Popular evangelical pastor and author John Ortberg allowed a volunteer who had confessed to an attraction to minors to continue to volunteer with children, according to a statement from his church’s elder board.
“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 church’s elder said in a statement. “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.”
Ortberg did not tell anyone else about the conversation and allowed the person to continue working with children. On Sunday, Ortberg’s son Daniel Lavery posted a message on Twitter, saying he had learned of the conversation and reported him to the church elder board after a fruitless confrontation.
In the note, Lavery said that the person in question had come to him to disclose “obsessive sexual feelings about young children.” They had sought out “unsupervised volunteer positions with children” as a way of “treating this obsession.” Those positions had included overnight travel with children. The church member told Lavery that they had confided all of this to Lavery’s parents, John and Nancy in 2018.
Upon learning this, Lavery says he and his wife Grace confronted his parents and expressed their “gravest reservations.” But their concerns were dismissed in part, Lavery says, because he and his wife are transgender. Lavery urged his father to report the situation to the elder board. When Ortberg refused, Lavery reported it himself. He also wrote the church member, advising them to “resign all volunteer positions working with children,” and says the person did so.
The day after the elder board learned of Ortberg’s activities, Ortberg himself went on personal leave for unspecified reasons. Lavery also says he knows of no “criminal activity” and expressed “real compassion for anyone trying to treat sexual compulsions with accountability and oversight.”
In an email sent to all church members, Menlo Church said they launched an independent investigation into the affair that found no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing.
“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 Church community, and the investigation did not reveal any allegations of misconduct,” their statement says. “Nevertheless, the investigation showed John exhibited poor judgment that was inconsistent with his responsibilities as Senior Pastor.”
The statement says that Ortberg “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.” Board leaders say they are implementing a “restoration plan” Ortberg must follow before he returns to the pulpit. It is not clear what the plan entails.
Lavery says the situation “has been personally devastating, and broken the trust that once existed between me and the Ortberg family.”