In 2017, former pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel James MacDonald taught Bible classes at Harvest Christian Academy. While there, on January 25 2017, he was recorded harshly confronting and physically grabbing a student during one of his lessons. This video recently surfaced on social media and in a blog post by Julie Roys. Here it is:
This is a video excerpt of James MacDonald teaching the HCA Bibliology class in early ’17. PLEASE NOTE: This is NOT the incident that @reachjulieroys wrote about in her WORLD mag article. I don’t know if this was during the same class session as that incident. Still horrible. ? pic.twitter.com/4PAWBWUhY8
— Jessica (@ex_harvest) March 20, 2019
I wrote the current superintendent of HCA, Talbott Behnken, to find out what happened as the result of that incident and if such behavior was in violation of HCA’s policies. Earlier today, he sent a statement that he requested be printed in full.
James MacDonald was fired from Harvest Bible Chapel in February of 2019. Harvest Christian Academy had no authority to fire or discipline the then Senior Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, James MacDonald. That responsibility belonged to the elder board of Harvest Bible Chapel.
Prior to the time of the Bible class situation in 2017, I was not aware of James’s outbursts and issues to recognize that it would not be a good situation for our students. At that time, I believed that James was a gifted Bible teacher and it was a great opportunity for our students. Clearly, it didn’t go as we all had hoped. If I had to do it all over again knowing now what I know, I would not have permitted James to teach Bible at HCA. We have wonderful godly teachers and staff at HCA who pour themselves out for the Lord and our students everyday. These videos are not representative of our incredible teaching staff, our school, or our expectations. The people being hurt are our dear students, alumni, teachers, and staff. James MacDonald is not here to deal with any of the fall-out from his behavior. He has hurt our people enough.
The content of the videos speak for themselves and James MacDonald is responsible for his conduct and words. James MacDonald has not instructed HCA Bible students since early in the spring semester 2017 and will not be permitted to teach students at HCA again. Please direct any further inquiries regarding the behavior of James MacDonald to James MacDonald.
A former “big 4” accounting firm auditor is raising red flags about the future of Harvest Bible Chapel. Jason Watkins, who has analysed Gospel for Asia’s finances on this blog in the past, predicts tough financial times ahead.
Given reduced offerings and the outstanding $42-million in debt, the church may need to further reduce staff in order secure additional financing and live within their means. There is also the matter of severance payments for James MacDonald and other departing pastors which will encumber the church.
Watkins prepared a series of charts to depict the situation. They show that the church’s giving is 79% off from the budgeted amount for their Closer campaign. Regular giving is off by 50% compared to previous years. Here are two images with links to the supporting charts:
Donations are down 50% over 2016 and 2017 at the same time of the year. More figures supporting these charts can be viewed here.
The response to the Closer campaign is even more distressing. Additional figures from HBC sources showing giving from 2016-2017 can be viewed here. That chart also shows the pledges for the Closer campaign.
Members and leaders of HBC face a reality check over the next several months. This information is provided in this format to assist members in this process. Faced with a similar reality, Mars Hill Church fragmented into autonomous local churches. Some didn’t make it and some have thrived. Perhaps HBC will follow that path.
It has been reported that Lawrence Swicegood from Gateway Church is involved in assisting HBC. Mr. Swicegood helped Gateway put a good face on their recent layoffs and he may find a way to assist HBC. A potential pitfall for HBC would be to be acquired or bailed out by Gateway and compromised in doctrine by such a link. In any case, it seems likely that dramatic changes are in store for HBC.
This evening Harvest Bible Chapel’s leadership (whoever that is now) posted the following response to Anne Green’s allegations of sexual harassment against James MacDonald. Green disclosed an allegation involving James MacDonald in 2005 on Mancow Muller’s radio program earlier today.
Harvest Bible Chapel received a report in September of 2018 of an alleged inappropriate incident, which took place on a private flight in 2005, between Dr. James MacDonald and Mrs. Anne Green. The Elders took the matter seriously and began investigating immediately.
After hearing of the accusation, the Human Resources department of Harvest Bible Chapel proactively reached out to Mrs. Green on September 30, 2018, via email and text. Below is the email. Please note, for privacy, the name of the other woman on the plane has been omitted.
We have been made aware that you may have a concern about something from your time of employment or ministry involvement at Harvest.
We care about all who have labored for the Lord with us, past and present and since it was not reported at the time, we want to offer an opportunity to tell your story to a couple of women who remain here and remember you fondly.
I would like to schedule a call with you and [other woman on plane], maybe an Elder’s wife and myself, as I work in our HR department. We are offering a safe environment to share your story without fear and understand if you choose not to. Also, be assured this offer does not expire should you wish to talk with us in the future.
Just know that we care for you and would appreciate some response at your earliest convenience – at least to know we have connected with you to express our care and support.
Mrs. Green did not respond to the email or text invitation. Additionally, Mrs. Green never filed a police report regarding the alleged incident.
The three other passengers from that flight were interviewed. The passengers stated that they did not recall seeing or hearing anything suspicious or inappropriate.
With no complaint filed by Mrs. Green, no report to the police and the testimony of three witnesses on the flight, Harvest Bible Chapel closed the investigation with the Elders considering the case appropriately vetted and no further action required.
In light of today’s radio interview that Mrs. Green provided to WLS Radio, Harvest Bible Chapel would like to reiterate a sentence from the email sent to Mrs. Green in September, “be assured this offer does not expire should you wish to talk with us in the future.”
Here are some issues I have been looking into.
James MacDonald appears to be on track to launch Walk in the Word as a digital program on March 1. An informed source told me that the plan remains intact. Given the fast-paced nature of recent changes, anything can happen but there doesn’t appear to be any movement there.
According to a source, this weekend’s Wake Up Youth Conference is still limping along but without the participation of as many as 30 churches. These preregistered groups pulled out after Mancow Muller’s bombshell revelations on his radio show.
According to an eyewitness at HBC-Elgin, the elders aren’t responding well to being questioned.
Look what happened a Elgin prayer meeting TONIGHT pic.twitter.com/TkAxZzF2Dj
— Yeal Heart (@Yael_heart) February 14, 2019
Many are wondering what will happen to the Rabbi Trust established for retiring or disabled pastors at HBC. The larger question relates to a severance for MacDonald. HBC is not legally obligated to disclose this information but a transparent organization would do it.
When Mars Hill dissolved, these details remain secret. Only a few people (who never talked) know the arrangements of Mark Driscoll’s severance. One might argue that his privacy should be protected. Donors might argue that those gifts were never intended to be a golden parachute for a disqualified 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?