Harvest Bible Chapel Removes James MacDonald as Elder and Pastor

This morning, Harvest Bible Chapel announced the ouster of Pastor James MacDonald due to “conduct that the Elders believe is contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church.” This is one of the reasons given in the bylaws for removal of the lead pastor.

Dear Harvest Bible Chapel Family:

It is with great sadness that we as the Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel wish to convey to you a very recent development that has caused us to take immediate action regarding our Senior Pastor, Dr. James MacDonald.

Following a lengthy season of review, reflection, and prayerful discussion, the Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel had determined that Pastor MacDonald should be removed from his role of Senior Pastor. That timeline accelerated, when on Tuesday morning highly inappropriate recorded comments made by Pastor MacDonald were given to media and reported. Given that and other conduct under consideration, in accordance with the procedures in our Bylaws, Pastor MacDonald was removed as Senior Pastor and as an Elder of the church for engaging in conduct that the Elders believe is contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church. His employment has been terminated from Harvest Bible Chapel, effective today, February 12, 2019. This decision was made with heavy hearts and much time spent in earnest prayer, followed by input from various trusted outside advisors.

Our Elders and Staff are committed to fulfilling our fiduciary duty as the leadership of this congregation, knowing that at times the outcome may be misunderstood or emotionally painful. A more detailed communication regarding next steps for our church will take place in our weekend services.

We sincerely thank you for your prayers, your support, and your patience as we work together to restore a trust in leadership, a humility to surrender to biblical authority, and a firm resolve to move forward as a church family. Please continue to uphold our church, the Elder Board, staff, and the MacDonald family in prayer at this time.

– The Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel

Yesterday, Chicagoland radio personality Mancow Muller played audio of who he alleged was James MacDonald making critical and threatening remarks toward his critics. In response, sources have informed me that a weekend youth conference at Harvest has been called off due to cancellations of participating churches. Even if the youth conference is still on, the audio most likely put pressure on the elders to act.

Are the Elders Next?

There are many questions which remain for the HBC elders. Many of the decisions associated with MacDonald were made with the awareness and apparent support of the elder board. It is unclear how many of them heard the unsavory comments (e.g., threatening to place child porn on a critics computer) and did nothing about it. While the focus of public scrutiny has been MacDonald, the attention now will turn to the elders of HBC. In a similar situation at Willow Creek, the entire leadership team resigned in a bid to return trust of the people to the leaders. Will HBC elders follow suit?

60 thoughts on “Harvest Bible Chapel Removes James MacDonald as Elder and Pastor”

  1. “… (e.g. threatening to place child porn on a critics computer) …” Wow. The implications that this raises are deeply disturbing: either MacDonald has some child porn in his possession, or else he knows — or would endeavor to find out — where and how to get hold of it, and rather than report the source of such material to police, he himself would make criminal use of it. Seems like there’s some truly awful pathology involved here.

  2. If Luke MacDonald becomes Senior Pastor please post a trigger warning since my eyes will roll right out of my head.

  3. Yes, it’s time for HBC Elders and every other enabler in a position of authority to be removed.

  4. In order to frame someone by putting kiddie porn on their computer, one must have a copy of the kiddie porn.

    I think there’s probable cause for a police investigation of MacDonalds’ digital devices. I hope there’s nothing to it. There may well not be. The voice may not be his. He may have just been bloviating. But there’s cause for a search warrant.

  5. Wow. This is why I thought MacDonald was toast when Mancow “announced” he was out of the door. Mancow’s megaphone is simply too large to be denied, and when he thought the church was getting cold feet over MacDonald’s dismissal, he used it to devastating effect.

    I’m assuming the recording is from before Mancow’s public split with MacDonald, since it’s too bizarre to imagine MacDonald would go off like that to someone seeking his ouster, but either way, it just shows how powerful people used to having it all their own way for many years, can come to feel their are invincible and forget that it can take one word to the wrong person for it all to come tumbling down.

