Jackson Gatlin, the former young adult and online community pastor at The Vineyard Church in Duluth, Minnesota, whose parents Michael and Brenda Gatlin resigned from the church this year after he was fired, was jailed Tuesday on charges of sexually abusing five teenage girls during his tenure at the church.
Gatlin, 35, allegedly assaulted the teenagers between 2007 and 2010, and is facing 10 felony counts, according to charges filed by the St. Louis County prosecutors cited by MPR News and the Star Tribune.
The former young adult pastor allegedly assaulted one girl in her early teens during a bus trip home from a church event when he was 22. He is also accused of assaulting a 16-year-old girl at his parents’ home in 2007 after inviting her over to watch football. Gatlin allegedly pinned the teenager to a futon and penetrated her vagina with his fingers forcibly. She ran from the home after the assault and left her shoes behind, MPR News said. When the girl’s mother found her daughter barefoot in the street, she called up Brenda Gatlin who allegedly told her “we know your daughter has issues” and refused to further discuss the allegation by hanging up the phone. Gatlin also allegedly regularly assaulted a 15-year-old after a period of regularly kissing and groping another 16-year-old girl during his early 20s, the Star Tribune reported.
The Vineyard Church acknowledged Gatlin’s arrest in a lengthy statement posted on their website Tuesday by a special committee of independent church members who had been appointed to help in their investigation of Gatlin.
“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,” the special committee wrote.
“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,” the special committee added. “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.”
The ministry of Michael and Brenda Gatlin who had been at the helm of Duluth Vineyard since 1997 until their resignations in February, was thrown into a tailspin after church elders announced allegations of misconduct against Jackson "from several years ago" in January.
A statement released by the multi-campus church did not state the nature of Gatlin’s misconduct at the time, but Myrissa Overfors, a woman who identified herself as a victim, alleged on social media that she was sexually assaulted by Jackson Gatlin when she was 16. She also suggested that she was not his only victim.
“You’ve all read that Jackson Gatlin assaulted me in 2007 when I was 16 years old. After trying to tell his mom, we were ignored. I was accused of having issues. My dad had just died. I was going through trauma,” she wrote in a Facebook post on Feb. 5. “Many have asked for details on what he did specifically, I know everyone is curious, but I don’t want to hinder any investigation in place by publicly releasing details. When the time is right, my story will be put out there for you to hear, but as of right now, it will remain with myself and the other victims.”
The church revealed they had contracted Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) to conduct an independent investigation of the allegations. The Duluth Police Department also revealed that they were investigating the allegations of misconduct, while the church council created a special committee of independent members not employed by the church to manage the process.
Jerry Lieffring, a member of the special committee, said in an update that they learned Michael Gatlin was “apparently aware” of “certain allegations of misconduct against Jackson” and was instructed by church leaders to cooperate with the GRACE investigation and he refused. When he was told that his refusal could lead to his termination, he resigned.
While preaching at Grace Vineyard Church Vallarta, Mexico, in 2019, Gatlin told a group of young adults that growing up he had believed a “lie” that he “was actually worthless.”
“As I've grown, and as I've begun doing this, following Jesus, I realized that for a lot of my life, I had believed a lie. I had believed that I was actually worthless, that I couldn't be loved because of a lot of the things that either I had done or that other people had done to me,” he said.
“I believe that the mistakes that I made kept me away from Jesus and that he had actually turned his back on me. And that he thought I was a failure. And what I think is really sad is a lot of us in this room, I feel like believe these types of lies on a daily basis that maybe our parents or our children or our friends are disappointed in us, that sometimes they may even hate us,” he added. “That we will never be good enough to make it.”
While they offered support to the alleged victims in their statement the Vineyard Church special committee also encouraged the church community to offer support to the Gatlins.
“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,” the committee said.
“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."