One month after announcing the firing of Mountain View campus worship director Michael Bryce Jr. for “inappropriate behavior online” years ago, Menlo Church in California has confirmed that behavior was the solicitation of nude photos from a teenager.
In a recent update to the congregation on Bryce’s March 19 firing, the church’s transitional Pastor John Crosby and elder board chair David Kim said they could share further details on the circumstances surrounding Bryce’s firing because the police investigation has been completed. No criminal charges were filed.
The church leaders explained that they were contacted by a young adult male in mid-March who “alleged that Michael Bryce, Jr. repeatedly solicited nude photos from him online.”
“These solicitations happened when the young adult was in his mid-teenage years and while Michael was working at a previous church,” they said in a statement.
The young adult male explained that before making a claim against Bryce, he sought help from a therapist after he was triggered by news of a prominent Christian leader engaging in a pattern of sexual misconduct.
“Through that process, he recalled getting the unwanted solicitations, which led him to contact Menlo Church. When asked about this allegation, Michael confirmed the solicitations but denied knowing he was a minor at the time,” Crosby and Kim wrote.
The church reported the allegations to authorities who did not file charges because they could not determine with certainty if Bryce had solicited the teenager while he was a minor. Authorities also had questions on jurisdiction.
“The Oklahoma City Police Department conducted an investigation. In consultation with their District Attorney, the city decided not to file charges due to two factors — the inability to confirm whether the solicitation occurred within the OCPD’s jurisdiction and uncertainty regarding the individual’s exact age at the time the solicitation occurred — he was either 16, 17, or 18 years old,” the church officials explained.
“While this is positive news for Michael, we recognize and sympathize with the victim who was solicited. Regardless of what age he was, the pain and confusion he experienced from receiving such requests from a person of authority in a church was unacceptable. We are grateful that he is connected with a church family, as well as a pastor and a therapist who are helping him process his hurt.”
While Bryce, a married father, will not rejoin the church on staff, the leaders further explained that it has been difficult for some of their congregants to process the claims made against him.
“We have heard from several congregants who have found it difficult to reconcile the Michael they knew with the Michael terminated for cause. This is a reminder to all of us that we live the already-not-yet life, completely forgiven by Jesus and still needing sanctification each day,” the statement reads.
“In Michael’s case, the past solicitations with a teen demonstrated poor judgement on his part, which was compounded by his withholding of this information when he was hired at Menlo Church. Neither action is consistent with our expectations of our staff. While we recognize that nobody’s perfect, our church staff are key leaders in our church family, helping us to keep the vulnerable safe and encouraging us toward deeper discipleship.”
Even though no claims have come from Menlo Church members about Bryce, Crosby and Kim said a forensic specialist will examine his work computer.
“This past year has been a long and difficult one for our church family, the church leaders said. “Our leadership recognizes that we have made mistakes along the way, and we are learning how to respond when allegations of abuse are made. We are committed to doing our utmost to create ever-widening circles of safety around the vulnerable, particularly our youth.”
Last July, John Ortberg, Menlo Church’s then-lead pastor, resigned over how he managed his son’s access to children in the church even after learning of his son's sexual attraction to minors.
Ortberg was first asked to go on personal leave from the church on Nov. 22, 2019, while an investigation of concerns raised by a third party about a then-unidentified church volunteer was conducted. In early July 2020, Daniel Lavery, a trans-identified woman who is Ortberg's estranged daughter, revealed on Twitter that the volunteer is her brother, John Ortberg III.
In January 2020, without revealing Ortberg’s relationship to the volunteer, Menlo Church elders said their leader exhibited “poor judgement,” but no harm had come to any minor in the Menlo Church community based on the findings of an investigation.
Ortberg returned to the pulpit last March and apologized for his "shortcomings" in a letter to the church on July 6. However, pressure from blindsided members of the church who felt betrayed about the details of Ortberg’s familial connection to the volunteer forced an ongoing supplemental investigation.
The elder board later asked Ortberg to resign based on a “collective desire for healing and discernment.”