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Investigation Updates

Our Response To Misconduct

As a church community, we face a heartbreaking and very serious situation. Our former pastoral assistant (Jackson Gatlin) is accused of sexual assault, sexual harrasment and spiritual abuse. Our former senior pastors (Michael and Brenda Gatlin) are accused of covering up some of Jackson’s misconduct, spiritual abuse, bullying, gossip, retaliation and various incidents of unprofessional, unethical and/or unkind behavior.

Key principles guiding the Special Committee leading our response: 

  • We will continually seek Jesus’ mind and will, through His Spirit and the Word of God, in all actions and decisions related to the allegations of misconduct.
  • As Jesus said the truth will set us free, we will diligently seek the truth related to the allegations of misconduct.
  • As Jesus was always on the side of the vulnerable and the wounded, in our response to the allegations of misconduct the safety and care of the alleged victims must always come first

We want to say to all survivors of abuse that we hear you and believe you. It is never your fault. And, you are not alone. We are praying for you and we call our community to a time of prayer and lament. As Jesus was always on the side of the vulnerable and the wounded, in our response to abuse the safety and care of survivors must always come first.

We strongly encourage all criminal activities to be reported to law enforcement. Please do so by calling 911.

At present, these allegations are being independently investigated by a contracted company called Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE)If you have information that may be relevant to this investigation, please contact GRACE.

What can you do to help? Keep praying. Please. We need God and his will to be done. Remain open-minded. Resist the desire to speculate and gossip. Try to remain patient. Also, let yourself feel whatever emotions arise. Allegations of wrongdoing can stir up all kinds of feelings within us, including past hurts. Let yourself feel whatever emotions arise. Stay connected with the community and reach out for support.

Victim Assistance

If you are a reporting victim, we want to help. We understand and respect that you may be hesitant and you can engage with us as much or as little as you choose. For example, we’d love to pray with you and/or help provide professional counseling for you. For more information, please contact Becca Eastvold at (218) 389-7684 or [email protected].

Messages from the Special Committee

Former Employee Charged with Criminal Sexual Conduct

October 3, 2023
Hello,

Today, our former pastoral assistant, Jackson Gatlin, was charged with criminal sexual conduct and taken into custody.  Five criminal complaints were filed against him.

To the victims reporting crimes against Jackson, our hearts are broken by your pain. We pray that you experience comfort, healing and peace. We thank you for the courage it took to tell your story and we hope that the law enforcement process helps bring healing for you. We also pray that God gives you even more courage, strength and hope. We are in this tragedy with you. And, to the extent you are comfortable, we want to love and care for you.

We also recognize that the law enforcement process may cause reporting victims to be triggered, including involuntarily recalling past trauma. We want to help and we can imagine and respect that you may be hesitant to accept assistance from us. You can engage with us as much or as little as you choose. For example, we’d love to pray with you and/or help provide professional counseling for you. For more information, please contact Becca Eastvold at (218) 389-7684 or [email protected].

We are sorry that the Duluth Vineyard was the kind of place where this kind of behavior could happen. We apologize to the reporting victims and the Twin Ports community. We are working to develop a culture that is more resistant to abuse and toxicity. Sexual abuse can happen anywhere. This is not an excuse for it happening in the context of the Duluth Vineyard community. Rather, this is a call for change in our broader society as well.

Also, we want to once again say to all survivors of abuse that we hear you and believe you. It is never your fault. And, you are not alone. We are praying for you and calling our community to a time of prayer and lament. As Jesus was always on the side of the vulnerable and the wounded, in our response to abuse the safety and care of survivors must always come first.

For those less familiar with this situation, the charges against Jackson come in the context of numerous allegations of misconduct that have surfaced in the last year. There are also allegations that Michael and Brenda Gatlin (Jackson’s parents and also former church employees) knew about certain misconduct by Jackson at the time and failed to act. This matter is not only being investigated by the police, we have contracted with a company called Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) to conduct an independent investigation. 

As we have previously stated, the key principles guiding the Special Committee as we respond to this situation are:

  • We will continually seek Jesus’ mind and will, through His Spirit and the Word of God, in all actions and decisions related to the allegations of misconduct.

     

  • As Jesus said the truth will set us free, we will diligently seek the truth related to the allegations of misconduct.

     

  • As Jesus was always on the side of the vulnerable and the wounded, in our response to the allegations of misconduct the safety and care of the alleged victims must always come first.

These guiding principles and the charges against Jackson have pointed us to the powerful words of the prophet Micah.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8

God is requiring that we act justly in this situation. That is part of our commitment to seek the truth. It is why we require that all Duluth Vineyard employees cooperate with this criminal investigation. If anyone has information that may help the police, please contact them. Maybe you know something and in the past you felt like it wasn’t your place to say anything or you were afraid to talk to the police. Whatever your reasons for not reporting, please let God give you what you need to come forward now. We also invite our entire community to join us in praying for the law enforcement officials involved in this case, for the process of human justice, and that justice can be done.

God also requires us to love mercy. At the same time that our hearts break for reporting victims, we recognize the difficult position and pain the Gatlins are in. We are not pre–judging Jackson regarding any criminal allegations and we will wait patiently for the judicial process to be completed. And, Jesus himself cares about those accused and even convicted of crimes. Jesus points to visiting prisoners and was kind to the thief on the cross next to him. If you are friends with Jackson, friendship may look different now and yet we encourage you to continue to be his friend. Like Jesus, we want to have compassion for all and pursue justice for all. 

Further, God is requiring us to walk humbly through this together. As a Special Committee, we’re going to listen to Jesus, seek the truth and prioritize victims, yet we’re not going to do everything perfectly. More broadly, we all are far from perfect and need to welcome the grace and truth of our loving Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. At the same time the criminal justice system is examining Jackson’s actions, let’s open ourselves up and let the Holy Spirit speak to us about our own actions. Great freedom and power can come in our community as we repent.

Along those lines, we want to point everyone to these hopeful and challenging words in the Bible:

19This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. – John 3:19-21

In Christ, there is no fear of coming into the light, no fear of the truth, and no fear of punishment. As Jesus pours his love, courage and humility into us, we have more than enough strength to allow our deeds to be exposed and experience the healing of Jesus. It is not always easy, but it is always good.

To all pastors and church leaders accused of sexual, spiritual or any other kind of abuse, please grab hold of Jesus’ hand, come into the light and experience healing. If the allegations are true, take responsibility, get present to the impact of your actions, offer a sincere apology and ask forgiveness, and commit to live differently going forward. If criminal charges are brought against you and you are guilty, tell the truth and plead guilty. Jesus always gives us the strength to do what is right.

Lastly, this is a difficult time for our church.  And, we are going through it together. We encourage everyone to reach out to your friends, small group leaders, and pastors for support.  We can all let others help connect us with Jesus.  And, for those who have abuse in their stories, we encourage you to also consider accessing professional mental health counseling. God works in many ways. 

Let’s not forget that Jesus is still in charge and with us. He is moving in the middle of this heartbreaking and serious situation and we want to join in with the good things that he is doing.

With the love of Christ,

The Special Committee of the Church Council (Ben Mork,  Ann LaCosse, Jerry Lieffring and Gerry Nierengarten)

====================

This message is sent on behalf of the Special Committee. Please contact John Kliewer with any questions or concerns.

Hello,
Church discipline is divine authority delegated to the church by Jesus to maintain order through the correction of sinning church members for the good of those caught in sin, for the purity and unity of the church, and for the glory of God.  For more on church discipline, please see Matthew 18:15-20, Romans 16:17-18, 1 Corinthians 5, Galatians 1:8-9 and 6:1-2, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, and Titus 3:10-11. It is our responsibility to enter into a process of discipline, reconciliation and restoration with Michael, Brenda and Jackson Gatlin. This process has begun and we ask you to pray for God’s will to be done.

