Menlo Church pastor allowed volunteer attracted to minors to work with children

Pastor John Ortberg of Menlo Church

BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer

A popular pastor at Menlo Church in downtown Menlo Park was put on leave for two months because he allowed a volunteer who had unwanted thoughts about children to continue volunteering with the youth in the church.

The congregant told pastor John Ortberg in July 2018 that he had “an unwanted thought pattern of attraction to minors,” according to a letter from church Elder Board Chair Beth Seabolt to church members.

The congregant claims to have not acted on this attraction attraction, and was seeking Ortberg’s support, according to the letter. Ortberg prayed with the church member and provided referrals for counseling, the letter says.

“However, John 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 letter says.

Mandated reporters

According to the letter, people at the church are mandated reporters, meaning they must report any suspicion of misconduct, particularly sexual, to police.

No one else at the church other than Ortberg and his wife knew about the congregant’s thoughts about children until the church member reached out on Nov. 15 to Ortberg’s son, Daniel Lavery, who is also a columnist for Slate.

In a conversation with Lavery, the congregant acknowledged having “obsessive sexual feelings about young children,” and sought out unsupervised volunteer positions with children “as a method of treating this obsession,” said a post by Lavery on Twitter.

Lavery consulted his father, and found out that Ortberg had “encouraged this person in their pursuit of unsupervised work with children,” according to the Twitter post. Further, Ortberg was not sure if the congregant has stopped volunteering for overnight trips with the children, according to Lavery.

Man is referred to therapists

After learning this, Lavery gave the congregant names of therapists specializing in work with pedophiles, and encouraged the congregant to end all volunteer work with children, which happened.

On Nov. 21, Lavery sent an email to the Menlo Church, and the next day, Ortberg went on “personal leave.”

The leave was suggested by the church’s Elder Board, according to Seabolt’s letter.

In a statement issued by the church, Ortberg said that he “fully understands the board’s concerns regarding his handling of this situation.”

In the statement, he continues on to say that he is “saddened by the potential risk he now realized 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.”

Ortberg was on leave from Nov. 22 to Jan. 24, according to Seabolt’s letter.

Both Seabolt and Lavery’s statements say that they are not aware of any criminal activities by the church member. Seabolt said that if any reports of abuse or misconduct surface, the church is prepared to report everything to police.

“We have significant protective measures already in place, including the two adult policy and background checks for all regular volunteers,” Seabolt’s letter says.

According to another statement from the church, volunteers must have attended the church for six months or completed a five-week training course, submit to a background check, submit references and other typical hiring practices.

Menlo Church’s congregation in 2014 voted to leave the Presbyterian Church and aligned with the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians denomination.

Aside from its campus on Santa Cruz Avenue in downtown Menlo Park, Menlo Church also has locations in Mountain View, San Mateo, South San Francisco, Saratoga and San Jose.

19 Comments

  1. I’ve never commented online before but I am sickened by what Ortberg did, not only by his 1000% mis-handling of the volunteer by encouraging him to work with children to help his obsession, and his comments that it is the same as homosexuality, but also to the whole community. I was really starting to wonder about my belief but now he makes it even harder knowing that he was such a popular pastor. He is nothing but deceiving it makes it hard to trust and believe in anything. I put him on the same level as Jim Bakker and I actually believe he should spend some jail time because allowing the volunteer to work with kids is just as bad as The volunteer having these thoughts. Hopefully no child was actually affected by this and 1000% credit to his son for reporting it before something did happen. Ortberg should not be allowed to work at the church or come anywhere near the church for what he did. Unfortunately he (along with his wife who also knew) has been disgraced by his action and and he needs to be punished more than a couple months suspension.

    • The way the board/Elders handled this is a joke! If Ortberg violated the Menlo church employment proxy… then the Board should have taken decisive action and stated to the congregation the offense and penalty. And WE MOVE ON…However, the Elders left EVERYONE hanging as to WTF was going on and didn’t address the issue for weeks on end. And we have to wait until the story is published (several) to get a clear idea as to whats going on. THEY SHOULD ALL RESIGN! They seem to be suffering from the same reprobate mind…Romans 1:28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.

      This sounds like they all must have come from the Catholic church and modeled its way of handling REAL sexual abuse. SAY NOTHING!

