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Head of Menlo Church steps down over 'poor judgment'

Original post made on Jul 29, 2020

The senior pastor of Menlo Church is stepping down from his role following an outcry after the church's board discovered that he allowed his son to continue to work with youth even after learning he was sexually attracted to children.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, July 29, 2020, 6:03 PM

Comments (14)

29 people like this
Posted by Former member
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 29, 2020 at 7:15 pm

Religious leaders like John Ortberg are dangerous. Their charisma and sparkle bewitch those with weak moral consciences and lead them astray into thinking they are Exceptionalists: so superior in their worship that they are not bound by humanity or the Bible to do the true hard work of Christianity in examining and correcting their behavior.

His hostility to the LGBTQ community is anti-Christian and should have been a blaring claxon to the church community that he was unworthy of their trust. His driving ambition to build a mega-church was another sign of his lack of footing in Christian principles.

I pray for the Menlo church community to have a true awakening, and to seek a pastor with humility and humanity. Don’t be dazzled by good looks, charm, and a charismatic aura. Truly, look deeply into the soul of your next leader.

11 people like this
Posted by Cam
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 29, 2020 at 9:37 pm

Been going there for 10 years and feel betrayed. Omitting that it was the pastor’s son is a major omission. Will not be going back. The reason I started attending this church was because of a similar case at the nearby Catholic Church St Raymond’s.

22 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 30, 2020 at 8:30 am

Direct questions for reporter and editorr: A story about this same situation was posted by the SJ Mercury yesterday, only three hours before yours. Were you sitting on this story? If so, why? And, for how long? Did you publish it at this time only when forced by the Mercury publication?

As a parent, I am also concerned whether this has been kept under the rug for some months, including by the Almanac. Rumors about it have been around for many weeks, and it has appeared in various on line materials. Hard to believe you wrote this story in only a few hours either, to say the least.

I think you need as a news organization to explain your own role and timeline in this.

17 people like this
Posted by new guy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 30, 2020 at 9:12 am

Dear Parent,

Simple, Menlo Church buys ads.

Best democracy we can afford!

7 people like this
Posted by mkeenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 30, 2020 at 1:34 pm

It wasn't just the SJ Mercury News article yesterday. There was a lengthy article on Huffington Post a couple of weeks ago which was also replicated on Yahoo.

Web Link

6 people like this
Posted by Anna Palermo
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 30, 2020 at 1:55 pm

So sad for the Menlo Church Congregation Members. Way to blow up a church and community. Menlo Church was a beacon of light for Menlo Park for many years.

9 people like this
Posted by Forgiven
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 30, 2020 at 3:40 pm

We have been members of MPPC/Menlo Church for many years. Our kids have grown up there and will continue to be active in the wonderful youth programs. John made a big mistake and, sadly, his resignation was the right result. But he is forgiven and remains a wonderful human. He will be missed, but the congregation will remain faithful to the church. God knows we all could use more spirituality these days. Onward and upward!

11 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2020 at 7:26 pm

The church board members failed to do their job!!! They should immediately step down!!!

26 people like this
Posted by Dr William Long
a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2020 at 8:46 pm

This is a sad situation for all concerned, but if this situation is understood in the context of the history of Menlo Church, not fully unexpected. I write as a former staff member, during my college and seminary years (1972-75), of what was once known as Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC). My purpose is to put the current problem in a bit of a historical perspective both from the congregation and the Presbyterian denomination. This must a compressed account, and I hope I have not misrepresented anyone here.

The central figures in giving shape to the modern expression of faith at MPPC were Drs Cary Weisiger and Clifford Smith. Their tenure at MPPC from the early 1960s until the end of 1973 saw MPPC, which had been considered a moderate or even left-learning church before that (under the ministry of the Rev. Don Hall during the 1950s), adopt a solid, but irenic, Evangelical expression of faith. Dr Weisiger, the pastor/head of staff, himself was shaped in the Presbyterian controversies of the 1930s, having been in the first graduating class of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, a conservative offshoot from Princeton Seminary. His style was warm, welcoming, somewhat cerebral, but very committed to the Presbyterian denomination, known as the UPCUSA at the time. Thus, by the time that he and Dr Smith retired on Dec. 31, 1973, the church was solidly Evangelical, though definitely not a church well-attuned to the social and political ferment all around.

What changed that was the entry of the Rev Walter Gerber in 1974. Rev Gerber was a remarkable man in many ways. His education and approach was very "west coast" (in contrast to his predecessors), having served in the Malibu Presbyterian Church before Menlo Park. A man of genial personality, enormous warmth, burning ambition and careful planning, Rev Gerber also wanted MPPC to be on the cultural forefront of the massive changes happening in Evangelical music and worship in the 1970s and 1980s. A few crucial hires made the MPPC music program nationally known and, when combined with Rev Gerber's infectious energy, he MPPC immediately was launched into the ranks of the most visible Presbyterian churches in the country.