    Mind you, it’s not that surprising. Whoever you are, it takes more than a little arrogance to believe you’re the right person (and the only right person) to run a multi-million dollar empire, whether it be a church or a nation. Just for laughs, this is what you get when you Google James MacDonald and humility.

  6. I am puzzled that in that elder statement they didn’t say that they confronted James about the recordings. The impression they give is that they believe the recordings to be authentic and didn’t warrant any additional follow-up. There may indeed have been conversations with James that happened, but that wasn’t indicated.

    As painful as it was (I’m no fan of Mancow), I listened to Mancow’s broadcast yesterday. I wasn’t entirely convinced that the recordings were authentic. It sounded like it was generated by Lyrebird software (the rant against CT in particular seemed “off”).

    In either case, the comments attributed to James are consistent with some things he’s said in private so it is not beyond being believable. But I would hope that the elders took the necessary steps to verify the authenticity of those recordings.

    1. I debated whether the likelihood of authentic or not. Given that James MacDonald is a public figure, it would be hard to slander him and win in couet (that would go against authenticity). On the other hand, going towards authenticity is that Mancow works for a radio station and the ownership would like some reassurances they’re not going to be sued. On the third hand, maybe Mancow’s ratings needed a boost? Nothing like a juicy scandal, even if false. On the fourth hand, Mancow says he has 100 hours of recordings with MacDonald and surely there is some dirt in there.

      The calculus of this is In My Opinion I Don’t Know, but leaning towards authentic, particularly when you add in how quickly MacDonald dropped his suit against Julie Roys and The Elephant’s Debt when it became clear the latter was going to get expansive discovery. The guy has skeletons.

      PS Warren, I’ll be at Driscoll’s on the 28th.

    2. The recordings are supposedly a hot mic situation after a Walk in the Word session – MacDonald was ranting about the podcast Christianity Today did (https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/october-web-only/james-macdonald-christians-suing-mediation-peacemaking.html)
      According to Julie Roys there were two other prominent evangelical leaders in the room. We don’t know what staff were also around and who gave the audio to Muller.
      That CT podcast MacDonald was raging about went up October 31st.

      The piece by MacDonald on why sueing believers is biblical was published in CT November 2nd.

      a) the timeline makes sense
      b) the sound would be consistent with a hot mic over a 50 minute period
      c) I doubt the Chicago radio station management would let something that explosive air that was not sourced and verified. That’s what media lawyers are for.
      d) I’m puzzled the elders didn’t state they’d verified also. No way that statement came out though without running it past every personal and corporate lawyer they’ve got. Plus pr firm(s) and outside advisors. Sycophants or not, they strike me as cya types.
      e) if that wasn’t MacDonald, don’t you think he’d have been publicly screaming to high heaven and having any buddies he has left leak the threats of what he would do to his critics?

      A Lifeway spokesperson announced this evening to Julie Roys that they are pulling all of MacDonald’s books and won’t be publishing any more.

    3. My bet is that at least some of the elders have heard the language MacDonald was using in the recording before, personally, so knew it had to be him. It’s extremely unlikely to have come out of the blue like that.

    4. Initially I also thought it was some kind of hoax; the clips were so short and the content seemingly bizarre it was hard to get much sense of authenticity. And Mancow himself initially said (sarcastically as it turned out) that it couldn’t be MacDonald. However Julie Roys has stated that she has now heard the entire 50 minute recording and with the full context it is clearly genuine.

  7. The language of the elders’ statement seems revealing.

    “Pastor MacDonald was removed as Senior Pastor and as an Elder of the church for engaging in conduct that the Elders believe is contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church.” Why not say he was removed for serious sin? The language suggests that they are not opposed to his behavior as such but to how it may/will harm the church.

    Likewise, this is odd: “Our Elders and Staff are committed to fulfilling our fiduciary duty as the leadership of this congregation…” While “fiduciary” might well be an accurate term for how they see their role, it’s business language, not family language. Its use gives the feel of men who see themselves as leading a big business, not as shepherding the family of God.