      As for Ortberg’s son, Daniel Lavery, who is also a columnist for Slate…. Is actually his bio daughter… and her hate for the church and herself is obviously a setup to take her father down. Think about it…How would a son/daughter know about a conversation and its content between a pastor and a member of the church….HHHHmmmmmm…or better yet…the person came to the son/daughter and revealed the pastors neglect… oh yeah… that makes sense! Is it possible the parents declined to attend the wedding on 12/22/19? Another HHmmmmm… SETUP! The demons of hell dont discriminate!
      Romans 1:24:
      Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

      26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

      Romans was written for a reason… God help us.

  2. This is disgusting! A pastor is supposed to be, among other things, a counselor. He is supposed to exercise good judgment. And the idea that he should be put on a leave of absence (read: vacation) is a joke. Reminds me of when the Catholic Church would discover a predator priest and instead of defrocking him, they’d send him to another parish where nobody would know about his past.

  3. What kind of a board would give this guy a two-month suspension for a serious offense like this? Shouldn’t they have fired Ortberg? The board sounds like a bunch of “yes men” (and “yes women”).

  4. John Ortberg is a good and honest man. He has helped thousands of people over the course of his career. He is well trusted and well liked and operates with the best intentions. Maybe ask yourself, WWJD? He certainly wouldn’t crucify anyone. Forgiveness is the foundation of the church. Maybe we should make it the foundation of our lives, too.

      • Something not right with the volunteer’s story. Why would he go to a website advise columnist, who coincidently happens be the pastor’s own family member, unless it was a pretext to have the matter be publicly known? Who benefits from that chain of events? Sounds like a setup.

  5. He’s a wonderful pastor/human being. He made a mistake probably out of compassion. He confessed and realizes that he shouldn’t have allowed this.

    His daughter/son has always struck me as a narcissistic attention seeker.

    This is definitely a modern day version of he who is w/o sin cast the first stone. Why aren’t we calling out everyone (other pastors, bosses, employees, Daniel Lavery) for their mistakes?

  6. Amen

    Modern day witch hunt. Pay no attention to the plan in our own (or Daniel Lavery’s) eyes. Ortberg made a mistake. So has everyone else. They aren’t posting them on the news. I’m sure everyone’s employers would like to know what they were doing in h.s. and college…for starters.

  7. While not being judgmental, it’s important that we remain skeptical and seek answers.

    I encourage you to read the story of the doubting Thomas (John 20:24-29), who would not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he personally saw the marks of the nails in Jesus’s hands and the wound in his side. He didn’t believe the accounts of the 10 other disciples.

    When Jesus was confronted with Thomas’s skepticism, did he hand him a letter from the other disciples (today, the board of elders) and told him to be satisfied with that?

    “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'”

    My takeaway from that passage is that Jesus wanted Christians to be skeptics, particularly in matters regarding the church.

  8. Lavery’s BOOK comes out tomorrow and has used this as a publicity stunt and blew up something that’s not even an issue. It’s not strange at ALL for a 20 something volunteer to be attracted to an 18 year old girl. I know a Menlo Church high school volunteer who went on to to marry a student once they were older because they were actually only a few years apart anyway and spent a long time dating later after ministry. Daniel’s articulate ability to twist words is magnifying something that’s not even an issue only to promote her new book. People should think about the whole story here.

    • Do we know for sure that the volunteer was a 20-something and that the concerning thoughts/feelings were directed toward a teenager? If so, then the story is blown way out of proportion.

    • You are incorrect. The volunteer was attracted to and working with young children. This is not a case of a young adult and a teenager. This is textbook pedophilia.

  9. I find myself wondering what this fundamentalist pastor would have done if a gay man in a committed relationship wanted to volunteer with children. I assume that the gay man would have been rejected, while the admitted pedophile gets the green light. If that doesn’t seem wrong to you, I pray for you.

  10. Defending the pastor and attacking the reporter/ child of the pastor is ridiculous. It is a sad state that children were put at risk, no matter the pastors intentions – helping someone who has a sickness, perversion, whatever you want to call it… The pastor screwed up. I hope for the sake of the children of MP that none were harmed – Kudos to anyone who put the children’s safety ahead of anything else, regardless of their personal agenda – SAVE THE CHILDREN

  11. No, the volunteer was attracted to and working with young children. The volunteer was an adult. This is not a case of a young adult and a teenager. This is textbook pedophilia.

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