At long last, Pastor John Ortberg (below) of Menlo Church in California has resigned after allowing a volunteer who admitted an “attraction to minors” to work with children.
You can read more of the details leading up to this news right here, but in short, we learned earlier this year that Ortberg had been informed — by his estranged son Daniel Lavery, no less — about that problematic volunteer. While there was no indication of physical abuse, this volunteer had been allowed to travel with children during overnight trips, including unsupervised ones.
Ortberg knew this and still let it happen.
Why wasn’t the warning taken seriously? Two reasons stood out: The estranged son is transgender and the evangelical bigotry associated with that led his family to downplay the information. Also, as we found out last month, the volunteer in question was Ortberg’s other son.
The church’s elders said they had hired an independent investigator to look into Pastor Ortberg’s actions (or lack thereof), but they found no misconduct and wrote it off as “poor judgment.” It was later revealed that the investigator never even spoke to children the volunteer worked with or their parents.
Ortberg stepped away from the pulpit temporarily and came back in March like nothing had changed.
It’s only now, after the revelation about who the volunteer was and the bad publicity that resulted from it, that Ortberg has tendered his resignation, effective August 2.
“I have considered my 17 years as pastor here to be the greatest joy I’ve had in ministry,” Ortberg said in a statement. “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.”
In addition to the resignation, the elders said in a statement:
Our decision [to accept the resignation] stems from a collective desire for healing and discernment focused on three primary areas. First, John’s poor judgment has resulted in pain and broken trust among many parents, youth, volunteers and staff. Second, the extended time period required to complete the new investigation and rebuild trust will significantly delay our ability to pursue Menlo’s mission with the unity of spirit and purpose we believe God calls us to. Third, in this coming season John needs to focus on healing and reconciliation within his own family. For these reasons, we believe Menlo Church should return our focus to our ultimate mission: helping people find and follow Jesus.
If Ortberg is guilty of poor judgment, why aren’t the elders resigning too? The need for stability in the church doesn’t outweigh their own failures. Merely adding more “diverse voices” to their group won’t change the fact that the people who allowed a potential predator to be around kids while his protector stayed in power will still be leading this place.
Ruth Hutchins, a longtime Menlo Church member who has been very critical of the church’s actions, points out that the statement also has plenty of wiggle-room in the language:
I'm still not sure if the elders actually think they did anything wrong or they are just sorry we found out and think so. pic.twitter.com/KUTnzYZ9b4
— Ruth D. Hutchins (@RuthDHutchins) July 29, 2020
Grace Lavery, Daniel’s partner, posted this message earlier this afternoon:
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.
— Grace Lavery � (@graceelavery) July 29, 2020
If a church can’t protect its own members, it shouldn’t exist. It’s not asking much to make sure children are safe and the people who work with them are fully investigated. How can any organization with this much money and this many members fail so badly when they’re hardly the first example of bad behavior among evangelicals? They’ve been able to watch other churches rise and fall — including Ortberg’s former home, Willow Creek — and still, they couldn’t deal with this problem until it finally blew up in their faces?
I’m obviously not the target audience, but I would never take my kids to this church. The parents who remain part of it should seriously reassess their own membership.
(Screenshot via YouTube. Thanks to Shannon for the link)