“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” ―
I will provide the entire announcement from the leaders at the Vineyard at the end of this post. In my opinion, they now have been handling this situation well.
The following comment from a reader was appreciated. Notice how well he expresses his frustration and confusion as he seeks to respond to this situation. Baird: thank you for caring about the victims.
For anyone following this story, Michael Gatlin has resigned as our head pastor now: https://duluthvineyard.org/our-response-to-allegations-of-misconduct/
Like his son, he apparently wasn’t cooperating with the GRACE investigation. I get that it’s maybe the expedient thing to do if you’re in that position, but so much for all those sermons about Christian values like honesty, love, and caring for the community!
The thing I’m struggling to shake is the idea that Michael and Brenda were the only two that allegedly knew about the accusations and did nothing. The student and kids ministry pastors really didn’t know or hear about it. Even if they didn’t, how did no one notice this creepy thirty-year-old man spending so much private time with young girls or not think that was inappropriate? I feel frustrated and confused about what to do. I feel so sorry for the victims and that our community has failed to protect them.
Michael Gatlin’s Resignation As Our Senior Pastor
February 23, 2023
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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)
Sure wish our church had this response in a somewhat similar situation we observed many years ago. Yes, the perp was the pastors son.
Instead, we got some lies, some “mis-information”, a bit of cover up, misdirection, and even grooming from the leadership to “not believe what the press were saying” (even though their information came from publicly available information).
As a consequence, we got to participate in the dismantling of a strong community of believers. We went from over 500 combined in two services each Sunday down to 50 in one service.
I knew the family it happened to and was on the inside of things from their standpoint. I also, to a much lesser degree, had some insight from the churches standpoint.
I stepped down from participating on the worship team because I couldn’t show support for how things were being handled by being on the platform, even if it was only playing bass. We stopped tithing and eventually stopped attending there.
What happened still makes me angry. There is still such a loss I feel due to the scattering of the members and consequent loss of friendships.
In addition to the direct harm by the perp to the victim and her family, there was a crap-ton of unnecessary collateral damage done to hundreds of bystanders because of the leadership’s response.
I suspect it went something like this “Pastor Michael, you might want to consider resigning.”
One thing to understand about the Vineyard denomination is its background and beliefs. In the 80’s when I was involved, something called “Healing of the inner child” went through the organization. This was the belief that all Christians need a very personal and intimate internal ministry of the Holy Spirit in the areas of emotional damage due to abuse and/or traumatic events of the past and particularly during childhood. Vineyard values included humility, compassion and a reliance on the Holy Spirit as they understood it. So someone like Mark Driscoll would never be a fit for this denomination.
This is in stark contrast to “Biblical Counseling” as Dee understands it although the Bible was considered an important part of the process of “Inner Healing,” the idea that a Vineyard pastor could injure people in greater ways than they already were would be treated much like a woman head pastor in the SBC. Such things were not tolerated as they valued people getting better, emotionally speaking, through the ministry of the extended church organization. Things going the opposite way would be considered the ministry of the Devil and not the Holy Spirit.
“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.”
Moral failure is not suffering. Nor is it suffering when a church is supporting a leader and his son who are engaged in moral failure, criminal moral failure.
Maybe a learning curve. Not suffering.
Suffering is in Ukraine right now, for example.
Their words sound good. And appropriate. If I were a member of this congregation, I would certainly be looking for their actions to follow through.
Not doing well (except corporately), only doing deliberately better. The designer version of damage limitation is unlimited damage causing as hostage to fortune so that the “concessions” (L for Limited Atonement) they had always counted on making can be eked out at the optimum moment.
The reason I agree with Ava is because I was there when my peers were induced to say regularly “I suffer because of my sins” when their lives were good, as mostly family people they had company they should have been grateful for (especially their children, while some of the spouses grouped as bad were merely sceptical about our outfit) (that was not Vineyard but the same modus operandi’s circulate everywhere).
Church bosses pretend to be worms in the “hope” that this will become fashionable among pew punters!
Vineyard church personnel don’t even notice what mindset they have. They claim to be charismatic but have no Holy Spirit endowing belief (deny Ascension). I was in Vineyard from about 1999-2004 but very close to linked things from late 1970s till now.
Right remedy by all of us: supplicate, don’t appear to support, if you’re staying of your free discretion openly assert difference. In my childhood it was normal to be in disagreement in churches.