For more details, click here to see the church discipline letter sent to Michael and Brenda Gatlin. At this point, they have not expressed or demonstrated a willingness to participate in the process of reconciliation and restoration we described. A preliminary church discipline letter was also sent to Jackson Gatlin. Although we will be working within the same framework, the discipline and path forward for Jackson will be different because his situation is different.

Like the Psalmist (Psalm 85:10), please join us in praying for truth, mercy, justice and peace to meet.

With the love of Christ,

The Special Committee of the Church Council (Ben Mork, Ann LaCosse, Jerry Lieffring and Gerry Nierengarten)


This message is sent on behalf of the Special Committee. Please contact John Kliewer with any questions or concerns.

Hello,

We remain heartbroken by the very serious situation we are facing as a Duluth Vineyard community. We want to continue to communicate what we can, as we can. Today, we want to talk about Michael Gatlin’s resignation letter as our Senior Pastors that we received in late February. As we have previously stated, the key principles guiding the Special Committee as we proceed are:

  • We will continually seek Jesus’ mind and will, through His Spirit and the Word of God, in all actions and decisions related to the allegations of misconduct.
  • As Jesus said the truth will set us free, we will diligently seek the truth related to the allegations of misconduct.
  • As Jesus was always on the side of the vulnerable and the wounded, in our response to the allegations of misconduct the safety and care of the alleged victims must always come first.

Why We Have Not Shared Michael’s Resignation Letter

Although Michael requested that we do so, we have not shared Michael’s resignation letter as our Senior Pastor with our church community because GRACE requested that we not do so due to the risk that the things Michael says could harm GRACE’s investigation. Although we value transparency, we are honoring GRACE’s request due to our commitment to find the truth.

Further, many of us want to know exactly why Michael resigned and why he failed to cooperate with our investigation. What we do know is that Michael committed to fully participating in the process of finding the truth even if it was difficult personally. That seemed to change once the scope widened to include a possible cover up. Subsequently, in his resignation letter, Michael gave some reasons for his resignation and his failure to cooperate. Although we don’t agree or understand Michael’s reasons, they are his stated reasons.

Michael’s Viewpoint on His Resignation

We recognize that Michael is free to share his resignation letter with whomever he wants. Perhaps he has shared it with you or discussed its contents with you. Perhaps folks in your small group or group of friends are familiar with the arguments Michael made. This is going to happen and it’s okay. God is with us and he gives the spiritual gift of unity to his people. Also, even with our desire not to have the content of Michael’s resignation letter hinder the investigation, please don’t hear us saying that you shouldn’t listen to Michael or be his friend.

Our Response to Michael’s Resignation Letter

We are simply providing our perspective on Michael’s statements. We’re not telling you what to think or feel.

Beyond the guiding principles stated above, our response to the Gatlins was also guided by the fact that we were the Gatlins’ employer. As such, we require all employees, including high ranking employees, to follow our lawful directive (as their employer) to provide information regarding their employment activities. We did not pre-judge their activities, we terminated their employment and accepted Michael’s resignation because they refused a lawful directive to provide information. Some have questioned our victim-centric approach. It is more than that; it is an approach required of every employer whose employees refuse a lawful directive.

In addition, apart from our role as an employer, we truly believe our victim-centric approach is also the way of Jesus. This approach comes at a high cost to us personally and as an institution. At the same time that Jesus gave us great empathy, compassion and love for the reporting victims, we continue to love the Gatlins and have empathy and compassion for them. We saw the pain that they were in for having to make a choice between (a) following our employment directive to provide information (when the purpose of that directive was to provide information regarding their employment activities) and (b) following the advice of (apparently) their attorneys to not provide any information to anyone, including us as their employer, that may be used against them in unrelated legal proceedings. It would have been easy for us to have a failure of nerve or a failure of heart in the face of either our love for the Gatlins or any criticism that we treated them harshly. We are paying a high relational and emotional cost for our victim-centric approach. And, we bear it willingly as a price of seeking the truth as an employer and of truth for all who ultimately seek the Kingdom of God.

Below we offer our response to some of the key points in Michael Gatlin’s resignation letter. We would like to offer some context. First, reasonable people can disagree. We are giving our well-informed and thoroughly considered perspective. And, we are open to learning from others’ perspectives. Second, Michael’s reasons for his resignation are his reasons. We may disagree with his perspective. And, he has stated his perspective (at least in part), refused to cooperate with his employer, and then we were left to respond to his insubordination. Third, before getting to specific key points in Michael’s letter, we would like to give our big-picture response in the following paragraph.

In our world today, it is not uncommon for employment investigations and police investigations to be conducted concurrently. In this wider context, it is standard practice for employers to require employees to answer questions without their private attorney being present. And, in the broader world today, there is no surprise, no confusion, no great mystery when employees choose not to cooperate with their employer in order to maximize the chances of avoiding personal legal jeopardy in other criminal and/or civil contexts. It is the employer’s legal right to give lawful directives. If an employee refuses to comply with the directive, they do so understanding that the legal consequence is the termination of their employment. This is widely accepted outside of the context of following Jesus. Yet, following Jesus often requires us to act counter-culturally. On January 29, 2023, as Michael told our community he would participate in the fact-finding process, he pointed to the way of Jesus:

“There is great freedom to be experienced as we bring hidden things into the light. We don’t need to fear the truth. It’s only as we walk in the light that we can experience the healing Christ offers.”

Like us all, Michael had the freedom to choose whether to lay down his rights and pay the potential cost (and that potential cost could be very high) to help us bring hidden things into the light. But, he can’t both (a) keep his commitment to participate in the fact-finding process, he can’t credibly continue to claim that he wants all the truth to come out, and (b) refuse a lawful directive to cooperate with our investigation, and instead maximize the chances that he and his family will avoid other civil and/or criminal liability. Michael may have made a wise personal legal decision, certainly in the eyes of the world, but many in our Duluth Vineyard community feel both betrayed and that he is no longer pointing us to the way of Jesus.

With regard to some of the key points in Michael’s resignation letter:

  • Michael states that he was informed of a new policy “that any employee of the Duluth Vineyard church not cooperating fully with the investigative process established by GRACE will be immediately terminated.” No such policy exists. Further, no one has been terminated immediately. The Special Committee reached out to everyone who we believed was not cooperating and gave them time to respond and state their intentions, advising them that if they do not, their employment may be terminated as a consequence.
  • Michael claims that “Brenda and I find ourselves unable to cooperate with the process established by GRACE and by yourselves.” He was not unable, he was unwilling. Similarly, he was not actually being forced to do anything. He made his choice about whether to maintain his employment or not. That was his choice to make knowing the consequence would be termination of his employment. We have great empathy for the difficult choice Michael faced, but he still retained his agency.
  • Michael made denials in his resignation letter.  We had not pre–judged Michael regarding any allegations and we are still waiting patiently for the fact finding to be completed.
  • Michael stated that he would not participate in our investigation because it is completely lacking in due process. Michael, and/or his attorneys, do not understand that the rights he speaks of are man-given rights primarily found in the United States Constitution regarding actions taken by public governmental bodies, not private employers, before any citizen may lose life, liberty, or property. Hypothetically, we could have told Michael he can’t curse or use filthy language during his messages and, if Michael said he won’t preach anymore at the Duluth Vineyard because it is completely lacking in free speech, it would be an equally mistaken notion of his rights. The protections in the Bill of Rights within the Constitution only apply to government actions and do not apply to the actions of private employers like the Duluth Vineyard. This is why we generally have no right to bring our private lawyer to work with us.
    • Further, Michael stated that “[a]t a minimum, due process involves the accused being notified of all charges they are facing, having the opportunity to know who is making the charges, having the opportunity to challenge the accuser’s credibility, having rules of evidence, having a right to be represented by legal counsel, and having a completely neutral arbiter.” We agree that those due process protections apply to governmental actions in a criminal trial, when the state is attempting to deprive an individual of life or liberty. However, we can’t put Michael in jail. Our society recognizes that these protections apply only to governmental actions, not to private employers who can only terminate employment for a refusal to obey a lawful directive.
    • Although the standard practice is to extend employment law protections (rather than Constitutional due process protections) to an employee in an investigation, it could be asked why didn’t the Duluth Vineyard go beyond standard practice for the Gatlins. Here are examples of two reasons why:
      • First, we have a legal obligation to protect the reporting victims, to the extent legally permissible, from potentially being revictimized by the Gatlins, if they were victimized in the first place. We don’t know if they were, but we have a legal duty to protect the reporters, within the bounds of civil law. That is generally true and there are specific allegations of individuals bringing forward allegations to the Gatlins and being attacked by them.
      • Second, we decided to not allow our employees to have legal counsel during their interviews with GRACE. Although it is something GRACE allows, it is our right to direct our employees to answer questions in order to get to the truth. Because GRACE provides everyone interviewed with a transcript of their interview and an opportunity to correct the transcript, the main reason a private attorney would be present at the interview is to tell our employees not to answer questions. That potentially prevents the truth from coming out and defeats the purpose of our investigation.
  • Michael asked that we include his resignation letter with any statements we make about his resignation. Again, because Michael’s resignation letter has the potential to hinder our investigation, we believe it should not be made public until after the investigation is complete if Minnesota employment law then allows it to be released. That decision will be made on a case-by-case basis depending on who is requesting the information and for what purpose, in light of the applicable laws relating to the request.

