should be." You're arguing emotionally, when all that matters are facts. And, yes - you are making excuses for the youngest son. I agree with the church, and the pastor. We'll agree to disagree.


Nayeli
Midtown
on Aug 1, 2020 at 9:05 am
Nayeli, Midtown
on Aug 1, 2020 at 9:05 am
20 people like this

@ Jennifer - Huh? I am not saying what that church, the people who are part of it or even you should do. You might want to review what you've posted before you state that someone else is "arguing emotionally" too.

You're wrong in that I am making excuses for that minister's son too. All that I am saying is that YOU know about as much about this as I do -- and I am willing to say how little that I know about this debacle. Consequently, my judgment is reserved.

I have no problem with the pastor's resignation. I don't know him or his family. I don't think that I know anyone who even goes to that church. However, I just don't know the whole story.

For all we know, the estranged eldest son might have a very good reason to hate his family like he does. Or, of course, that son might be totally misguided -- motivated by a hatred that is fueled by something else. We don't know.

Given what little we think we know, I think that we can all agree that the son shouldn't have been allowed to volunteer. Yet, I don't think that I can pass judgment on the minister either. I don't know even know the extent of what his son revealed to him.

Moreover, I don't know if the eldest child might have had any sort of viable cause (or not) to drag his family through the dirt like this. I did look at some of the Twitter feed of that estranged eldest son and his spouse this morning. It was deeply troubling. There was a level of glee and gloating that made me simply shake my head.

Yet, I don't know all of the facts. Until then, I will simply reserve my judgment. I just think that the newspaper could have done a better job of reporting the entire story if it is deemed so newsworthy to print anyway.


Jennifer
another community
on Aug 1, 2020 at 9:14 am
Jennifer, another community
on Aug 1, 2020 at 9:14 am
Like this comment

My cousin was a member of this church (now a former member). I've heard more than enough. I have met the family (I've visited this church) but I don't know them personally. I do know why the oldest child is estranged. I think we can agree that this is sad. I wish you well.


Crescent Park Mom
Crescent Park
on Aug 2, 2020 at 9:46 am
Crescent Park Mom, Crescent Park
on Aug 2, 2020 at 9:46 am
14 people like this

Very sad. I only went to Menlo because of Ortberg. Good preachers are hard to come by. He made a mistake. I think he should be forgiven. These are dark days.


California cousin
Menlo Park
on Aug 2, 2020 at 11:43 pm
California cousin, Menlo Park
on Aug 2, 2020 at 11:43 pm
8 people like this

John Ortberg’s adult child Danny Lavery will not mind the community being informed that Danny Lavery is a transitioned male adult child who has married a transitioned female UC Berkeley professor. Danny will not mind this information being made public because Danny Lavery has written a book available at all retail outlets about the transition experience. So you will know this is a lot for a pastor of a church to take, and yes you would surmise at this point that Danny Lavery had an axe to grind. Also a book to sell that came out at the same time.


California cousin
Menlo Park
on Aug 2, 2020 at 11:55 pm
California cousin, Menlo Park
on Aug 2, 2020 at 11:55 pm
3 people like this

@Jennifer - Your comments have been noted. Your arguments have been noted. Please review the facts I have written in this comment section. I would delight to hear what your comment is now. The facts are not emotional. The facts are the facts.


Jennifer
another community
on Aug 3, 2020 at 8:16 am
Jennifer, another community
on Aug 3, 2020 at 8:16 am
12 people like this

He blew the whistle on a pedophile (and rightfully so) and he had the guts to do it for the protection of children. He wasn't satisfied with the "investigation" the church had done, including hiring a lawyer that didn't bother to interview parents of children who were left alone with him. The pastor claimed his son "would end his life" if he had to step down from children's ministry. The falling out happened after he blew the whistle on his dad. Enabling and making excuses for someone who is attracted to children or covers for his son is sad.


Jane
Midtown
on Aug 3, 2020 at 10:28 am
Jane, Midtown
on Aug 3, 2020 at 10:28 am
8 people like this

I'm curious about the background of the older son and his wife Grace Lavery, I found the email from Grace Lavery to Menlo Church Staff,"I realize that you will not be inclined to trust me. I am not a Christian, so I cannot come to you in that spirit. I am, however, a recovered alcoholic, having experienced in 2016 a profound spiritual experience that led me to recovery. The Ortbergs, indeed, helped steward me through that recovery, during which time I fell in love with their son Daniel, to whom I am now proudly married."Web Link
Then I found twitter Grace Lavery,
Then I searched more and learned more.
My feeling is that it's like a war,today's world changes a lot, this is a big challenger for Christians. America is great, the foundation is Christianity, In God We Trust!


Online Name
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 3, 2020 at 12:29 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 3, 2020 at 12:29 pm
4 people like this

FYI, most of the founders were Deists, not Christians, and "In God We Trust" replaced "E Pluribus Unum" on our currency during the McCarthy Era in 1957. See also "Separation of Church and State."


Nayeli
Registered user
Midtown
on Aug 3, 2020 at 8:53 pm
Nayeli, Midtown
Registered user
on Aug 3, 2020 at 8:53 pm
9 people like this

@ Online Name: That's not accurate. Some founders were deists. Most (nearly all of them) belonged to the Christian faith.


Nayeli
Registered user
Midtown
on Aug 3, 2020 at 9:05 pm
Nayeli, Midtown
Registered user
on Aug 3, 2020 at 9:05 pm
14 people like this

@ Jane: Thank you for the link to that letter.

It begs the questions about whether or not the eldest son's wife contacted the church's board before going public with this list of demands. If no crime had occurred, then why would they breach the privacy of the brother/brother-in-law?

Moreover, why would the daughter/daughter-in-law be so adamant in demanding that the minister resigns?

There is just something deeply disturbing and even fishy about all of this. The minister undoubtedly used bad judgment in how this situation was handled. However, the son and daughter-in-law seem like they have a vendetta motivated by something that isn't found in the content of the letter.

If the goal was to simply urge the minister to try and coax his youngest son from volunteer activities with children, there were better ways to do that without having dragged any of them (including a potentially troubled individual) through the mud or placing a very brazen scarlet letter on his chest.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 4, 2020 at 12:08 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Aug 4, 2020 at 12:08 am
12 people like this

@Nayeli, maybe "most" is wrong since scholars and historians continue to debate but there's little doubt about Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen and John Adams. The status of others like James Monroe is in doubt.


Nayeli
Registered user
Midtown
on Aug 4, 2020 at 8:57 am
Nayeli, Midtown
Registered user
on Aug 4, 2020 at 8:57 am
4 people like this

@Online Name - Personally, I don't care what revisionists "debate." Like most Americans at the time of the founding of the U.S., most of the founders were Christians. In fact, it is even true of some of the men that some armchair historians claim were not (like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and even Benjamin Franklin).

Jefferson considered himself to be a Christian.

Web Link

There are statements and letters by John Adams and James Madison that are undoubtedly reflect a self-identity with the Christian faith. Even Benjamin Franklin made statements that not only identified himself as a person of faith, but one that adhered to (or greatly esteemed) the Christian faith.

I think that you could say that some were "Christian deists" (rather than open-ended deists). Most were undoubtedly Christian.

All of that is beside the point, though. I think that we're digressing from the topic at hand.


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