John Ortberg of Menlo Church in California was placed on an unplanned “personal leave” following concerns that he mishandled a church volunteer’s disclosure of experiencing sexual attraction to children. Despite the disclosure, this person was allowed to continue serving in children’s ministry situations. Ortberg’s transgender child, Daniel Lavery (formerly known as Mallory Ortberg), was the one to report his father’s inaction to church elders.
“On November 15, 2019, a member of the congregation at Menlo Church disclosed to me that for most of their life, they had experienced obsessive sexual feelings about young children,” Lavery wrote in a Twitter post. He says this member continued to serve in “unsupervised” volunteer positions with children at Menlo Church as a way of “treating this obsession.” Lavery says the church member even traveled on overnight trips with children.
Ortberg’s Son Brought Concerns to Menlo Church Leaders
Lavery goes on to bring attention to his father’s lack of action: “this person disclosed that although they had never spoken to a therapist about this plan, they had shared it with John and Nancy Ortberg in July 2018. John Ortberg has continually encouraged this person in their pursuit of unsupervised work with children.”
The day after Lavery learned of the church member’s struggle, he says he verified the information with his parents in the company of his wife, Grace, who is also transgender. Lavery describes the pushback the couple faced when speaking to his parents:
We expressed the gravest reservations about this scheme, but were told (1) that pedophilia was like homosexuality; (2) that the most important thing was maintaining secrecy around this affair; (3) that we lacked standing to offer an alternative form of treatment for sexual obsessions with children because of our transitions. John could not offer credible reassurance when I asked whether this person had stopped traveled [sic] overnight with children, even though John claimed the two of them had spoken often and candidly. ‘I’m not sure,’ he said.
Lavery then says that he encouraged the church member in question to resign from all volunteer positions involving children and also recommended some therapists who specialize in helping those who wish not to act out on pedophilia. According to Lavery, the church member did resign from the volunteer positions. However, Lavery says his recommendation that his father disclose the information to church leaders went unheeded, prompting Lavery to give a report of what he knew to “multiple employees and elders” at Menlo Church.
Menlo Church Does Not Believe Children Were Harmed
Menlo Church issued a statement to church members on January 21, 2020, concerning Ortberg’s absence. The letter was shared with freelance journalist Julie Roys. In the statement, church leaders acknowledge Ortberg did not follow church policy when he failed to disclose the information the church member had shared with him. According to the statement, Ortberg believed the church member’s account that they had not acted upon their attraction. He also advised the member to seek counseling. The letter then goes on to explain the actions church leaders took upon learning about the situation:
As soon as these concerns were brought to the Board’s attention, the Board acted immediately and consistent with Menlo Church policy, informed our denomination (ECO) and retained an independent investigator to look into the matter. Based on that investigation, interviews with supervising staff across Student’s and Children’s ministries, and a review of detailed volunteer records, the Board has not found any misconduct in the Menlo Community, and the investigation did not reveal any allegations of misconduct.
Although the church leaders believe no children were harmed during the time the person in question volunteered with children, they said Ortberg had shown “poor judgment that was inconsistent with his responsibilities as Senior Pastor.” The statement says Ortberg understands why the elders chose to discipline him and offered an apology. “He apologizes for his action and decisions, and is committed to the safety and integrity of our community and to ensuring that such a situation does not arise again,” the statement reads.
Ortberg Has Since Returned From Personal Leave
Ortberg returned from personal leave on January 24. He is currently in an “interim” period where he is working internally with church staff and church elders are “closely monitoring” his progress. The leaders share they “hope for his return to the pulpit in the near future.”
This past weekend, Ortberg addressed the congregation, saying he was sorry he “failed to do the right thing.” Ortberg said his “lack of transparency…placed a burden on many people.” He said he’s thought about parents whose greatest fear is something happening to their child and said he understands that fear, being a father of three. Ortberg also said he considered “people who have experienced abuse, molestation, violation, and the shame and pain that can wound a soul.”