LEGAL UPDATE – September 2022

On September 2, a Cook County Court judge ruled that Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC) Elders, HBC attorney Sally Wagenmaker (then President of  the Christian Legal Society), SDK accountants, and HBC attorney Kevin Todd conspired together to defame me. As a result, they forfeit attorney / client privilege for all related communications.
Also noted in hearing transcript, according to Judge Esrig, the HBC / attorney communications constitute “crime fraud”- the first such ruling in Illinois history. More evidence that Laird Elders lied… but not a word of confession from HBC.
Additionally, HBC’s delay and refusal to obey court-ordered production of documents is so sketchy, the court ruled an IT expert will come to HBC campuses and forcibly search / extract what church leaders used tithe money to cover up!
The implications of this ruling = staggering. From Harvest Bible Chapel, to ECFA, Trinity Broadcast Network, the Christian Legal Society, Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, and online perpetuators: All who reported HBC Elders’ defamation as fact, aided and abetted their defamation.


Thank you for standing with us.

“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:19)

PART 1 – To the people of Harvest Bible Chapel and interested friends:

Harvest Bible Chapel was our lifetime calling, the only church our children ever knew, and the centerpiece to most of our greatest joys. From the time Kathy and I were 25 and 27, everything we did was for the people of HBC, and everything we loved was deeply intertwined with the church family we openly prayed to spend our whole lives serving. All three of our children met and married their spouses at HBC, two from HBC families. Our grandkids were deeply enmeshed with Harvest Christian Academy. Nearly all of our closest friends served or worked at HBC. And with a few exceptions, all of those relationships remain severed from us. Our deepest sufferings have come from being so ostracized, while waiting in silence for friends to love us despite what they have heard and fight for the truth to come forth. Nearly two years later, the vast majority at HBC still apparently believe what a handful of HBC Staff and Elders communicated falsely.

Only recently have we even considered the thought that the lifetime call God gave us in the spring of 1988 to remain in Chicago, and the call that came soon after to plant Harvest were not forever linked. We have chosen to remain in Chicago and do ministry as the Lord leads, apart from the church we loved so long… but that has not been an easy decision. Like many before us, we have struggled to find a place of joyful worship outside HBC. We miss the powerful services, the many faces and families we loved but no longer see. Many have told us they miss what Harvest was too.

Please know that you, as a member of the HBC family, did not deserve any of what has happened.

You came and worshiped, you served, you gave, you prayed, and your church imploded. I want you to hear from me how very very sorry I am for how you have suffered, for the hurt you felt over the betrayal I was portrayed to have committed against you, and for the damage that kind of broken trust does to a person’s soul. I am so very sorry these things happened and for my relational role in them. It was our family’s great privilege to serve you with our whole hearts and we each desired to continue long into the future.

After giving our lives and family to Christ for the upbuilding of one of the furthest-reaching local church ministries in America… After what may have been our best year ever, the 30th anniversary, Easter at the Sears Centre with so many decisions for Christ, Summer Revival Nights… Just after a successful “Closer” campaign, with so many getting behind the future of HBC sacrificially, and an unsolicited vote of confidence from the Elders of HBC…

I was fired on a conference call I was not allowed to join – over issues I had never heard, sourced in letters I had never seen – from my 30+ year position as Senior Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC). A group of Elders, who never met with me and mostly didn’t know me, fired me over a falsely edited recording they didn’t review and unvetted letters with many false allegations that were leaked to intentionally cause me and my family harm.

Question: How did all of this happen?

“Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention … I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20:26-30)

Answer: Three factions came together to have me fired from HBC, which we were unable to withstand.

  • A letter campaign, led by former staff member Dallas Jenkins (not his first), which centered on HBC’s Elgin Campus and took the illegal recording to Mancow, whom he boasted of controlling. All this, with the goal of getting me, my family and the Executive Elders removed.
  • Two campus pastors, Greg Bradshaw (backed by Michael Vanlaningham, Jeff Sharda and Crystal Lake Elders) and Mo Zachariah (backed by two Niles Elders), used the situation to elevate their own position. Bradshaw became de facto CEO of HBC but is now terminated; Zachariah demanded (under threat of splitting off his campus) total independence for the Niles campus.
  • A betrayal, led by 2019 Executive Committee Elder and HBC treasurer Jeff Smith, which centered on HBC’s North Shore campus. Fearing fiduciary responsibility (related to the unprecedented HBC mortgage refinance failure by current CFO Jeff Sharda), Smith panicked, entirely reversed what he told ECFA and World Magazine a month earlier, and led the unlawful seizure of $6.6 million in Walk in the Word donor funds – contrary to contracts he was very familiar with – apparently deciding, I was worth more ‘dead’ than alive.

