Think Twice About the Vineyard Church of Columbus, Ohio

“There is nothing more irreligious than self-absorbed religion.”― J.I. Packer, Knowing God

In 2014, we wrote Proof That It’s Not a Membership Covenant™ But a Legally Binding Document. In the post we discussed a lawsuit against Vineyard Church of Columbus, Ohio. Let’s go back and review what happened. This church tried to prevent a family from suing them since they signed *a membership contract.*

A current case before the Ohio courts

Please read the description of this lawsuit very carefully. In this case, the mediation clause was not explicitly spelled out. The church went to court claiming that this couple implicitly agreed to this arrangement,

The Background

A married mother sought counseling from Pastor Steven Robbins, one of 30 pastors of the large Vineyard Church of Columbus (Ohio.) She had been sexually abused as child by three men who were authority figures. She developed a sexual addiction due to her abuse and wanted help in dealing with it. Robbins allegedly took advantage of his position of trust. From the Columbus Dispatch linked above:

The complaint alleges that Robbins asked the woman to relate her sexual history “to see how the demonic could possibly be in play.” The woman told him she had been sexually abused as a child by three men in positions of authority, the complaint said.

According to the complaint, “Defendant Robbins continued to press Jane Doe for more detail of her sexual history despite knowing that all of the discussion of her sexual history was revving up her addiction.”

The sexual relationship between the pair ended when the woman entered an out-of-state treatment facility for sex addiction.

In 2011, the family proceeded with a lawsuit, naming the pastor, the church and the denomination. They alleged that the pastor was abusive in his actions because he was aware of the woman’s past history and used his position as an authority figure to take advantage of her.

The woman’s counseling fees, in the aftermath of that betrayal, have been high and the family is suing to recover those expenses. However, it appears that they are only asking for help with medical bills, which is understandable given the extent of the betrayal and her subsequent hospitalization. In other words, they are not asking for the moon.

The family decided to sue in part because their counseling expenses have been high, Hollern said.

The complaint asks for punitive damages in excess of $25,000 and compensatory damages in excess of $25,000. “The evidence will show that future counseling alone will be a very significant figure, much more than that amount,”

The response of the church to the lawsuit

Vineyard Church of Columbus filed a claim that the lawsuit was invalid because the couple implicitly agreed to biblical mediation when they joined the church. According to the Columbus Dispatch

the woman and her husband agreed to handle disputes only via biblically based mediation or binding arbitration when they became members of the church
Now watch how dogged the church becomes in this instance. A lower court ruled in favor of the lawsuit proceeding. Apparently, they did not agree that the family had agreed to biblical mediation upon becoming members since it was not clearly spelled out. So, the church appealed and lost that appeal reported on 6/2014. The church claimed that such mediation was implicit when they joined the church. Again, from the Dispatch:

To join the church, potential members must agree to settle all disputes through Christian mediation, said Vineyard’s senior pastor, the Rev. Rich Nathan.

The county and appellate courts said the evidence did not support the church’s claim that the family had agreed to such a policy.

So is the case going to trial yet? Nope. The church is still not finished. According to the Dispatch:

Nathan said the church is considering its next step and he continues to hope for Christian mediation.
Let’s take a look at some of the issues inherent in this case.

The church lost its appeal ONLY because they did not clearly state that mediation was part of their membership agreement. You can be sure that such an oversight has been remedied.The church clearly believes that their membership requirements bar a member from seeking legal redress against the church. It appears they will go to court again and again to prevent outside legal action.

Note how long this process has been going on for the family. The initial lawsuit was filed in 2011. It is now 2014 and the church is considering further legal options. They are digging in. So, even though the outcome has been in favor of the family, they have been fighting for three years and the case has still not been heard in court. This is an exhausting, financially draining process for the family, even if they eventually win.

end of earlier post.

Once again, the Vineyard Church of Columbus, Ohio is in the news. Man charged with child sex crimes has history of working with kids, prior trouble.