At the same time that our hearts break for those who may be victims, we do recognize the difficult position and pain the Gatlins are in. We did not prejudge the Gatlins or the reporting victims. Rather than permitting insubordination, we made the only choice an employer can make when an employee refuses a lawful directive to provide information regarding a matter that arose out of and in the course of their employment. Furthermore, the Gatlins are not permitted onto any Duluth Vineyard property in order to protect the integrity of the investigation (e.g., to remove the possibility of interference and influence) and to protect the reporting victims (e.g., allow reporting victims to participate in church activities without having to face their possible abusers).

Like Jesus, we want to have compassion for all and pursue justice for all. We too are far from perfect and welcome the grace and truth of our loving Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Please join us in prayer. Like the Psalmist, call out for truth, mercy, justice and peace to meet (Psalm 85:10).

With the love of Christ,

The Special Committee of the Church Council (Ben Mork, Ann LaCosse, Jerry Lieffring and Gerry Nierengarten)


This message is sent on behalf of the Special Committee. Please contact John Kliewer with any questions or concerns.

 

Hello,

Today, the Duluth Police Department executed a search warrant at the Duluth Vineyard’s Arrowhead location. This appears to be related to their ongoing investigation of allegations against Jackson Gatlin. The warrant was issued upon a judge’s finding of probable cause.

We strongly encourage anyone with information related to criminal activity by Jackson to report it to law enforcement. Please do so by calling 911. 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you,

The Special Committee of the Church Council (Ben Mork, Ann LaCosse, Jerry Lieffring and Gerry Nierengarten)


This message is sent on behalf of the Special Committee. Please contact John Kliewer with any questions or concerns.

Hello,

On Monday, February 22, 2023, Vineyard USA announced on their website Brenda Gatlin’s resignation as a Super Regional Leader for Vineyard USA and Michael Gatlin’s resignation as a Trustee on the Vineyard USA Board and on the Board of Vineyard Worship.

As a reminder, we encourage all reports of criminal activities to be reported to law enforcement. Please do so by calling 911. We have also contracted with a company called Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) to conduct an independent investigation into allegations related to the Gatlins. If you have information that may be relevant to their investigation, please contact GRACE by emailing Emily Petrie at [email protected]

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you,

The Special Committee of the Church Council (Ben Mork,  Ann LaCosse, Jerry Lieffring and Gerry Nierengarten)


This message is sent on behalf of the Special Committee. Please contact John Kliewer with any questions or concerns.

Hello,

This week, Michael Gatlin submitted his resignation as Duluth Vineyard’s Senior Pastor.

His resignation comes in the context of allegations of misconduct against one of our former pastoral assistants and Michael’s son, Jackson Gatlin. There are also allegations that Michael and Brenda Gatlin knew about this misconduct at the time and failed to act. This matter is being investigated by the police. And, we have contracted with a company called Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) to conduct an independent investigation. More background information is available on the updates page on our website

As part of his employment, Michael had been repeatedly directed to cooperate fully with both any law enforcement investigation and our independent investigation. Immediately prior to Michael’s resignation, we directed him to provide a statement to the Special Committee detailing his response and the actions he took, if any, to certain allegations of misconduct regarding Jackson Gatlin. We are Michael’s supervisor, yet he missed our deadline and never provided a statement. We had also advised him that his failure or refusal to provide information we had requested or to be interviewed by GRACE may result in the termination of his employment. In his resignation letter, Michael told us that he found himself unable to cooperate with the process established by GRACE and the Special Committee.

We view the GRACE investigation as crucial for finding the truth and helping our community heal and move forward. If you have information that may be relevant to their investigation, please contact GRACE by emailing Emily Petrie at [email protected]. We also encourage anyone with information related to criminal activity to report it to law enforcement. Please do so by calling 911. As the investigation continues, we want to reaffirm our commitment to Jesus, to the truth, and to putting victims first.

Also, we want to again say to all survivors of abuse that we hear you and believe you. It is

never your fault. And, you are not alone. We are praying for you and we call our community to a time of prayer and lament. As Jesus was always on the side of the vulnerable and the wounded, in our response to abuse the safety and care of survivors must always come first.

For all of us who love Michael and have benefited from his ministry as the Senior Pastor of the Duluth Vineyard, we remind you that more than one thing can be true at the same time. Michael is a gifted leader and God has used him in powerful ways. Michael has helped many of us experience the love and new life that Jesus brings. And, at the same time, Michael is human just like us. We all fall short. We need to be patient and wait for the fact finding to be complete, yet the allegations against Michael are serious.

We are going through a difficult time. And, we are going through it together. Please reach out to your friends, small group leader, and pastors for support. If you don’t attend a small group, there is no better time to start. And, let’s also offer support to each other. Further, let’s never forget that we are going through this with Jesus as our comforter, friend, savior and king. God’s loving presence through the Holy Spirit is always available to us. Holy Spirit, Come!

As a community, we are going to be dealing with this for a while. During that process, we don’t want to be overly optimistic or pretend that this isn’t heartbreaking and very serious. And, we always want to look for the good that Jesus is doing in this troubled world, because he has overcome this world. Often in the midst of our suffering, that good is in us. 

We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  – Romans 5:3–5

This is going to hurt. And, God could make the Duluth Vineyard a stronger, better, more loving community because of the work he does in our hearts as we walk through this together.  Let’s not miss what the Holy Spirit is doing in us and in our community.

As we start to look forward, the Duluth Vineyard’s mission to make disciples remains the same. Our vision to develop a community of disciples of Jesus who love and experience God, who love one another, and who partner with Christ to bring healing to our world has not changed. We’re not the best church or the only church. We pray for other churches to remind ourselves that the Kingdom of God is bigger than the Duluth Vineyard. And, there is also something special about the Duluth Vineyard. God has chosen to work in us and through us and we expect that to continue in powerful ways as we go forward.

No one is ever completely prepared for a senior pastor to leave under these circumstances, yet the Duluth Vineyard has a number of advantages. First, although Michael recently resumed working full time for the Duluth Vineyard, for over a decade he worked part time for the Duluth Vineyard and part time for Vineyard USA overseeing church planting. During that time, the church supplemented Michael’s part time leadership with a skilled and mature Senior Leadership Team, preaching team and pastoral care team. Second, the Church Council has a Succession Planning Committee and an Emergency Succession Plan that we are putting into place. Over time, we’ll see that play out as that Committee, led by Michele DeNoble, organize a pastoral search committee, finalize a job description, evaluate candidates and eventually ask the Congregational Members to vote on a new Senior Pastor. During this transition, the Senior Leadership Team (Brian Brinkert, Casey LaCore and John Kliewer) will continue to provide leadership and perform the duties of our senior pastor, as they have done so well since Michael was placed on leave at the beginning of February.

