Update: Here is a timeline of events.
I remember telling my mom about the “Tony Jones debacle” (see this related post, or more usefully, see the links at the end) and stating: “I think Stephanie,” referring to Stephanie Drury of Stuff Christian Culture Likes, “is the only ‘Christian hero’ I have left.” She responded by saying something perfectly wry that I can’t quite remember, like: “How lucky you are that you have one left.
This isn’t about the Tony Jones debacle, but this, what I may as well call “The John Ortberg debacle,” reminds me of it. It isn’t just John Ortberg; it seems that his whole family, excluding Daniel Lavery, formerly Daniel Ortberg, are—somehow unrepentantly—complicit.
I had a class with Daniel Lavery in college, and I have kept up with his writing over the years, though some of it, admittedly, goes over my head (it is strikingly clever and creative, and rife with literary and pop culture references that I can’t always follow, though I try). I follow him and his wife, Grace Lavery, on Twitter, and I paid attention when he shared that he was, unexpectedly, estranged from his family a while back, and I paid even more attention when he began to explain why.
If you don’t know, his father, John Ortberg, is a megachurch pastor and renowned author, at least in certain circles—his books were assigned to me in college classes, and I recall them being on two of my high school youth pastors’ shelves. Nancy Ortberg, also an author, spoke at my college at least once. They are a power couple, Evangelical royalty—or that was my impression. I had no real interest in them and probably only skimmed the books I was assigned, but as a young queer person, I appreciated that they seemed to (key phrase) accept and affirm Daniel.
Earlier in the year, Daniel Lavery shared the reason he is estranged from his family: he learned that a church member had disclosed to John Ortberg that they were sexually and romantically attracted to minors, a fact which led them to seek out opportunities to work closely with children, including at Menlo Church. John Ortberg decided that he had the authority to counsel this person to continue their volunteer work at Menlo—unsupervised. No one at the church was informed of this disclosure or of Ortberg’s means of handling it. There was no investigation at this point or any other attempt to ensure the safety of the children at the church—for eighteen months. When Daniel and Grace learned of this and came to Ortberg with their concerns, they were dismissed. Ortberg even suggested that Daniel and Grace had no right to speak into the situation because they are both transgender. They had no choice, in the end, but to bring this situation to light themselves.
This past Sunday, Daniel shared that the church member who confessed to these thoughts and feelings was his younger brother, John Ortberg III. This additional piece of information complicates and elucidates many things. Mostly, it makes even more sense that Ortberg would go to such lengths to do the wrong thing. One can infer several things from this, but it seems clear to me that he did what he did in part because his reputation was at stake. Regardless of the “why,” this was a significant and dangerous abuse of power.
I will note that there are no allegations of abuse against John Ortberg III at this time, but there also has not been a proper, thorough investigation (Daniel Lavery addresses this on his Twitter thread from Sunday, June 28th)—and we know, I hope, that relationships can be abusive and devastatingly harmful whether or not they are sexual.
Daniel and Grace have explained everything—with clarity and grace—on Twitter (@daniel_m_lavery and @graceelavery), and I am well aware that I have not adequately summarized the situation here. I strongly recommend that you look into it further. That is my only goal of hastily writing this piece: to bring attention to this situation, with the hope that attention will lead to a proper investigation and John Ortberg’s resignation, among other things.
That conversation with my mother about so-called “heroes” happened five years ago, and I have since learned not to worry about looking for “Christian heroes,” though I still keep an eye out more generally. I have learned also and more significantly the value of being heroic rather than waiting around and looking for others to behave heroically and renew my faith in humanity.
Still, I am deeply thankful that upon seeing that his father had done something utterly wrong and dangerous and was refusing to take any action to protect the most vulnerable, Daniel Lavery saw also—in conjunction with his wife, Grace, and their community—that he needed to take action, no matter what he would lose in the process. The details are disturbing, but he and Grace and their unwavering commitment to what is right shine like a light through them. May we all have such moral clarity and such a commitment to protecting others even at great personal cost.