    1. I suspect that “conduct … contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church” may well be language directly from their bylaws or other legal documents.
      Your second excerpt could leave one wondering if this was the Tesla board speaking after terminating Elon Musk … ok, a bit of an exaggeration, but …

    2. Great observations there. I noticed the same things. Biblically speaking the problems with their wording is that their church is not The Church. Jesus is head of The Church. Men can create organizations and call them whatever they want, including a church. This wording is probably from their bylaws which is a business ideal. Jesus never told us to have bylaws. Jesus did not tell us to start businesses. He did tell us to make disciples. Any church that does not do that will have a hard time proving on judgment day that they were part of the actual Church with Jesus actually in charge and calling the shots.
      Their is a popular delusion that Jesus and business mix very well. Yet Jesus said the you cannot serve both Him and money. I am a business major and I can tell you that money is very much the bottom line of what businesses serve. This is the root of the problem and why narcissists and psychopaths like JMac can build what they have as large as they have.
      From this perspective, their statement that their church is The Church is pure arrogance and that probably came straight out of JMac when he set up the business selling a go$pel in the first place. The elders all also responsible and a big part of the problem. Harvest was founded on the wrong foundation and now the storm has come to test it and it is beginning to fall apart. I think that God will break up the monopoly here, just like he did in Seattle. There is a reality that the bigger things get here on earth, the more corrupt they tend to be. That is why I am a fan of small things. Better to have a small church making just a few disciples than a big one making none. The sheep are the ones who need the attention after all, not THE GREAT, ALMIGHTY, HEAD PASTOR.

      1. There’s little doubt their use of fiduciary term is meant to allay fears that they gave away the store to James MacDonald while pushing him out of the door. Golden handshakes to make embarrassing bosses go away are all too common these days.

        Remember, these are people whose prominent roles at the church have been directly tied to James MacDonald for years. It’s not at all surprising they’re on the defensive.

        1. I agree, the fact that the fiduciary duty talk was unprovoked from the outside tells me it was provoked from the inside. Are you a lawyer too? You seem to think like one.

      2. I think you could probably find no end of small churches where a senior pastor runs the church like it is a sole proprietorship, leaving a long line of hurt people and families behind him with no elder accountability. I’ve been in at least one. I’ve had to attempt to confront false teaching in a small church, only to be met with, “Hey, we’re all friends here, right? What’s the big deal?” Perhaps the opportunity for financial impropriety is not as great, but a guy growing wealthy out of proportion to his flock is one of the most obvious problems in a church to detect, and one that requires ongoing buy-in from the people doing the giving.

        Having actually attended Harvest for a good stretch and also some small churches, I think “public” ministries receive a lot more outside scrutiny than those that fly under the radar. It comes down to people being willing to vote with their feet and elders who actually do their job when something is not right.

        The language in the HBC statement is directly quoted from their governing document’s section on grounds for termination of the senior pastor, btw.

          1. Certainly, in some cases. In fact, the greatest validation of the truths of God’s Word that James MacDonald taught for so many years (and, interestingly, of those truths that he maintained a fairly consistent emphasis upon) is the mess he finds himself in currently. I say that with sadness, because I carry with me like cherished pure gold the discipleship I received at Harvest. They really taught me to love the Lord.

    3. I’d just remind everyone that HBC still has a lawsuit outstanding against the Evangelical Christian Credit Union. We know from the initial pleading that HBC was trying to refinance something like six properties, for a total somewhere in the mid 8 figures. We also know that the payment on one of those properties went up 19 percent in August 2018.

      I suspect HBC is really hurting financially.

      1. There is a question I have, thanks for pointing that out mirele.

        With a debt load currently around 40 million – would some of the lenders want to call loans in?
        With the main draw fired, the way this has played out, and a possible financial golden parachute, MacDonald perhaps owning some assets etc., wouldn’t lenders be nervous?

        They may have 13 thousand pew sitters today, but what about next week, next month , next year?
        The exits are going to look good for a lot of attendees, which pulls revenue way down.

        “Our Elders and Staff are committed to fulfilling our fiduciary duty as the leadership of this congregation…” Seems they are talking to the money lenders, expecting them to circle.