What can you do to help? Keep praying. Please. We need God and his will to be done. Remain open-minded. Resist the desire to speculate and gossip. Wait until the investigation is completed before making any judgment about allegations against anyone. The investigation will only be complete when all available information is obtained. Try to remain patient. Both a thorough investigation and a successful search for a new senior pastor can be lengthy processes. Also, let yourself feel whatever emotions arise. Allegations of wrongdoing can stir up all kinds of feelings within us, including past hurts. Let yourself feel whatever emotions arise. As discussed above, stay connected with the community and reach out for support.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all,

The Special Committee of the Church Council (Ben Mork,  Ann LaCosse, Jerry Lieffring and Gerry Nierengarten)


This message is sent on behalf of the Special Committee. Please contact John Kliewer with any questions or concerns.

Hello,

As Jesus said the truth will set us free, we are committed to diligently seeking the truth related to the allegations of misconduct by Jackson Gatlin and the allegations that Duluth Vineyard management was aware of this misconduct at the time and failed to act.

All Duluth Vineyard employees have been told that they must cooperate fully with the independent investigation being conducted by a company called Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE).

Jackson Gatlin’s employment with the Duluth Vineyard has been terminated because of his failure and refusal, as requested and directed, to meet with the GRACE investigator.

If you have information that may be relevant to their investigation, please contact GRACE by emailing Emily Petrie at [email protected]. We also encourage anyone with information related to criminal activity to report it to law enforcement. Please do so by calling 911. 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you,

The Special Committee of the Church Council (Ben Mork,  Ann LaCosse, Jerry Lieffring and Gerry Nierengarten)


This message is sent on behalf of the Special Committee. Please contact John Kliewer with any questions or concerns.

Hello,

We hope that you were able to read our message from January 29th concerning allegations of misconduct against one of our pastoral assistants (Jackson Gatlin) and how the resulting investigation and employment decisions related to Jackson Gatlin are being overseen by an independent Special Committee of our Church Council. Since then, we have also placed our Senior Pastor (Michael Gatlin) on a leave of absence.

This is a fast evolving situation, particularly with regard to law enforcement involvement. The first reports that the Special Committee received were anonymous and, when we took those reports to the police, we were told by the police that they could not start an investigation without victims’ names. That changed this week when victims began identifying themselves on social media. So, we reported this matter to the police again this week and there is now an ongoing criminal investigation.

We encourage all reports of criminal activities to be reported to law enforcement. Please do so by calling 911. We have also contracted with a company called Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) to conduct an independent investigation. If you have information that may be relevant to their investigation, please contact GRACE by emailing Emily Petrie at [email protected]

We want to say to all survivors of abuse that we hear you and believe you. It is never your fault. And, you are not alone. We are praying for you and we call our community to a time of prayer and lament. As Jesus was always on the side of the vulnerable and the wounded, in our response to abuse the safety and care of survivors must always come first.

With the love of Christ,

The Special Committee of the Church Council (Ben Mork,  Ann LaCosse, Jerry Lieffring and Gerry Nierengarten)


This message is sent on behalf of the Special Committee. Please contact John Kliewer with any questions or concerns.

Hello,

No one likes to receive difficult news and we are saddened that we are the bearers of that news. We share this information with a heavy heart.

Yet, let’s not forget that our God has an amazing way of using difficult situations for his glory. Our hope, our prayer is that the Holy Spirit will give us the gift of unity and strength to do God’s will. And, as we together respond like Jesus to this difficult situation, our response will bring glory to God – both strengthening his people and helping others to see his goodness.  So, we ask for your patience as we seek truth and justice. Let’s start by remembering that we are loved by God and called to be his holy people. His truth, grace and peace are what we need as we enter a difficult time as a Duluth Vineyard community. 

Our community is responding to allegations of misconduct against one of our pastoral assistants, Jackson Gatlin. At present, the allegations against him involve conduct from several years ago. We have contracted with a company called Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) to conduct an independent investigation. One of our values is transparency, yet we are not going to say anything more about the allegations at this time because we need to protect the ongoing investigation and any victims. Accountability and integrity are also key values. When the investigation is complete, we expect to have more to say and we will say it. In the meantime, let us assure you that the safety and security of our church community is critically important to us and we have policies and procedures in place to protect them. The Duluth Vineyard has suspended Jackson Gatlin during this investigation.

During the investigation, we might experience feeling quite uncomfortable, very similar to what the Israelites experienced in the wilderness. Our community will be in a liminal space, an in-between time of transition. During this uncertain time of testing, we will have a great opportunity to grow our trust in God, to surrender to his wisdom, and to demonstrate our commitment to being his people. We encourage you to listen to Michael Gatlin’s recent sermon on liminal space and learning to trust. As a community, let’s work together to let the Holy Spirit use this time to make us more like Jesus.

Next, let us share how we are addressing the fact that Jackson Gatlin is the son of our Senior Pastor, Michael Gatlin. In keeping with our Nepotism Policy and best practices, the investigation and employment decisions related to Jackson Gatlin are overseen independently from Michael and Brenda Gatlin. Our Church Council (the legal board of directors) has created a Special Committee made up of independent members (none of them work for the Duluth Vineyard or are related to any employees). The Special Committee members are Ben Mork (chair),  Ann LaCosse, Jerry Lieffring, and Gerry Nierengarten. These are the folks who will know all that we know and will control our response to the investigation. John Kliewer is serving as staff support for the Special Committee and liaison between the senior pastor and the Special Committee. 

Here are a few of the key principles guiding the Special Committee as we proceed:

  • We will continually seek Jesus’ mind and will, through His Spirit and the Word of God, in all actions and decisions related to the allegations of misconduct.
  • As Jesus said the truth will set us free, we will diligently seek the truth related to the allegations of misconduct.
  • As Jesus was always on the side of the vulnerable and the wounded, in our response to the allegations of misconduct the safety and care of the alleged victims must always come first.

What can you do to help? Pray. Remain open-minded. Resist the desire to speculate and gossip. Don’t try to guess or figure out who is making the allegations. They deserve anonymity. And, stay connected with the community. Let yourself feel whatever emotions arise. Allegations of wrongdoing can stir up all kinds of feelings within us, including past hurts. Reach out to our pastoral staff or others and get the support you need. And, try to remain patient. A thorough investigation can be a lengthy process. Also, if you have information that may be relevant to this investigation, please contact GRACE by emailing Emily Petrie at [email protected]

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all,

The Special Committee of the Church Council (Ben Mork,  Ann LaCosse, Jerry Lieffring and Gerry Nierengarten)


Dear Duluth Vineyard Church,

As this situation unfolds, I want to assure you that I’m not leading in this process, and at the same time, I am still serving as the senior pastor of the Duluth Vineyard Church. I am incredibly thankful that I do not bear this responsibility alone. The staff, leadership, and ministry teams who serve alongside us are sensitive and capable leaders we can trust.

I have complete confidence in the team involved: the members of the special committee, who are tasked with overseeing this process; our church council, our senior leadership team, our staff and our leaders. I also have complete confidence in the Lord to lead us in this difficult time.

I will participate in the fact-finding process and I encourage you to participate in this process as well. I hope to see a full and thorough investigation of these allegations. There is great freedom to be experienced as we bring hidden things into the light. We don’t need to fear the truth. It’s only as we walk in the light that we can experience the healing Christ offers.

Standing firm in God’s unending love, 
Michael Gatlin


This message is sent on behalf of the Special Committee. Please contact John Kliewer with any questions or concerns.

