Former church leader arrested, faces multiple charges of criminal sexual conduct

A former leader at the Vineyard Church in Duluth has been placed under arrest, and is now facing 10 charges related to sexual abuse.

There are five separate criminal complaints filed against Jackson Gatlin, 35.

The complaints allege that he forced teenage girls to have sexual contact with him. The other allegations include sexual contact with teenage or pre-teen girls when he was in a position of authority.

These allegations date back to 2007.

According to court documents, when the girls’ parents brought concerns to Gatlin’s parents, they were dismissed.

Both Gatlins were also senior leaders at Vineyard, but are no longer.

The Vineyard Church shared a statement with its congregation, and publicly on their website.

Today, our former pastoral assistant, Jackson Gatlin, was charged with criminal sexual conduct and taken into custody. Five criminal complaints were filed against him (see attached).

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. We also pray that God gives you even more courage, strength and hope. We are in this tragedy with you. And, to the extent you are comfortable, we want to love and care for you.

We also recognize that the law enforcement process may cause reporting victims to be triggered, including involuntarily recalling past trauma. We want to help and we can imagine and respect that you may be hesitant to accept assistance from us. You can engage with us as much or as little as you choose. For example, we’d love to pray with you and/or help provide professional counseling for you. For more information, please contact Becca Eastvold at (218) 389-7684 or

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. 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.

Also, we want to once 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 calling 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 those less familiar with this situation, the charges against Jackson come in the context of numerous allegations of misconduct that have surfaced in the last year. There are also allegations that Michael and Brenda Gatlin (Jackson’s parents and also former church employees) knew about certain misconduct by Jackson at the time and failed to act. This matter is not only being investigated by the police, 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 we have previously stated, the key principles guiding the Special Committee as we respond to this situation are:
• We will continually seek Jesus’ mind and will, through His Spirit and the Word of God, in all actions and decisions related to the allegations of misconduct.
• As Jesus said the truth will set us free, we will diligently seek the truth related to the allegations of misconduct.
• As Jesus was always on the side of the vulnerable and the wounded, in our response to the allegations of misconduct the safety and care of the alleged victims must always come first.

These guiding principles and the charges against Jackson have pointed us to the powerful words of the prophet Micah.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
– Micah 6:8

God is requiring that we act justly in this situation. That is part of our commitment to seek the truth. It is why we require that all Duluth Vineyard employees cooperate with this criminal investigation. If anyone has information that may help the police, please contact them. Maybe you know something and in the past you felt like it wasn’t your place to say anything or you were afraid to talk to the police. Whatever your reasons for not reporting, please let God give you what you need to come forward now. We also invite our entire community to join us in praying for the law enforcement officials involved in this case, for the process of human justice, and that justice can be done.

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. And, 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.

Further, God is requiring us to walk humbly through this together. As a Special Committee, we’re going to listen to Jesus, seek the truth and prioritize victims, yet we’re not going to do everything perfectly. More broadly, we all are far from perfect and need to welcome the grace and truth of our loving Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. At the same time the criminal justice system is examining Jackson’s actions, let’s open ourselves up and let the Holy Spirit speak to us about our own actions. Great freedom and power can come in our community as we repent.

Along those lines, we want to point everyone to these hopeful and challenging words in the Bible:

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. – John 3:19-21

In Christ, there is no fear of coming into the light, no fear of the truth, and no fear of punishment. As Jesus pours his love, courage and humility into us, we have more than enough strength to allow our deeds to be exposed and experience the healing of Jesus. It is not always easy, but it is always good.

To all pastors and church leaders accused of sexual, spiritual or any other kind of abuse, please grab hold of Jesus’ hand, come into the light and experience healing. If the allegations are true, take responsibility, get present to the impact of your actions, offer a sincere apology and ask forgiveness, and commit to live differently going forward. If criminal charges are brought against you and you are guilty, tell the truth and plead guilty. Jesus always gives us the strength to do what is right.

Lastly, this is a difficult time for our church. And, we are going through it together. We encourage everyone to reach out to your friends, small group leaders, and pastors for support. We can all let others help connect us with Jesus. And, for those who have abuse in their stories, we encourage you to also consider accessing professional mental health counseling. God works in many ways.

Let’s not forget that Jesus is still in charge and with us. He is moving in the middle of this heartbreaking and serious situation and we want to join in with the good things that he is doing.

With the love of Christ,
The Special Committee of the Church Council (Ben Mork, Ann LaCosse, Jerry Lieffring and Gerry Nierengarten)