Matthew Gatton appeared before a Franklin County Judge Tuesday morning on two felony counts of gross sexual imposition.Westerville Police say Gatton admitted touching the penis of an 11-year-old boy between 20 and 50 times. Gatton was a mental health worker with Ohio Guidestone.

However it appears that the Vineyard Church knew about this man a few years ago… See what’s missing from the church’s statement.

Vineyard Columbus church said approximately five years ago, Gatton served as a volunteer with the kids’ ministry.A spokesperson says “concerns were raised” about him, prompting church leadership to “flag him” in their internal system as not suitable to work with children.The spokesperson says he was terminated as a volunteer.

Yep- you guessed it. They didn’t report him to the police. They took care of their people in their church. Who the heck cares about children outside of the church?

So, they released a statement which shows, once again, they are only worried about themselves.

In a written statement, Vineyard Columbus said: “We take the safety and security of our children very seriously and we have policies and procedures in place to ensure our church is a safe place for young people.”

I would never recommend this church to anyone. The leaders appear to protect the church from families who get upset when the pastor has sex with a member who came to him for help. It also appears that the leaders dumped the predator quietly in order to protect their rapidly declining image. The leaders don’t seem to give a hoot who else is hurt by the predator.

In my opinion, the Vineyard Church of Columbus, Ohio appears to be a unsafe church when it comes to kids and women.


Think Twice About the Vineyard Church of Columbus, Ohio — 24 Comments

  1. Kids should always be the top priority. I would think people who have divine revelation would know that.

  2. Wow. That is messed up! I am surprised that pastor isn’t in trouble with the state for professional abuse. She was a pastoral counselee, and he clearly abused his position of power to use her sexually.

  3. A wise counselor would have referred a severe addiction case to an outside professional counseling source. That’s what most churches with which I’m familiar do. I think the sexual relationship with the pastor alone would be grounds for a law suit.

  4. Is that pastor still on staff there? It’s been 6 years now, do you have any updates on the original story?

  5. Membership covenants are obviously not about the church doing what is right by their people. It’s all about protecting themselves from damages in case of cases like this. Money and reputation trump what is right which begs the question, does any of this really have anything to do with God? If they were truly following God, they would do what is right regardless of covenant or no covenant, they would be afraid to do what is wrong in God’s eyes. Obviously there’s no fear of that, sooo… how many people in church leadership positions even really believe in God? I’m not seeing much evidence.

  6. This post raises the question of dual, exploitative and abusive relationships again. The role of “Pastor” really needs to be carefully reconsidered, and then legal parameters need to be instituted to protect everyone from the pastors and by extension, the other leaders (elders).

    Think of it this way: If you sought counseling in California, your counselor (therapist is the title given to licensed professionals) has sacrificed time (3,000 hours or TWO YEARS of supervised practice), tuition, study (a REAL earned graduate degree), and has agreed to be held to a code of professional ethics which among other things, bars her/him from engaging in a dual relationship with all clients both during therapy *and for years after* it has ceased. Dual relationships include doing business together, accepting gifts or services from the client, employing the client (even as a housekeeper or daycare provider [with some exceptions for very small communities]), and breaching these state-instituted ethics can result in fines, loss of license and prison. One breach is violating strict confidentiality. Engaging in a romantic or sexual relationship with a client is a crime that will be punished by the state and will at the least ensure a loss of livelihood. In other words, the practice of psychotherapy is a privilege, earned at great cost, and guarded by strict external oversight.

    Contrast this with the actual practice of “counseling” by comparatively unprepared, untrained pastoral staff. What do they have to gain? A lot. Prestige within the church structure, more power, access to private information that further reinforces the power imbalance, and income that comes at no real cost, except the time spent accessing information that they are unequipped to manage. But even that time investment disappears when you have church members taking weekend classes and then collecting the information from vulnerable laity needing help, ad then passing along the juicy tidbits to church leadership who are not bound by confidentiality especially when the information includes “sinful” behavior. And forgoing a fee but providing a “suggested donation” schedule is laughable, because given the power imbalance, *clients* will likely donate generously, in an attempt to gain favor with a not impartial judge (with “keys to the kingdom” as many of us have been taught).