Response Timeline

Click Here for full pdf

Transparency is a high value at the Duluth Vineyard.  Our God requires it.  Jesus heals and brings to life our true selves, not the pretend selves we create to make ourselves look and feel good.  And, transparency is not our only value.  For example, the protection of victims, accountability, integrity and compassion are also important values.  Abiding by these values and constraints means we are not able to fully disclose certain details related to the misconduct allegations and our response, nor have we been apprised of certain details that, at this time, are known to GRACE or the Duluth Police Department. We are committed to factual and timely disclosure, to the extent we are legally allowed and that protects victim identity. If we discover errors in our reporting, we will be transparent, accept responsibility and correct any mistakes.

Last Updated: October 3, 2023

On October 6, 2022, an individual (“Initial Reporter”) reported to the current Duluth Vineyard Youth Pastor (Clint Considine) that, approximately ten years ago when such individual was a high school student participating in Duluth Vineyard’s student ministries activities, an adult, volunteer leader (Jackson Gatlin) was having sex with a high school student participating in Duluth Vineyard’s student ministries activities and may have engaged in similar misconduct with other students (the “Initial Report”).  The Initial Report was based on contemporaneous statements made to the Initial Reporter.  The Initial Reporter said that they were not an eyewitness to the Initial Report.  At that time, the Initial Reporter was not in contact with any alleged victims.  The Initial Reporter did not tell (and has not told) the Duluth Vineyard the names of any alleged victims.  The Initial Report did not contain any allegation of wrongdoing against Michael Gatlin, Jackson Gatlin’s father and Senior Pastor.  The Initial Reporter originally stated that they heard from a potential witness that Brenda Gatlin (Jackson’s mother and former co-Senior Pastor) was made aware of misconduct at the time and had not taken the allegations seriously.  Later, the Initial Reporter said that they followed up with their source and the potential witness said that they were mistaken and did not have any reason to believe that Brenda knew at the time.

On October 11, 2022, Clint Considine brought the Initial Report to a member of Duluth Vineyard’s Senior Leadership Team (John Kliewer) pursuant to the Code of Sexual Conduct of Duluth Vineyard.  Because (a) Jackson Gatlin was then an employee of Duluth Vineyard in pastoral leadership, although he was an adult volunteer at the time of the alleged sexual misconduct, and (b) Jackson Gatlin was a relative of Duluth Vineyard’s Senior Pastor and President (Michael Gatlin) and Duluth Vineyard’s Vice President (Brenda Gatlin) in both cases as “relative” is defined in Duluth Vineyard’s Nepotism Policy, John Kliewer told Clint Considine that they were not going to tell Michael or Brenda about the Initial Report, but rather take it directly to the Duluth Vineyard Church Council (Board of Directors under Minnesota law).

Between October 12th and 16th, John Kliewer called four members of the Church Council (Ben Mork,  Ann LaCosse, Jerry Lieffring and Gerry Nierengarten) and delivered the Initial Report to them.  The Initial Report was not shared with the full Church Council, but only with these “independent Church Council members” as defined in Article V, Section 2 of the Church’s Bylaws in order to preserve the independence of any investigation of the Initial Report, to achieve the intent of the Nepotism Policy, and in keeping with the Audit Committee’s authority related to “the Church’s compliance with legal and regulatory requirements and ethical standards” as stated in the Charter of the Audit Committee.

On October 17, 2022, Clint Considine and John Kliewer met with the independent Church Council members (Ben Mork,  Ann LaCosse, Jerry Lieffring and Gerry Nierengarten) and discussed the Initial Report with them.

  • The group prayed for the victims.
  • The independent Church Council members determined that a Duluth Vineyard investigation of the Initial Report, conducted and managed independently of Duluth Vineyard’s management and employees, was required.
  • The independent Church Council members discussed options for such an independent investigation, including retaining GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment).
  • Numerous meetings of the independent Church Council members followed.

From October 13, 2022 to December 14, 2022, the four independent Church Council members (Ben Mork,  Ann LaCosse, Jerry Lieffring and Gerry Nierengarten), with the assistance of John Kliewer, spent time in prayer, researched best practices for responding to allegations of sexual abuse within churches, and consulted with legal and other experts.

  • On November 7, 2023, Ben Mork first met with representatives from GRACE.  In the ongoing discussion with GRACE, they said that they could not start an investigation until January 2023 at the earliest.

On November 9, 2022, although (from the limited information available and their looking at the statutes) it was unclear to the Special Committee, John Kliewer and Clint Considine whether a crime had been committed, nevertheless Clint Considine delivered the Initial Report to the police. A police investigator told Clint that there was little the police could do without the victims’ names.

On November 23, 2022, Ben Mork and Clint Considine interviewed the Initial Reporter to better understand the Initial Report and better assess the Initial Reporter’s credibility.  The Initial Reporter did not tell the Duluth Vineyard the names of the alleged victims.

In December 2022, the independent Church Council members received confirmation, through the Initial Reporter, that alleged victims related to the Initial Report had indicated their willingness to cooperate with an independent investigation and tell their stories to GRACE.  This was the chief factor in the Special Committee deciding that it was time to suspend Jackson Gatlin.

In December 2022, while continuing to pray for victims, the independent Church Council members started researching and discussing how they could help victims in practical ways.  For more information, click here to read the statement that resulted from this work.

On December 13, 2022, Brian Brinkert and Casey LaCore were told of the Initial Report so that they could help with pastoral care and the suspension of Jackson Gatlin.

On December 14, 2022, Robb Morgan of Vineyard USA was informed of the Initial Report and the independent Church Council members’ plans to respond.  Robb Morgan provided his advice and counsel.  This began an ongoing dialogue between the Special Committee and Robb Morgan. 

On December 14, 2022, the Church Council met.  All seven members were present, including Michael Gatlin.  The Church Council formed the Special Committee, established its authority, and elected its members (Ben Mork,  Ann LaCosse, Jerry Lieffring and Gerry Nierengarten).  Because the Special Committee members are “independent” as defined in Duluth Vineyard’s Bylaws (Article V, Section 2 – not current employee or employed within last three years, no business relationship, no relative who is or was employee or business relationship), the Committee is a key element in guaranteeing the independence of the investigation.  The second key element was retaining an independent, non-agent firm to conduct a professional investigation.  Similarly, Duluth Vineyard’s financial statements are audited by an independent, non-agent accounting firm that is retained by and delivers their report to an independent Audit Committee.  This investigation of misconduct deserves at least the same level of independence, care and professionalism.  For more details, click here to see the meeting minutes.

On December 14, 2022, at the Church Council meeting, Michael Gatlin was told of the Initial Report and that Jackson Gatlin would be suspended.  Michael and Brenda were told that they must cooperate fully with the independent GRACE investigation.  The Church Council prayed for Michael.  For more details, click here for the letter to Michael & Brenda Gatlin.

On December 14, 2022, Jackson Gatlin was indefinitely suspended by the Special Committee.  During this suspension, Jackson was not permitted on Duluth Vineyard property or to have any contact with any other employees or participants (past or present) in the Duluth Vineyard community, unless specifically authorized.  Jackson was also told that he must cooperate fully with the independent GRACE investigation.  Brian Brinkert and John Kliewer met with Jackson and prayed for him.  Jerry Lieffring (member of the Special Committee) and Michele DeNoble (member of the Church Council) also met with Lindsey Gatlin (Jackson’s wife), informed her of the Initial Report, and prayed for her.  For more details, click here to see the suspension letter.

From December 14, 2022 to January 29, 2023, the Special Committee, with the assistance of John Kliewer, continued to spend time in prayer, researched and discussed best practices for responding to allegations of sexual abuse within churches, and planned the Church’s response to the Initial Report.  Due to their limited availability, the Special Committee also waited for GRACE to be able to start their investigation.  It is very sad that a company like GRACE is so busy.