Hegelian foreordained materialistic optimism trajectory a.k.a Manifest Destiny. Underminers (because prayerless) of the basis of knowledge as J Dewey was criticised for doing.
Bingo! I’m sure they are suffering through the bad rep they are getting right now … and may suffer with lost membership and lost revenue … but this has nothing to do with suffering and persecution for preaching the Gospel. Nor is this an attack by the devil to destroy their ministry … it’s the result of sinful criminal actions by church leaders, pure and simple.
The perps’ supporters get out the crying towel for themselves. Meanwhile, true victims – minors – were violated by a predator. It’s DARVO reversal of victim and offenders as the perp supporters claim suffering. The supporters are/were complicit. As they rid their church body of predators, getting on their knees for what they overlooked and missed while predation was going on in their same church body, would be appropriate.
Eli didn’t do anything about his evil sons. No crying towel from God there, just a collapse in a chair that terminated his role in the Temple.
Those who like Wagner and Bentley or certain high seniors elsewhere claim to represent or conjure up the rule of God on earth, and their unwitting secular proxies (not the other way round – note), lull the majority of christians into a misunderstanding of the phrase “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven”.
“Kingdom” mainly means the same as economy or household. It is the fellow orphans trading talents with each other, so that they become God’s providence (Prov 21: 10-31).
Besides the usual meaning, “cover” in James also means to give the fellow orphan the space to exercise ministry unvetoed like the boy with the loaves and fishes, whom they brought forward wonderingly rather than disparagingly. Our food and drink is to do God’s will. Glory means head covering. God’s glory = the fruitful Spirit filled works of our fellow orphans, our only crown.
Holy Trinity models space for the other other; openness to life is first and foremost bigger than the nuclear family.
The virtue of situational chastity is needed to underpin our Holy Spirit filled service; while lying (blaspheming) is to steal the bread of life out of the mouths of orphans. (To pick a couple of items from the list of “such were some of you”.)
Thus we should supplicate for bad church leaders that they will become in crucial senses pure enough in heart to join in what’s going on in the real kingdom. If church leaders don’t ask us to, we ought to start doing so behind their backs. Perhaps that is the spirit at Asbury.
We need to be the change we want to see. It used to be normal to be off at a different tangent than our vicars or board of elders. They used to be grateful to God that we were doing something – anything. Spiritually first and foremost.
Teresa Higginson was not a nun, she was a housekeeper for some ordinary people punctuated by Sunday school teaching. She was sometimes spotted praying in her chair for hours.
Praying doesn’t mean prying AND it wasn’t a weapon in my young day. It is good to use general forms of words like the “Night prayers” (at any time of day), also the Psalter.
This is our talent fuelled BY our flair of insight into Scripture meanings, hunches, intuitions, ability to look after others, evangelise . . .
Any “prophecy” (and this is a real gift) has meaning insofar as it is a call to prayer. A good fulfilment will only happen if we had prayed for it. It is like a mental visual aid for a prayer goal. If we don’t pray, God’s action will fail to that extent. That is why our subsequent works are crucial: our prior ones are “under the blood” and our subsequent ones have the endowing potentising the indwelling.
In Paul’s writings “we ARE saved” is a theoretical statement of process, it is about part of the how but it doesn’t date it wholly in the past.
Church started at Ascension NOT Pentecost, and the ten days in the upper room IN FEAR were ALREADY the crucial part of the church’s ministry. This is why belief in endowment, unvetoed, is not controversial (it’s the ONLY reason Jesus came). Unbelief in it and prayerlessness are controversial (contrary to appearances).
While Jesus was there, and before inbreathing before Ascension AND endowment after Ascension, they had degrees of mental enlightenment and temporary empowerings.
Bunches of christian neighbours or acquaintances ought to be the crucial level of free and non-uniform association within, alongside and outside every congregation instead of imposing it at denominational and interdenominational level.
I word everything in my own words because usual strings of words are simply used to press buttons. I state sentences which you are all at liberty (of course) to turn into Socratic questions. Do I or do I not believe the same as you? Etc.
I remember that movement under its alternate title “Healing of Memories”.
Sort a Regression Therapy with a Christian Spiritual angle.
More effective and less destructive than today’s Biblical Counseling(TM).
