John Ortberg will no longer serve as senior pastor of Menlo Church. He has resigned after 17 years in that position amid controversy over how he and Menlo have handled learning that a children’s ministry volunteer experienced sexual attraction to children. It was only a month ago that it became public knowledge the volunteer was Ortberg’s son, John (“Johnny”) Ortberg, III.
“I feel enormous sadness in this, because I love our church and cherish dreams for our future,” said Ortberg in a statement published on the church’s website on July 29. “I have considered my seventeen years as pastor here to be the greatest joy I’ve had in ministry. But this has been a difficult time for parents, volunteers, staff, and others, and I believe that the unity needed for Menlo to flourish will be best served by my leaving.”
John Ortberg Resigns from Menlo
Pastor John Ortberg said that he has offered to resign “numerous” times in the past several months, but that it was not until last Thursday the church’s elders concluded this would indeed be the best course of action. Ortberg will say goodbye to the congregation on August 2, which will officially be his last day at the church.
In a concurrent statement posted on the church’s website Wednesday, Menlo Church elders confirmed that Ortberg had offered to resign several times prior to this week. The reasons why they say they finally accepted his resignation are 1) Ortberg has broken the trust of many in the church, 2) it will be difficult to pursue the mission of the church while he remains a senior leader, and 3) he needs to prioritize reconciling with his family.
“We acknowledge we as elders are imperfect people,” they wrote, “and for those who believe our investigation, decisions, or communications have been insufficient, we are sorry and humbly ask for your forgiveness. We have done our best to collectively pray, seek and act on the will of Jesus Christ, and to uphold integrity and compassion in everything we do.”
“I want to express again my regret for not having served our church with better judgement,” said Ortberg. “Extensive conversations I had with my youngest son gave no evidence of risk of harm, and feedback from others about his impact was consistently positive. However, for my part, I did not balance my responsibilities as a father with my responsibilities as a leader. I am hopeful that my leaving can mark a new beginning in our church’s ministry, and will also appreciate your prayers for our family.”
At the beginning of this year, news broke that in November 2019, Menlo Church had placed John Ortberg on unplanned “personal leave.” Church leaders made this decision after learning the pastor had allowed a volunteer who experienced sexual attraction to children to continue serving in children’s ministry. The volunteer told Ortberg of this attraction in July 2018, but the pastor did not inform the church about it because he was convinced the volunteer had not acted on those impulses.
Church leaders only discovered what Ortberg had done and initiated an investigation when Daniel M. Lavery (Ortberg’s transgender son, formerly known as Mallory Ortberg) found out about the situation and blew the whistle. The volunteer then stepped down from his responsibilities over children. The congregation was not informed about any of these details until the end of January 2020 when Ortberg came back from leave under the supervision of the church. He returned to the pulpit in March.
Controversy erupted again when, on June 28, Lavery revealed that the volunteer in question was actually his brother John (“Johnny”) Ortberg, III, and alleged the investigation the church had conducted was inadequate and flawed. Reasons why Lavery and others have criticized the investigation include that the investigator had no experience working with churches or cases of abuse and did not disclose Johnny’s name during the investigation. The investigator also did not speak to volunteers who interacted with Johnny, nor to the parents of children Johnny supervised. Lavery also critiqued the fact that the investigation lasted only six weeks when Johnny had been a volunteer at Menlo for 16 years.
On Twitter, Daniel’s wife, Grace Lavery (who is also transgender), said, “Danny and I just learned that John Ortberg has resigned from Menlo Church. This outcome brings us no pleasure. More than anything, we wish it had not come to this point. We grieve that John’s departure became necessary to ensure real safeguarding.”
The Laverys have extensively documented here what they claim to be the questionable and even deceitful behavior of the Ortberg family and Menlo Church leaders throughout the past months. These include that Lavery’s sister, Laura Turner, would not let her own son be around Johnny, but concealed the danger Johnny posed to other children in the church.
Menlo Church Elders will be hiring a Transitional Pastor to replace Ortberg and are pursuing “a new, independent fact finding firm with expertise in child safety and sexual abuse” to conduct a supplemental investigation. They are also planning to conduct a child safety audit. None of the members of the elder board are resigning, but they have invited the church’s Presbytery “to provide guidance” and to moderate the board and the church’s annual meeting, which will take place August 30 on Zoom. At that meeting, Ortberg will be formally voted out, church members will have the opportunity to “refresh” the board by voting in new members, and the board will take questions from the church members. Another way the church will attempt to rebuild trust is by hosting a series of Fireside Chats in the coming months.