  • Early January 2023, Michael Gatlin suggested that both he and the Special Committee could use The Leader’s Journey for advice and support.
  • On January 20, 2023, after being contacted by Gerry Nierengarten (member of the Special Committee), Jim Herrington and Trisha Taylor of The Leader’s Journey met with the Special Committee, Michael Gatlin and John Kliewer to discuss the situation.  The Leader’s Journey requested a follow-up meeting with only the Special Committee.
  • On January 22, 2023, the Special Committee met with Jim Herrington and Trisha Taylor to discuss how The Leader’s Journey could help with pastoral care and communications advice and support.
  • On January 24, 2023, the Church Council approved the engagement of The Leader’s Journey.

On December 15, 2023, the Duluth Vineyard staff was told of the Initial Report and Jackson Gatlin’s suspension.  When asked about Jackson’s absence, staff responded with this statement:  “The Duluth Vineyard has suspended Jackson Gatlin during an independent investigation of misconduct. At present, the allegations against him involve conduct from several years ago. Please contact John Kliewer with any questions or concerns.”

On January 6, 2023, Brenda Gatlin sent a message to John Kliewer, Brian Brinkert, Casey LaCore and Michael Gatlin objecting to Duluth Vineyard’s response to the Initial Report.  In addition to her arguments and opinions, the message contains a number of false statements and mischaracterizations.  To read this message, click here.

On January 8, 2023, despite being directed in the December 14, 2023 letter not to discuss the investigation with anyone other than GRACE, the Church Council, Senior Leadership Team or Michael Gatlin, Brenda Gatlin confronted two junior staff members at the Duluth Vineyard worship service.  She discussed the investigation with them and tried to persuade them to her viewpoint in an attempt to influence the investigation.

On January 8, 2023, Brenda Gatlin, Michael Gatlin, John Kliewer, Brian Brinkert and Casey LaCore met to discuss Brenda Gatlin’s January 6th written message.  In the meeting, Brenda reiterated and emphasized her viewpoints in the January 6, 2023 written message.  She strongly objected to having GRACE conduct the investigation because of her belief that a GRACE investigation would be too hard on her and her son.  She attempted to use her spiritual and positional authority, insults and bullying behavior to influence the investigation and suspension.  Brenda denied trying to influence the investigation and suspension, had a hard time agreeing with the need for an independent investigation and never fully committed not to try to influence it, and threatened to not cooperate with GRACE.  Michael Gatlin mainly asked questions and did not object to Brenda’s behavior.

On January 10, 2023, Michael Gatlin acknowledged to the Duluth Vineyard staff that Brenda Gatlin had engaged in spiritual abuse and inappropriate behavior, including during the January 8, 2023 meeting.  The staff was given the opportunity to describe the impact this had upon them.

The week of January 16, 2023, Ben Mork (chair of the Special Committee) signed a contract with GRACE retaining them for the purpose of conducting an independent investigation and analysis into allegations of past sexual misconduct by Jackson Gatlin.  It was very important to the Special Committee to retain a firm that, because they are not the agent nor owe a duty to zealously represent the Committee (such as a law firm), could conduct a victim-centric investigation.  This contract includes the following important and valuable provisions:

  • Both parties understand and acknowledge that GRACE is not an agent of Duluth Vineyard but is operating with complete independence and autonomy in conducting the above-referenced Independent Investigation and Analysis.
  • GRACE shall investigate allegations of sexual misconduct by alleged offender, Jackson Gatlin, from approximately 10 years ago when he was a volunteer leader in Student Ministries at the Duluth Vineyard Church and If there have been any instances of sexual misconduct while Jackson Gatlin has been employed by Duluth Vineyard starting in 2017.
  • GRACE shall also Identify any failures related to Duluth Vineyard management, inadequate policies or cultural factors that may have contributed, including to what extent (if any) Duluth Vineyard management was aware of any allegations of sexual misconduct by Jackson Gatlin and how the church responded.
  • As part of the Final Report, GRACE shall provide recommendations based on its findings, analysis, best practices, Scriptural values, and SAMHSA’s Six Key Principles of Trauma-Informed Practice.

Actual names of alleged victims shall not appear in the Final Report.

Middle of January 2023, the Special Committee was told by GRACE that they were able to begin their investigation at the end of January or early February.  This was the chief factor in the Special Committee deciding that it was time to make the Initial Report public.

On January 13, 2023, while continuing to pray for victims, the Special Committee started discussing the initial draft of its Victim Advocacy Response statement.  For more information, click here to read the statement that resulted from this work.

On January 29, 2023, the Special Committee told the Duluth Vineyard Leadership Team about the Initial Report, the Special Committee, and the independent GRACE investigation.  Michael Gatlin delivered a statement and then left the meeting.  Trisha Taylor and Brian Brinkert also discussed the pastoral care response at this meeting.  Robb Morgan shared Vineyard USA’s perspective and support for the Duluth Vineyard.

On January 29, 2023, the Special Committee sent an email to members and attenders of the Duluth Vineyard informing them of the Initial Report, the Special Committee, and the independent GRACE investigation.  For more information, the text of this email is on the updates page of our website.  The message also included a few of the key principles guiding the Special Committee:

  • We will continually seek Jesus’ mind and will, through His Spirit and the Word of God, in all actions and decisions related to the allegations of misconduct.
  • As Jesus said the truth will set us free, we will diligently seek the truth related to the allegations of misconduct.
  • As Jesus was always on the side of the vulnerable and the wounded, in our response to the allegations of misconduct the safety and care of the alleged victims must always come first.

On January 30, 2023, local media began reporting on the Initial Report, the Special Committee, and the independent GRACE investigation.

On January 30, 2023, victims showed extraordinary courage and began to share their heartbreaking stories of abuse by Jackson Gatlin on social media.  This was the first time the Duluth Vineyard had the names of reporting victims.  These stories included allegations of sexual assault and went beyond the Initial Report.  On social media, a reporting victim and her mother said that Michael and Brenda Gatlin were told about Jackson Gatlin’s sexual abuse at the time and failed to act.

On January 31, 2023, now with the names of the victim’s who told their stories on social media, Clint Considine again delivered the Initial Report to the police and pointed the police to the social media posts discussing abuse by Jackson Gatlin.  Clint Considine also shared with the police the same contact list of potential witnesses that the Duluth Vineyard had given GRACE, including (with their permission) the name of the Initial Reporter.  The Duluth Police Department case number is 22014633.

On February 1, 2023, the Special Committee reached out directly to a witness to clarify the allegation that Michael and Brenda Gatlin were told about Jackson Gatlin’s sexual abuse at the time and failed to act.

On February 1, 2023, Vineyard USA placed  Brenda Gatlin on a 30-day leave of absence.

On February 2, 2023, the Special Committee placed Michael Gatlin on an indefinite leave of absence.  The Special Committee’s decision to place Michael Gatlin on a leave of absence, rather than suspend him, was based on the relative strength of the allegations against him.  For more information, click here to read the letter confirming the leave of absence.

On February 3, 2023, the Special Committee sent an email to members and attenders of the Duluth Vineyard informing them that the Senior Pastor (Michael Gatlin) had been placed on a leave of absence.  For more information, the text of this email is on the updates page of our website.  The message also included the following statement from the Special Committee:

  • We want to say to all survivors of abuse that we hear you and believe you. It is never your fault. And, you are not alone. We are praying for you and we call our community to a time of prayer and lament. As Jesus was always on the side of the vulnerable and the wounded, in our response to abuse the safety and care of survivors must always come first.

On February 5, 2023, the misconduct allegations against Jackson, Michael and Brenda Gatlin, the Special Committee, and the independent GRACE investigation were discussed at the Duluth Vineyard’s worship services.  Gerry Nierengarten (member of the Special Committee) and John Kliewer presented the factual background as a Q&A.  Jim Herrington of The Leader’s Journey and Brian Brinkert gave a talk on how to process this situation as followers of Jesus.  For more information, click here to watch the service.