    Comparing these two systems reveals the vilified State government to be the protector of the vulnerable who seek emotional and mental health support, which is downright shepherd-like compared to the predatory practice of caring for the needs of the emotionally fragile within the church by official biblical counselors.

  7. Brother Maynard,

    Brother Maynard and Janet,
    Both of your responses are very to the point about what is wrong with this picture. We really do not need to know further “detail”; it is clear who was favored, looked out for, in this situation. My reading of the Bible, and especially the example of JC, tells me that if Vineyard was following JC, there would be a different outcome.

    I have known (know) people going to Vineyard Columbus, and while I have never attended, there were things I learn/heard about years ago that made my antenna go up and say do not go there.

  8. It’s a strange position for a Vineyard church to take as most do not have a formal membership process. In the one I went to 20 years ago, you were a “member” if you attended, contributed and served. There was no “joining”. You stopped being a member if you stopped coming. It was commonly said “you vote with your feet”. There was no board of elders or budget to vote for. There was no voting at all. The pastors were 100% in charge. And they had no formal training or seminary requirements. They were plucked from the congregation having been identified as strong potential leaders.

  9. I don’t understand why the managers of the church business in question are so angry and bitter that they have to keep fighting in court. Why can’t they just drop it and forgive?

    Of course, I do understand why really; we all do.

  10. I used to go to Vineyard Columbus and know the Pastor who had an inappropriate, abusive sexual relationship with the person that came to him for counseling. He was fired for what he did. However, church leadership lacks boundaries and oversight.

    I have also experienced spiritual abused from the Vineyard Churches in central Ohio.

  11. Rich Nathan was a lawyer by trade if memory serves me. I expect him to act like a lawyer, not a person who cares about those who pay his salary.

  12. dee: Forgiveness and repentance are amongst the most overlooked of Christian virtues.

    I know what you mean, but I’m starting to think that actually behaving like Jesus were alive makes a really good Christian virtue.

    This is distinct from behaving “differently from the surrounding culture” (which can mean more or less anything) and being “holy” (which can also mean more or less anything). A now-retired minister over here, whom I respect a great deal, once praught that “the only truly holy man who ever lived was also the most compellingly attractive to sinners“. In particular, the sinners who had no power or standing without him.

  13. Nick Bulbeck: I know what you mean, but I’m starting to think that actually behaving like Jesus were alive makes a really good Christian virtue.

    This is distinct from behaving “differently from the surrounding culture” (which can mean more or less anything) and being “holy” (which can also mean more or less anything). A now-retired minister over here, whom I respect a great deal, once praught that “the only truly holy man who ever lived was also the most compellingly attractive to sinners“. In particular, the sinners who had no power or standing without him.

    Wouldn’t that be a novel idea!

    Some time ago I started to watch and listen to preachers while imagining Jesus was standing a few feet away from them, sizing them up. Aside from being amusing, it highlighted how small a possibility they usually leave that such thing could actually be happening.

    I find your comments so insightful, Nick.

  14. SiteSeer: sooo… how many people in church leadership positions even really believe in God? I’m not seeing much evidence.

    Yup… “I’m not seeing much evidence.”

    Seems God does have a sense of humor. 😉

    A little warning. When you’re looking for a place to fellowship…
    You NOW have to ask the – pastor/leader/reverend – If they believe in God.

    No kidding. There are…
    Paid, Professional, Pastors, in Pulpits….
    Preaching, to People, in Pews…
    Weak after Weak…

    Who do NOT believe if God.

    You can’t make this stuff up… 😉

    And these pastors, who do NOT believe in God, have a website, SiteSeer.

    The Clergy Project

    The Clergy Project is a confidential online community for **active** and former **clergy** who do not hold supernatural beliefs. The Clergy Project launched on March 21st, 2011.

    Currently, the community’s 500 plus members use it to network and discuss what it’s like being an **unbelieving leader** in a religious community. The Clergy Project’s goal is to support members as they move beyond faith. Members freely discuss issues related to their transition from believer to unbeliever…