Jimmy Carter’s sister Ruth Carter Stapleton was a major name in the movement.
The number-one characteristic of Sociopaths is the ability to DARVO and play the Poor Poor Innocent Victim.
Casting Mass Charm Person on all third parties to do so.
They can turn it on or off like a light switch.
I’ve seen it in action too many times.
A cross between Worm Theology and the Calvinist’s More Depraved Than Thou brag.
And/or Reichsminister Goebbels’ “A Lie repeated often enough becomes Truth”.
That’s quite a mouthful to describe a form of “Total Predestination always working in MY favor”.
I thought the writers of the statement did an incredibly good job of being sensitive and supportive to the members of the congregation, including the victims themselves. They acknowleged people were hurt, and it was not the people’s fault. The leadership encouraged connection around the issue. They were unambiguous about the need to involve law enforcement. They encouraged turning to God, and expressed the truths of God’s word. I’ve never seen leadership do a better job. Incredible! While it in no way compares to the suffering in either type or intensity of persons in war torn countries, to say the members of that congregation are not suffering is ignorant at best. The acknowledgement of that by the leadership is worthy of commendation.
This reminds me of SGM. If anyone should have the integrity to tell the truth regardless of cost, regardless of the potential of lawsuits, regardless of the risk that it could end a ministry, it should be Christians, shouldn’t it? I mean, does he think Jesus would be OK with him saying “My lawyer advised me not to say anything or cooperate with the investigation of this abuse that happened on my watch”?
We disagree, obviously, and in my opinion, I would, however, never label either vantage as “ignorant”.
I’m very aware that some others do not share this point of view (and some others do share it) so not ignorant at all but aware. I knew this pushback was coming. Nevertheless, I’m sharing.
More on my POV, knowing others will disagree.
The adult wage-earner donors were groomed by the family of predator leaders. Adults. Bringing their kids to church. Responsible adults for in what context they do church.
The targeted minors were victims, brought to church by their parents.
IMHO, the adults that financially supported the family of predators are corporately complicit and need repentance, confession, forgiveness, and a new path/way of doing church.
When we as wage-earning adults financially maintain predatory leaders, we hold some responsibility for their violation of minors.
The only way to stop predator pastors preying on minors is for the pay-to-play adults to face responsibility and stop funding them.
The infantilized church is adults supporting predators preying on minors.
A friend said corporate giants in his community joined a cult church and parked their brains at the curb as they entered the building to do church. Tragic. Evil. Culpable. Catastrophe waiting to happen and it did. Abuse of power, misuse of funds, violation of minors. All because grownups willingly collaborated with monster leaders. Why?
The infantilized adults were having some need met while violating minors was an overlookable. Especially when the beloved DEAR LEADER’s family was involved. The cult church was the greatest shiny entity in town.
Some of the worst offending leaders have charisma in spades. Infantalized pay-to-play pew people are mesmerized by charisma and shine.
Adult church people need to grow up. Not be pampered through their codependency with predatory leaders that THEY financially support… with “Oh, how we are suffering through our weak shallow values in supporting a predatory leader.” That’s more infantilism. Again, in my opinion.
Pulpits which preach that the pew should live clean lives, should come clean themselves. Pastors should be examples of integrity, honesty, and Christlikeness for the pew to pattern their own walk after. This is serious business … to be ambassadors for Christ.
In what ways are they suffering? Suffering because there have been victims of evil perpetrated on their congregation by church leaders? Suffering because they have lost their pastor(s)? Suffering because members are leaving? Suffering because church elders and/or members who saw something said nothing, did nothing? Suffering because their church has become a reproach and byword in both secular and religious media? Suffering because a lost world has yet another reason to say “See, there’s nothing to it; they are just like us”? Suffering because the precious name of Jesus has been trampled in the street?
In a church that large, I’m sure there are members who are feeling some of the above … genuinely suffering because a church leader abused those who trusted him, suffering because he brought scandal and shame to Vineyard-Duluth. In every congregation, there is the Church within the church which yearns for the pulpit to get it right, for the pew to get it right, for the Body of Christ to move forward to fulfill the Great Commission. Unfortunately, this is usually only a small percentage of the total membership of any church. On the other side of tending to the cries of victims and genuine prayer & repentance by the church, this mess can be turned around for the good.