On February 6, 2023, Ann LaCosse (member of the Special Committee) met with the Duluth Vineyard’s insurance carrier to discuss the Special Committee’s Victim Advocacy Response statement.  For more information, click here to read the statement.

On February 8, 2023, the Special Committee’s Victim Advocacy Response statement started to be shared with individual victims by the Duluth Vineyard pastoral staff.  For more information, click here to read the statement.

On February 9, 2023, the GRACE investigators toured the Duluth Vineyard’s Arrowhead facility and requested and received copies of documents.  The investigators are former police sex crimes investigators with extensive experience.

On or before February 9, 2023, the GRACE investigators requested an interview from Jackson Gatlin and he directed all questions to his attorney.

On February 10, 2023, Vineyard USA suspended Brenda Gatlin pending an investigation by Vineyard USA.

On February 10, 2023, the Special Committee sent a letter to Michael Gatlin confirming that he had been placed on a leave of absence.  While on leave he was not permitted upon Duluth Vineyard property or at Duluth Vineyard events without written authorization.  Beyond the Special Committee, Michael was directed not to discuss the allegations or the misconduct with any participants (past or present) in the Duluth Vineyard community.  Michael was also reminded that he must cooperate fully with both any law enforcement investigation and the Special Committee’s independent investigation.  For more information, click here to read the letter confirming the leave of absence.

On February 10, 2023, Ben Mork (chair of the Special Committee) emailed Jackson Gatlin to ask if he would meet with GRACE as requested by GRACE.  In Jackson’s response, he did not agree to cooperate with GRACE.  For more information, click here to read the email exchange.

On February 11, 2023, Michael Gatlin sent a text message to the Special Committee stating that he fully intended to abide by the parameters of his leave.

On February 11, 2023, Ben Mork (chair of the Special Committee) emailed Jackson Gatlin and told him that his failure or refusal to go through with the interview with GRACE, as previously directed and requested, may result in the termination of his employment with the Vineyard Duluth.  Jackson was asked to advise whether he would meet with GRACE as previously requested and directed.  Jackson did not so advise.  For more information, click here to read the email exchange.

On February 12, 2023, the Special Committee terminated Jackson Gatlin’s employment for his failure and refusal, as requested and directed, to meet with the GRACE investigators.  The Special Committee offered Jackson a $3,197 payment in exchange for a release of all his claims against the Duluth Vineyard.  Jackson did not accept this offer and no payment was made.  For more information, click here to read the notice of termination.

On February 12, 2023, VineyardKid’s hosted a training with First Witness and PAVSA at the Duluth Vineyard for staff and volunteers.

On February 13, 2023, GRACE asked John Kliewer to search Duluth Vineyard’s files and email accounts for a multipage complaint letter related to HLI (the “HLI Complaint”).  The 56 page complaint was found that day.  At the time it was made, the HLI Complaint went to both Michael and Brenda Gatlin.  The many allegations in the HLI Complaint include behavior constituting sexual harassment under Duluth Vineyard’s policies, harsh and unkind treatment, and spiritual abuse by Jackson Gatlin and spiritual abuse by Brenda Gatlin.  No record of any investigation or disciplinary action was found.  At the time these complaints originally surfaced, the Church Council was evaluating and deciding whether to continue the HLI program.  Neither Michael nor Brenda shared this pertinent information with the Church Council.

On February 15, 2023 the Church Council met.  Six members were present and Michael Gatlin was absent.  The Church Council clarified the authority of the Special Committee and revoked a temporary exemption to Duluth Vineyard’s Nepotism Policy that allowed Michael Gatlin to oversee Lindsey Gatlin.  The Church Council decided it would no longer approve any exceptions to the Nepotism Policy.  For more information, click here to read the Council resolutions and click here to read the Nepotism Policy.

  • Pursuant to Duluth Vineyard’s Nepotism Policy no exemptions to the policy will be made without the consent of the Church Council.  Jackson Gatlin was hired by Michael and Brenda Gatlin in March 2017 without an exception.  Later, on April 19, 2017, August 15, 2018 and August 21, 2019 the Church Council approved temporary (generally one year) Nepotism Policy exceptions for Brenda to oversee Jackson.  On February 9, 2022, the Church Council approved a one year Nepotism Policy exception for Michael to oversee Jackson.  These exceptions were presented or proposed to the Church Council by John Kliewer as Corporate Secretary for Michael Gatlin.

In Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer’s helpful book A Church Called TOV, they write:  “Toxicity will take root in a church’s culture when the congregation and leaders interact in toxic and dysfunctional ways, until the balance tips in the direction of toxicity. When a church’s culture becomes toxic, the challenge to resist becomes harder and harder. To resist a toxic culture-especially one that is famous for its ministries, its leaders, its impact -requires courage, hope, and perseverance. Never underestimate the power of culture.” and  “We, as the church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, have to do the hard work of speaking frankly about our sins and failings, repenting actively, and reconstructing a church culture rooted in truth, grace, and transparency.”

On February 17, 2023, the Special Committee requested and received information from HLI founding director Jenna Stepp concerning the HLI Complaint.

On February 17, 2023, GRACE informed the Special Committee that they had received other allegations of misconduct (not sexual) regarding Jackson (including in the HLI Complaint) that went beyond the scope of the investigation in Duluth Vineyard’s legal contract with GRACE.  GRACE did not want to assume the Special Committee would like them to investigate these other allegations and requested to amend the scope of their investigation.

On February 17, 2023, Ben Mork (chair of the Special Committee) emailed Michael Gatlin and directed him to submit a written statement to the Special Committee, no later than Sunday, February 19, 2023 at noon Central Time, detailing his response and the actions he took, if any, to the HLI Complaint.  The email also directed Michael to be interviewed and answer questions about this matter for the Special Committee or its agent.  This action was separate and apart from the GRACE investigation.  The Special Committee had determined that, if Michael had failed to respond to the HLI Complaint, it likely constituted a fireable offense and thus decided to conduct a separate limited investigation of the HLI Complaint, using Justin Terch of Terch & Associates to interview Michael.  For more information, click here to read the email.

On February 18, 2023, Michael Gatlin asked for access to his Duluth Vineyard google account to reconstruct his response to the HLI Complaint.  Due to the risk of evidence tampering, the Special Committee said no.  For more information, click here to read the email exchange.

On February 19, 2023, the noon deadline passed and Michael Gatlin had not provided the written statement that he was directed by the Special Committee to submit.  The Special Committee again directed Michael to provide a written statement detailing his response to the HLI Complaint and set a new deadline of no later than February 20, 2023 at 5:00 p.m. Central Time.  The Special Committee also advised Michael that failure to provide such a statement or to be interviewed may result in the termination of his employment with the Vineyard Duluth.  Such a termination would have also resulted in his automatic removal as Senior Pastor and President.  For more information, click here to read the letter to Michael (although the letter was sent on February 19, it was wrongly dated February 10).

  • Under Article VII (Officers) of Duluth Vineyard’s Bylaws, Senior Pastor is a corporate officer position, like President, Treasurer and Secretary.  Officers need not be employees.  Generally, removing someone from the officer position of Senior Pastor requires a vote of the Church Council, Senior Leadership Team and Congressional Members.  However, if the Senior Pastor is an employee, the Bylaws say that:  “Any officer whose employment is terminated by [Duluth Vineyard] for any reason shall be automatically removed from office.”

On February 19, 2023, the Special Committee expanded the scope of GRACE’s engagement to include the HLI Complaint, any similar spiritual abuse, and how the church responded, including Michael and Brenda Gatlin’s response.

Because they are independent and not the agent of the Duluth Vineyard, GRACE was not keeping the Special Committee informed of their interview requests.  However, based on indirect evidence (including statements made by Michael Gatlin) the Special Committee believes GRACE requested an interview of Michael Gatlin on or around February 19, 2023.

