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Back in February, Beth posted about a controversy going on at one of the more famous megachurches in America.

In short, Pastor John Ortberg (above) of Menlo Church in California allowed a volunteer who admitted an “attraction to minors” to work with children. The volunteer wasn’t just around kids, mind you; he traveled with children during overnight trips. Some of the volunteering opportunities were unsupervised.

There’s no indication of any criminal activity. The bigger problem was that Ortberg knew about the volunteer’s problem… yet still permitted him to be around kids. Ortberg later apologized and took a leave of absence.

Making matters even more complicated, Daniel Lavery, the whistleblower in question and Ortberg’s estranged son, said his warnings were dismissed “in part because both Lavery and his wife are transgender.”

Lavery actually wrote about how, after he informed Ortberg about the problem, he was told

… (1) that pedophilia was like homosexuality; (2) that the most important thing was maintaining secrecy around this affair; (3) that we lacked standing to offer an alternative form of treatment for sexual obsessions with children because of our transitions.

Lavery’s warnings were legitimate. Ortberg’s inaction was undeniably disturbing.

The church’s elders, led by Beth Seabolt, said at the time that they had hired an independent investigator to look into Ortberg’s actions (or lack thereof), but nothing substantive was discovered:

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

That’s it. “Poor judgment.” Calling that a slap on the wrist is an understatement.

Now, the matter has gotten even more complicated.

In March, Ortberg returned to the pulpit, having completed the church’s “Restoration Plan.” Seabolt and the elders also responded to questions about the situation during a Q&A session with church members, during which they said they would not be responding to Lavery for “lashing out”… which is a weird way to talk about the person whose initial concerns prompted the very necessary investigation.

On Sunday, Lavery issued a series of statements on Twitter expressing frustration with what he perceived to be a lackluster investigation (which apparently did not even include speaking to key witnesses), Ortberg’s return to the pulpit (which came without any acknowledgment of what he had done wrong), and the personal smears (“insinuating I was mentally unstable because I am trans”).

That thread included one particular bombshell:

The volunteer at the center of this firestorm was Ortberg’s own son (and Lavery’s brother) John Ortberg III.

Lavery goes on to say that his parents claimed Ortberg III was “suicidal at the thought of being unable to volunteer with children,” which is why they avoided medical help and urged Lavery to keep quiet about it.

It’s just a sad situation all around, in large part because the church appears to have been more interested in protecting the reputation of its famous pastor than protecting the parishioners and their children.

Again, there’s no clear evidence of any physical wrongdoing. But it’s also a situation that could have been avoided had the church simply been proactive. By allowing the pastor’s son to remain in a position where he could have harmed children — even though they were informed of that possibility — the church’s top leadership failed at every turn.

Ruth Hutchins, a longtime Menlo Church member who believes the “church senior leadership isn’t being forthright,” has compiled a useful timeline of the entire situation here.

In some ways, this is simply a story of one church failing miserably at protecting its own members from a potential predator. But it’s also a warning. Because of the respect given to Menlo Church and Ortberg himself, other evangelical churches may look to them (even indirectly) for guidance on their own similar problems.

They shouldn’t. Menlo screwed up. Menlo continues to screw up. And part of the problem may have been the inherent anti-trans bigotry that prevented leaders from taking a valid concern as seriously as they should have.

(Screenshot via YouTube. Thanks to Shannon for the link)

Hemant Mehta is the founder of, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.

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