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Head of Menlo Church steps down over 'poor judgment'

Original post made on Jul 30, 2020

The senior pastor of Menlo Church has resigned following an outcry over the church board's investigation that some current and former parishioners found inadequate.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, July 30, 2020, 9:49 AM

Comments (34)

58 people like this
Posted by Jonette Brockway
a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2020 at 10:48 am

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.

18 people like this
Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2020 at 11:13 am

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.

5 people like this
Posted by Magenta
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 30, 2020 at 12:18 pm

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

40 people like this
Posted by Jan
a resident of Southgate
on Jul 30, 2020 at 1:58 pm

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

42 people like this
Posted by sarah
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 30, 2020 at 5:04 pm

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.

13 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 30, 2020 at 5:22 pm

This should’ve happened awhile ago.

13 people like this
Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2020 at 5:54 pm

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.

42 people like this
Posted by Fiona Dowle
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 30, 2020 at 6:18 pm

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

38 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2020 at 7:08 pm

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?

46 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 30, 2020 at 10:32 pm

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.

12 people like this
Posted by TMI
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 30, 2020 at 11:24 pm

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

29 people like this
Posted by Nick
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 31, 2020 at 2:22 pm

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?

14 people like this
Posted by Peter Hardt
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 31, 2020 at 4:00 pm

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”.

14 people like this
Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 4:51 pm

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.

29 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2020 at 5:17 pm

@ 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.

16 people like this
Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 5:58 pm

@ 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.

9 people like this
Posted by Nick
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 31, 2020 at 6:00 pm

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.

24 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2020 at 10:08 pm

@ 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.

21 people like this
Posted by Common sense
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 11:25 pm

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.

10 people like this
Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 11:33 pm

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.

19 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2020 at 12:42 am

@ 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.

8 people like this
Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2020 at 7:39 am

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.

20 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2020 at 9:05 am

@ 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.

Like this comment
Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2020 at 9:14 am

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.

14 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 2, 2020 at 9:46 am

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.

7 people like this
Posted by California cousin
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 2, 2020 at 11:43 pm

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.

2 people like this
Posted by California cousin
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 2, 2020 at 11:55 pm

@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.

11 people like this
Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Aug 3, 2020 at 8:16 am

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.

8 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 3, 2020 at 10:28 am

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!

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

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."

9 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 3, 2020 at 8:53 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

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

12 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 3, 2020 at 9:05 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

@ 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.

12 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 4, 2020 at 12:08 am

Online Name is a registered user.

@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.

4 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 4, 2020 at 8:57 am

Nayeli is a registered user.

@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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