A new investigation report suggests that the former senior pastor of Vineyard Church in Duluth, Minnesota, took no action despite witnesses claiming the church leader knew about allegations against his son, who was arrested and charged with abuse of minors during his time at the church.
The findings come from a final 96-page report released this week by GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), which was hired this year to investigate the actions of the church's former young adult pastor, Jackson Gatlin, and his parents, Michael and Brenda Gatlin.
In October, Jackson Gatlin was charged by St. Louis County prosecutors with 10 felony counts related to alleged assaults on minors, including one younger than 13, between 2007 and 2010.
"GRACE made findings related to sexual misconduct, cover up, abuse of pastoral or spiritual power, and emotional abuse," the church said in a statement on its website. "The accounts of abuse and harm described in the GRACE report are a representative sample of the reports that GRACE could corroborate."
The church stated that the statute of limitations "prevents criminal charges from being brought against Michael and Brenda Gatlin for failure to report suspected child abuse."
"Separate from the GRACE report, the Special Committee has heard dozens of personal testimonies during 2023 from people who bravely came forward with their experience of spiritual or emotional abuse by Michael, Brenda and Jackson Gatlin."
Brenda and Michael Gatlin have denied any knowledge of their son's sexual misconduct, according to Northern News Now.
"This investigation found that the reports received by GRACE are consistent with Michael and Brenda Gatlin having knowledge of alleged sexual misconduct by Jackson Gatlin," the report reads.
Jackson Gatlin is accused of sexually abusing underage members of the church's youth group when he served as a volunteer youth leader.
"Some of the reported victims of alleged criminal sexual conduct by Jackson Gatlin were minors at the time of the alleged offenses and attended the youth ministries of Duluth Vineyard Church circa 2007 to 2012," the report reads.
The report, based on interviews with 34 people, outlines the criminal sexual conduct Jackson Gatlin is alleged to have engaged in with five victims, including three charges related to sexual contact with a victim who was under the age of 13. One victim was between the ages of 13 and 16, while another victim was between the ages of 16 and 18. The fifth victim was 14 years old when the abuse was said to have occurred.
The actions occurred after Jackson Gatlin began volunteering at the church in 2007. From 2017 to 2022, Jackson Gatlin worked as the director of the Heroic Leadership Institute. He served as the church's young adult pastor and online community pastor from June 2022 until his termination in February 2023.
Michael and Brenda Gatlin served as pastors of the Duluth Vineyard for 25 years before their resignations last February.
According to GRACE, the former youth pastor and former junior high pastor knew of and addressed repeated policy violations during Jackson Gatlin's time as a volunteer youth leader, which included being along with minors in the student ministry. Those policy violations were reported to Michael and Brenda Gatlin on multiple occasions.
"An allegation of sexual misconduct by Jackson Gatlin was allegedly reported by a
parent to Former Youth Pastor, who reportedly had discussions with Michael Gatlin
and Brenda Gatlin regarding the allegation," the report reads. "An allegation of sexual misconduct by Jackson Gatlin was allegedly reported by a parent to Brenda Gatlin. An allegation of inappropriate texting by Jackson Gatlin was allegedly reported by parents to Michael Gatlin."
The report describes parents and others being fearful of addressing the allegations against Jackson Gatlin with Michael and Brenda Gatlin because they were "intimidated and fearful of their response."
"These concerns seem founded. Those who spoke with GRACE described a pattern of intimidating behaviors on the part of Michael Gatlin and Brenda Gatlin, such as harshness, yelling, and screaming," the report reads.
"Those who did go to Michael Gatlin and/or Brenda Gatlin were met with defensiveness and, at times, a dismissal of their concerns. For instance, Former Church Planter recalled to GRACE having harmful experiences with Michael Gatlin's harsh treatment and how Brenda Gatlin dismissed those concerns."
The report also warns of a "pattern of reports that Michael Gatlin and Brenda Gatlin spoke poorly of others in their absence, particularly in response to concerns that those individuals had raised regarding Michael Gatlin, Brenda Gatlin, or Jackson Gatlin."
Michael Gatlin had been instructed multiple times to fully cooperate with law enforcement and the independent investigation.
Before his resignation, Michael Gatlin was requested to provide a statement to the Special Committee regarding his response to the allegations against his son. However, Michael Gatlin missed the deadline for this crucial submission and did not provide any statement, leading to his resignation.
In his resignation letter, Michael Gatlin stated his inability to comply with the process established by GRACE and the Special Committee, citing a lack of "due process."
"We do not believe it will reveal the truth of what we knew or didn't know regarding these allegations," Michael Gatlin said in his resignation letter to the church. "What's missing in our opinion? At 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. Sadly, none of these things are present in the process that is currently being used."
The church has expressed its solidarity with survivors of abuse.
"It is never your fault. And, you are not alone," a statement on the church website reads. "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."