        Need for February $1,920,000
        Received in February $418,900

        Need YTD (as of Jan 31) $1,920,000
        Received YTD (as of Jan 31) $1,307,800

        Updated 2/8/2019
        Harvest Bible Chapel

        1. Without complete access to the loan documents, I can’t say what the conditions would be for calling the notes. It’s my understanding all these are balloon notes, which are typical in commercial real estate (but for churches? no idea). They’re expected to be refinanced at the end of the term of the note, not paid off.

          The amount of money being pulled in is not going to cover both the note payments and the payroll. I would expect to see layoffs VERY shortly. I don’t know that defaulting on the notes is an option.

          I’m going to see if any more docs have been filed in the HBC v ECCU case.

          1. Layoffs came quickly at Mars Hill, so you are right. The numbers I saw that someone else posted for their shortfall this year are quite large. And that was before they fired JMac. I would expect that at least 25% of the people will stop attending over the next month and that the giving will drop an additional 33% or more. Their most expensive programs will have to be cancelled and they have to already be scrambling to cut their costs. I would expect this to be a major focus from the pulpit from the elders this Sunday along with the explanation of why they chose to fire him at this point in time.

      2. People who know tax law, I am curious: what happens if the church goes under? Does the debt go away? Can the leadership be pursued for the money?

        1. They are usually organized as corporations and thus can only be taken for the assets held by the corporation. That’s actually entity/corporate law, not really a tax issue.

          However, the corporate veil can be pierced if the church was treated as a personal piggy bank, especially if funds were commingled. If so whoever owns the church could find themselves personally liable.

          In addition, small entities are often required by creditors to have their officers/owners on the hook for debts as well, however I doubt HBC is in this position.

          Finally, a cause of action may exist against MacDonald personally for anyone who is an owner of the church, if he breached his fiduciary duties. That will depend on who owns the church though, it wouldn’t work with catholics and I bet it wouldn’t work with these authoritarian non-congregationalist churches either, they have plenty of proof that their members had no expectation of control or ownership. The determination of who owns a protestant church is often the most expensive and nastiest part of such cases.

    4. I’d just remind everyone that HBC still has a lawsuit outstanding against the Evangelical Christian Credit Union. We know from the initial pleading that HBC was trying to refinance something like six properties, for a total somewhere in the mid 8 figures. We also know that the payment on one of those properties went up 19 percent in August 2018.

      I suspect HBC is really hurting financially.

  8. The more stories like this that get reported (and it just keeps happening), the most I understand white evangelical christianity’s love affair with Donald Trump. He’s a feature, not a bug, of this form of christianity.

    1. Trying to attach Trump voters to this guy is the same bully tactic that got him elected the first time and will definitely get him re-elected.

      1. 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump. If you had to guess, what percentage of Harvest Bible Chapel did as well?

        From where I’m standing – no longer identifying as evangelical – I see alarming similarities between authoritarian, potty-mouth leaders like MacDonald and Trump.

        1. To remind us all, 80% of white evangelicals did not vote for Trump. It was likely less than 1/2 since a great many (perhaps 40% of white evangelicals) didn’t vote at all. The 80% number is self-identified white evangelicals in an exit poll. It doesn’t count those who didn’t identify that way or those who identify that way but actually aren’t evangelical (by historic definition).

          It also doesn’t account for the fact that most evangelicals voted against Trump in the primaries because they didn’t want him. They voted for him only when he was the only alternative to Clinton.

          We can all dislike Trump and we should, and we can all question evangelicalism (and not nearly enough of us do), but we can also be accurate with the facts.

        2. In major metropolitan churches, it is unlikely that 80% of HBC would vote for Trump. That would be more likely in certain fundamentalistic type churches and urban churches. My guess is that the HBC Trump voting population is less.

          But given that they tolerated MacDonald for all these years, we have good reason to question their judgment.

    2. It’s not about race, it’s about religion. Race doesn’t require you to think a certain way, to give control of your mind to an authority figure, thus making you vulnerable to exploitation by said figure. That’s what religion was created for, not race.

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