With a touch of charisma, a gift of gab, a working knowledge of the Bible, a bag of gimmicks, and a gullible pew anyone can be a successful mega-pastor in America. Celebrity cults proliferate where the Great God Entertainment sits on the throne.
Oh, but ain’t that America
For you and me
Ain’t that America
Something to see, baby
Ain’t that America
Home of the free, yeah
Little pink houses
For you and me
For you and me
— John Couger Mellencamp 1983 —
Not “they are just like us”, Max.
More like “They are worse than we have ever been. Worse than we could ever be.”
And they’re right.
I’m pleased that Michael Gatlin resigned and that it seems like the church, at the very least, pressured him into resigning. A man like him has no business leading a congregation…… not even if he had cooperated fully in the investigation.
“ The thing I’m struggling to shake is the idea that Michael and Brenda were the only two that allegedly knew about the accusations and did nothing. “
This statement by the commenter stresses the fact that a person who has been abused, or the parents/guardians of a minor who has been abused, should skip church leaders and report the abuse to the legal authorities.
Include both? Church leaders and Law Enforcement, when there’s criminality? Doesn’t that seem reasonable?
Perhaps so, but I am not sure. I think, in a specific situation like this where the head pastors and their son have potentially been involved from a criminal standpoint, that going straight to the authorities *only* might be the right thing.
The authorities might not want the suspects to know that they are being investigated.
If it was just a staff person involvement and not the head pastor(s) (and not their offspring), then including the leadership would be important.
Thx. Good points.
These were my thoughts as well. As someone who hates to see abusive leadership in anything that calls itself a church, I do realize that any position can actually be taken too far. Vineyard culture as I remember it coming down from Wimber would not have tolerated this kind of situation at this church. But because it is a loose association of churches that does not mean that such things cannot happen and in this case it has.
In this case I see certain comments as being too harsh on the reality. Considering what I went through myself when the man who discipled me turned our home fellowship group into a soapbox with adultery and at the same time seeing my other role model go to jail for a crime, I have lived through this kind of thing. It crashed my own walk with God for two years and turned prayer into a depressing thing. The real problem was my idolatry that I ultimately dealt with and there is likely some of that going on with this Vineyard. Yet there is room for compassion on those going through the transition, as well as real concern for those likely to walk away from God because they simply thought too much of this pastor and his family.
I had no problem with the statement issued from the church. It is not perfect but far better than most of the statements that have been published here from other churches in similar circumstances and I will acknowledge that reality. It is possible to be so very angry at the evil that you lose your compassion for those who are struggling greatly to understand what happened at their church. And compassion was a strongpoint in their emphasis from The Vineyard while I was there so many years ago.
Yes, the idolatry of a Dear Leader and his family.
Does the church statement recognize this? State this? “the real problem…” Not to be shamed, goodness no. But to come clean so as to not be duped again by a dubious leader. Duped into idolatry.
Yes, compassion for those seekers of God that get caught up as duped by bait-and-switch church leadership.
But part of recovery is, IMHO, owning up to whatever it was that was so captivating about a disguised-as-angel-of-light evil leader.
Anyway, thanks for sharing. Enlightening to hear about your experiences. We all learn so much as we share.
With the frequency of pastors exposed as evil monsters in disguise, we as a church have to ask ourselves corporately, how is it that we support predators running our churches? Especially given the fact that the predator pastors are after our young people…?
This brings to mind the pagan religions in the OT that required the sacrifice of children.
The Houston Chronicle’s database of predator church leaders shows how far the church has gone to being like the OT pagans that sacrificed their kids.
The American church will pay a price for abusing the innocent, just as America will pay a price for the shedding of innocent blood. OT pagans paid that price; America’s pagans in and out of the church will also.
If you don’t mind, who are America’s pagans? Are you talking about non-Christians, scofflaws, the folks who call themselves neo-pagan, a specific motorcycle gang, someone else? What innocent blood is being shed by “America”?
“Pagan” was used in a particular way in the church where I grew up. It meant “worldlings who live violent, lascivious lives, and who persecute Christians in the US today just like in the early Church.” Those discussions were not about Hebrew Scripture and child sacrifice [shudder].
I’m not trying to pull this off topic. I do want to understand what you mean.
I’ve encountered ‘pagans’ who have more compassion and kindness than ‘christians’.
“THEE, NOT MEEEEEEEE!”?