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Senior Pastor Resigns from Vineyard Church in Minnesota Amid Misconduct Allegations Against His Son

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A Vineyard Movement church senior pastor has resigned from his local and national positions within the denomination in the midst of accusations that he and his wife knew about alleged sexual abuse and leadership misconduct by their son, a former pastoral assistant at the church, that had occurred “several years” before, but chose not to act.

Michael and Brenda Gatlin / Vineyard USA

Pastor Michael Gatlin resigned Feb. 24 from the Duluth, Minnesota branch of Vineyard church, which had announced unspecified allegations against the son, Jackson Gatlin, on Jan. 29. Brenda Gatlin, who also held a leadership position at the church and is Michael’s wife and Jackson’s mother, stepped down as well.

Jackson was terminated from his position as young adult and online community pastor at the church Feb. 13. Vineyard said at the time it would not elaborate on specific misconduct charges to protect the ongoing investigation and any victims.

“When the investigation is complete, we expect to have more to say and we will say it,” the church said in a statement. “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 church’s council formed a special committee tasked with making employment decisions and controlling the response to the investigation, including hiring and paying for investigative services from a contracted company called Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) and working with the Duluth police department. The church said that in line with its nepotism policy and best practices, the investigation and employment decisions related to Jackson Gatlin were overseen independently from those of his parents.

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The church said Michael Gatlin had repeatedly been directed to cooperate fully with the church, law enforcement and independent investigations, but when he was asked to provide a statement detailing any actions he had taken in response to Jackson’s alleged misconduct, he failed to meet a deadline to do so, saying in a letter that he found himself “unable to cooperate.”

Michael had been placed on a leave of absence from the board of VUSA, the parent organization of more than 500 evangelical Christian churches that are part of what is known as the Vineyard Movement, a few days after the allegations against his son came to light.

Duluth Vineyard put him on indefinite leave Feb. 5, and he officially resigned from his senior pastor role Feb. 20. A few days later, he resigned his positions as a trustee on the Vineyard USA Board and on the board of Vineyard Worship.

Brenda Gatlin was first placed on leave by Vineyard USA in early February then suspended pending the ongoing investigation. She resigned as a super-regional leader for Vineyard USA on Feb. 24.

All three Gatlin family members have been banned from the Duluth Vineyard campus.

“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,” the church said in a statement. “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.”

Vineyard Duluth said it also has received guidance from Guidepost Solutions, which has been conducting an institutional assessment for VUSA, as well as lawyers and human resources professionals.

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Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.