On February 20, 2023, Michael Gatlin resigned as Duluth Vineyard’s Senior Pastor.  That day the Special Committee, with a heavy heart, accepted his resignation.  Michael’s resignation preempted the Special Committee terminating him for insubordination, particularly his failure to provide a written statement as directed.  Because GRACE requested that his resignation letter not be shared (due to the possibility of it interfering with their investigation), the Special Committee did not make Michael’s resignation letter public.  The Special Committee’s response to Michael’s resignation letter is on the updates page of our website and is dated May 8, 2023.

On February 20, 2023, the Special Committee terminated Brenda Gatlin’s limited joint employment.  Although at the time Brenda performed work for Vineyard USA as a Super Regional Leader and not for the Duluth Vineyard, she was paid by the Duluth Vineyard using funds provided by Vineyard USA.  In this limited sense, she was a joint employee.  Further, after her departure in 2021 to work for Vineyard USA, Brenda continued to be the corporate Vice President of the Duluth Vineyard.  Michael was the President and with his resignation Brenda would effectively become the acting President.  Under Article VII, Section 3.D. of Duluth Vineyard’s Bylaws, terminating Brenda’s employment automatically removed her as Vice President.  For more information, click here to read the notice of termination.

On February 22, 2023, Gerry Nierengarten (member of the Special Committee) texted Michael Gatlin on behalf of the Special Committee to tell him that she was praying for him and that (1) his request for severance was being considered (no severance or other payment has been paid), (2) a time needed to be arranged for him to collect his personal items and return all Duluth Vineyard property, (3) he was directed not to attempt to sign onto the Duluth Vineyard computer network or to come onto any Duluth Vineyard property, and (4) that the Special Committee would likely make an announcement of his resignation before Sunday, February 26th.

On February 23, 2023, the Special Committee told the Duluth Vineyard Leadership Team that Michael Gatlin had resigned as Duluth Vineyard’s Senior Pastor.  Brian Brinkert and Steph Bremer also discussed the pastoral care response at this meeting.

On February 23, 2023, the Special Committee sent an email to members and attenders of the Duluth Vineyard informing them that Michael Gatlin had resigned as Duluth Vineyard’s Senior Pastor.  For more information, the text of this email is on the updates page of our website.  The message included the following statement from the Special Committee:

  • For all of us who love Michael and have benefited from his ministry as the Senior Pastor of the Duluth Vineyard, we remind you that more than one thing can be true at the same time. Michael is a gifted leader and God has used him in powerful ways. Michael has helped many of us experience the love and new life that Jesus brings. And, at the same time, Michael is human just like us. We all fall short. We need to be patient and wait for the fact finding to be complete, yet the allegations against Michael are serious.

On February 24, 2023, Brenda Gatlin resigned as Super Regional Leader of Vineyard USA with a resignation letter substantially similar to Michael Gatlin’s letter of resignation from the Duluth Vineyard.

On February 26, 2023, the resignation of Michael Gatlin as Duluth Vineyard’s Senior Pastor was discussed at the Duluth Vineyard’s worship services.  Gerry Nierengarten (member of the Special Committee) and John Kliewer presented the factual background as a Q&A.  Trisha Taylor of The Leader’s Journey and Steph Bremer gave a talk on how to process this situation as followers of Jesus.  For more information, click here to watch the service.

On February 28, 2023, the Special Committee started to use the framework for reconciliation in Psalm 85:10 to guide them.  For more information, click here for “The Meeting Place” by John Paul Lederach and click here for Truth Justice Mercy Peace by David Works.

March 28-29, 2023, the Special Committee and staff consulted with Robb Morgan, Managing Director, Vineyard USA during his visit to Duluth.

On May 4, 2023, the Duluth Police Department executed a search warrant at the Duluth Vineyard’s Arrowhead location.  The Duluth Vineyard cooperated fully.  The Special Committee’s statement at the time is on the updates page of our website.

May 9-10, 2023, the Special Committee and staff consulted with Danny Mercado, Regional Leader, Midwest North, John Elmer, Super Regional Leader, Vineyard USA, Robb Morgan, Managing Director, Vineyard USA and Jay Pathak, National Director, Vineyard USA during their visit to Duluth.

On May 15, 2023, the Special Committee put Michael and Brenda Gatlin under church discipline and laid out the start of a path for reconciliation and restoration.  Church discipline is divine authority delegated to the church by Jesus to maintain order through the correction of sinning church members for the good of those caught in sin, for the purity and unity of the church, and for the glory of God.  For more on church discipline, please see Matthew 18:15-20, Romans 16:17-18, 1 Corinthians 5, Galatians 1:8-9 and 6:1-2, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, and Titus 3:10-11.  At this point, Michael and Brenda have not expressed or demonstrated a willingness to participate in the process of reconciliation and restoration the Special Committee described.  For more details, click here to see the church discipline letter sent to Michael and Brenda.

On May 22, 2023, the Special Committee put Jackson Gatlin under church discipline and laid out the start of a path for reconciliation and restoration.  Church discipline is divine authority delegated to the church by Jesus to maintain order through the correction of sinning church members for the good of those caught in sin, for the purity and unity of the church, and for the glory of God.  For more on church discipline, please see Matthew 18:15-20, Romans 16:17-18, 1 Corinthians 5, Galatians 1:8-9 and 6:1-2, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, and Titus 3:10-11.  At this point, Jackson has not expressed or demonstrated a willingness to participate in the process of reconciliation and restoration the Special Committee described.  For more details, click here to see the church discipline letter sent to Jackson.

On June 4, 2023, Michael Gatlin emailed the Special Committee regarding church discipline.  In that email, Michael asked the Duluth Vineyard to officially remove him and Brenda Gatlin as members of the Duluth Vineyard.  They were removed as requested.  For more information, click here to read the email exchange.

On June 8, 2023, the Special Committee responded to issues raised by Michael Gatlin regarding Church Discipline.  For more information, click here to read the email exchange.

On August 22, 2023, officials from St. Louis County conducted a mandated reporter training for the Duluth Vineyard staff.

On September 10, 2023, the Duluth Vineyard began a series of talks on lament at our weekend services.  Pain, trauma and grief are not tame.  And, they’re vicious. Lament gives us permission to wrestle with our sorrow instead of rushing to the end.  Lament is how we bring our sorrow to God and process it.  All humans cry, but followers of Jesus lament.  In faith, we turn to God and ask:  Where are you/where were you? And, if you love me, then why?  And, as we invite God into that place, our hearts turn to trust, even praise.  For more, click here.

On September 20, 2023, Trisha Taylor and Elissa Lappenga of The Leader’s Journey began training our leaders to hold space for healing.  Everyone is in a different spot when it comes to processing the trauma of the last year.  Many are experiencing trauma and betrayal from the Gatlins’ behavior that they need to process further.  Many are experiencing trauma from losing the Gatlins.  They are loved and missed.  And, many are experiencing guilt and sorrow for their involvement in a church where the Gatlins could cause so much harm.  For those that need some help, the Vineyard is preparing our leaders to offer healing path opportunities.

On October 3, Jackson Gatlin, was charged with criminal sexual conduct and taken into custody.  Five criminal complaints were filed against him.  To read the complaints, click here.  Please also see the message from the Special Committee on October 3.

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LOCATION & SERVICE TIMES

In-Person Services:

Arrowhead – Sundays at 9am & 11am
1533 W Arrowhead Rd. Duluth, MN 55811

Eastside
3833 E Superior St, Duluth, MN 55804


Online Services – Sundays at 9 & 11am


Lobby Hours:
Tuesday – Friday 9am-1pm

Fruit of the Vine Hours:
Tuesday 6-8pm & Saturday 9:30-11:30am


(218) 525-3462 · [email protected]