Megachurch pastor John Ortberg allowed volunteer attracted to minors to work with children, church reveals

Pastor John Ortberg of Menlo Church in Menlo, Park California speaks at BioLogos 19 in Baltimore, Maryland on March 27, 2019.
Pastor John Ortberg of Menlo Church in Menlo, Park California speaks at BioLogos 19 in Baltimore, Maryland on March 27, 2019. | THE CHRISTIAN POST

John Ortberg, senior pastor of the nearly 4,000-member Menlo Church in Menlo Park, California, exhibited “poor judgment” when he knowingly allowed a volunteer who confessed to having an attraction to minors to work with children, church elders said. Ortberg is now undergoing a period of restoration.

In an email that was sent to church members on Jan. 21 and shared with The Christian Post by the church, Beth Seabolt, chair of the congregation’s elder board, said Ortberg was asked to go on personal leave from the church on Nov. 22, 2019, while an investigation of concerns raised by a third party was conducted.

“In July of 2018, a person serving in the Menlo Church community came to John and shared in confidence an unwanted thought pattern of attraction to minors. The person assured to John’s satisfaction that the person had not acted on the attraction and sought John’s support. John believed the person and provided prayers and referrals for counseling,” Seabolt said in the email.

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Despite the confession, however, Ortberg “failed to take the required steps to prevent the person from volunteering with minors at the Menlo Park campus and did not consult anyone else at Menlo Church about the situation,” the elder board’s chair said.

She noted that as soon as the church was made aware of the concern about the volunteer, they informed their denomination and brought in an independent investigator but did not find any misconduct in the Menlo Church community.

“Nevertheless, the investigation showed John exhibited poor judgment that was inconsistent with his responsibilities as Senior Pastor,” Seabolt said.

“John fully understands the Board’s concerns regarding his handling of this situation. John is saddened by the potential risk he now realizes he brought on the Menlo community and wholly agrees that he did not handle this matter consistent with his responsibilities to Menlo Church and the Board’s expectations of him. He deeply 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.” 

She further noted that Ortberg returned to work on Jan. 24 and is currently undergoing a restoration process with limited public engagement.

“John will only be working internally with staff and the Board during this interim period, focusing on his restoration plan and seeking to rebuild trust. We hope for his return to the pulpit in the near future, if approved by the Board after closely monitoring John’s progress,” Seabolt said.

In a statement posted to Twitter, Daniel Lavery, a trans-identified woman who is Ortberg's estranged daughter, revealed that it was Lavery who reported the Menlo leader because the church member who has since been removed from their volunteer role had confessed to having "obsessive sexual feelings about young children" for years and had intentionally sought out "unsupervised" positions where they could volunteer with children, including during overnight travel.

Ortberg, Lavery said, “had continually encouraged this person in their unsupervised work with children." 

"I have no firsthand knowledge of any criminal activity, and I have real compassion for anyone trying to treat sexual compulsions with accountability and oversight," Lavery noted. "But the situation they had created was risky, unsafe and unsustainable." 

In 2018, as an investigation of multiple sexual misconduct allegations by several women against Bill Hybels, founder and senior pastor of the multi-campus Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois was underway, Ortberg was among several critics who argued that the probe was "poorly designed" and exposed the women to "grave risks."

Menlo elders assured the congregation that all of their volunteers go through a "rigorous screening process" that includes a background check and the requirement of having attended the church for at least six months. The church also does not allow an adult volunteer to be alone with a child.

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