While Drs Weisiger and Smith were staunch and serious Presbyterians, shaped in the East coast cauldrons of Princeton and Westminster, Rev Gerber was a California Presbyterian of the "label doesn't matter" variety. That is, though the larger denomination was important to him, he, as well as an number of influential members, felt that the "larger denomination" was too liberal, too insensitive and unappreciative of the contribution that the bigger congregations were making to the denomination. Under his tenure (ending in 2002 or 2003), Menlo Park would stay firmly in the larger Presbyterian denomination (now called the PC(USA)), but with growing and serious reservations about its relationship with the denomination.

Those reservations came to a head during the search process which resulted in the hire of the Rev. John Ortberg in 2004. The Rev Ortberg certainly had no lifetime or even short-term commitment to ministry within the PC(USA), despite cheerfully going through some "hoops" that the Presbytery required him to go through in order to be pastor/head of staff at MPPC.

I was not involved in the ministry of MPPC at all from the time that Rev Ortberg came until the time a decade later when MPPC left the PC(USA) and became affiliated with another Presbyterian body. The PC(USA) was going through immense changes at the time, roiled by the issue of gay marriage, and MPPC decided that it wasn't going to follow the larger church as it expressed its support for the idea.

But there was another important feature going on in American Evangelicalism in the decade from 2004-2014 that profoundly shaped MPPC, which would become Menlo Church after 2014--and that was the exponential explosion of Evangelical "megachurches" around the country. The Presbyterian denominations had few if any megachurches; rather than seeing that as an expression of theological coldness or cultural backwardness, however, one ought to understand that in the context of the idea of "shared ministry" in the Presbyterian understanding. Shared ministry means that there is an equality not simply in name but also in voting power between a pastor (called a "teaching elder") and a member of the governing board (called a "ruling elder") at the Presbytery level. What this concept practically means is that it is very difficult in a traditional Presbyterian Church for a minister to attain the kind of independence and almost cult-like status that often is accorded to pastors of many megachurches in America today. The Presbyterian form of governance discourages that kind of situation. Theologically speaking, Presbyterians have always had skepticism of vesting too much power in the church in any one individual. The insidious nature of human sin made this kind of power problematic for traditional Presbyterians.

By the time that Menlo Church then left the PC(USA), and even before that, it was well on its way to wanting to become a megachurch, with multiple campuses in the Bay Area. The evolution of the role of pastor in a megachurch meant that the pastor would have almost unquestioned authority in the congregation. This wouldn't have gone over well in a traditional Presbyterian environment, but in the new Presbyterian association, which was grateful to receive a church of this size and influence, the oversight by Presbytery was probably less than it would otherwise be.

The presence of these two things--leaving the denomination where equality or partnership in ministry was paramount and adopting the philosophy of a megachurch--created the conditions then for a pastor to be relatively unsupervised and not as accountable to a ruling body--until, of course, all hell breaks loose.

The unfolding of events at Menlo Church is painful from almost every imaginable perspective, but understanding how it could have arisen and the conditions that made it possible at least, for me, puts this tragedy in some perspective.

6 people like this
Posted by Alien Visitor
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 31, 2020 at 9:10 am

Fascinating. The intersections among the god fantasy, the immortal soul fantasy, money, evangelicalism, sexual lust, unsupervised child care, fraternal betrayal, and social media provide endless material for my reports.

12 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 31, 2020 at 10:05 am

Certainly not the first time this church has found themselves in this position and again attempt a cover up. Let’s not forget in the late 80’s the married youth pastor from Menlo who ran off with a 16 year old parishioner and the church LIED about it and tried to cover it up. Smh

14 people like this
Posted by RanchGal
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 31, 2020 at 3:41 pm

I have attended MC since 1979 and I will miss Pastor Ortberg and his wonderful Christian teachings. He was REAL and fallible making us laugh, cry, and search our souls according to Scripture. I am glad none of the children were affected and hope Pastor O finds a nearby ministry. The way some people have vilified him is sad and tragic. He was a good man and great orator.

14 people like this
Posted by Victoria Burnett
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 5:16 pm

Having been a member of Menlo since 1987, I appreciated Johns witty and
wise sermons. He will be missed by many. Sometimes children can break the parents heart. This could have been avoided I’m sure. But we are all fallen and God forgives us if we ask him to. I feel very sad about this and I am praying for John and our church.

4 people like this
Posted by SJO
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 12, 2020 at 5:32 pm

SJO is a registered user.

It’s not clear to me why you resurrected this story under the guise of complimenting your reporter for having stepped in to finish writing it “roadside”.

It is a tragedy on any number of levels and the people involved from every aspect of the situation have paid dearly for it.

The Almanac was late in addressing it in appropriate fashion and out of line now for refusing to let it die.

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