“It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting the entire body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell itself.” (James 3:6)

Finally a Meeting with HBC Elder Board

HBC Elders do not know nor have ever sought to understand the three factions described above, because I had not met with an Elder Board of HBC since October 2018. There were two Executive Committee meetings a month before I was fired, but I never met with the full board. The Elders have consistently portrayed themselves to the congregation as wanting to meet, to resolve, to restore, etc. But the reality is that no HBC Elder board met with me related to the lawless termination led by Greg Bradshaw, or the false financial accusations voiced by Tim Stoner, or the rancid disqualification process led by Brian Laird – much less to offer any path toward interpersonal restoration despite my many attempts to at least begin a conversation.

Why We are Speaking Out Now

Finally, on October 19, 2020, HBC Elders met with me in a meeting led by guest Pastors Jeff Gill and Dave Stone. We were blessed by increased humility from Brian Laird, but saddened by other realities that dashed our collective hope for reconciliation progress – the real reason they had flown in to lead our meeting. How sad, when HBC Elders could have shown humility, owned their wrongs, and met me at mutual grace and forgiveness.

With that long-awaited meeting unsuccessful, we have prayed and waited three more weeks, given the news the Elders had agreed to pray together about “how we may have sinned against James MacDonald.” Yet still nothing but more legal threats and… total silence. All of that brings us reluctantly to the realization we have to set the record straight and move on. Below are One and Two, of 5 areas where HBC leaders have willfully caused irreparable harm to myself, my family, ministry associates, our Walk in the Word family around the world, and the Harvest Bible Chapel congregation.


I am repentant about my role in relational matters preceding these HBC actions, and I have not failed to express it.

As a pastor who loved his congregation, the people of the church I pastored have been my focus. The majority of my written repentances (some dating back to more than a month before I was terminated) are not more broadly known because until now, I have believed it best to attempt resolution directly through HBC Elders and Staff. It has been difficult to hear stories circulated of my non-repentance in matters I rightly own, vs. false accusations for which I cannot repent (such as the financial allegations, which will be thoroughly refuted in part two).

Not once did I hear HBC say I was not repentant from February – April 2019. Then, when HBC cancelled the April 2019 settlement agreement, I began to reach out to staff who were told not to meet with or talk to me. During a risky May 2019 ‘by permission only’ meeting with Steve Stewart, former WITW CFO, and Eddie Hoagland, I read portions of some of the repentance statements that had been in various Elders’ hands as early January 12, 2019, but were never brought to the full Elder board, nor shared with the congregation. Eddie and Steve then asked for a copy and arranged to read a version to the CLT (lead staff). Only after that reading did the “James is not repentant” theme emerge. It became their new talking point, to refute any objection to the growing awareness that false things were being said and done. I did seek meetings with staff and Elders, and have sought them consistently, in hopes of the best possible resolution. Yet those texts and emails were turned into ‘evidence’ that I was not repentant. However, allowing your teaching ministry to be destroyed and its donor funds unlawfully seized is not a fruit of repentance.   

With the Lord’s help, I have tried to continue living the message of ‘Love2Live2Love’, which I preached throughout my final year in the Harvest pulpit. In order to “let brotherly love continue” (Hebrews 13:1), I have attempted to absorb HBC’s eleven public statements in 2019, each more vicious and shaming of me. At the same time, I repeatedly communicated my repentance as a beginning for mutual humility between myself and HBC leaders. I did this with no significant response to date, in hopes of closure and, as God allows, healing for all.


The method of my firing broke Scripture, bylaws and common sense. 

Broke Scripture:

HBC Elders acted unbiblically by not requiring the letter writers to meet with me, not vetting the accusations for accuracy or vetting the back story for a colluded agenda, nor ever meeting with me themselves. Everyone concerned has suffered great loss as a result.

  • Matthew 18:15ff places great emphasis on going directly to the person you have an offense against.
  • Matthew 5:24 commands anyone involved in an offense to “leave [their] gift at the altar” and “go be reconciled to your brother,” as a prerequisite to worship. The greater priority, is faithful adherence to the great commandment, and God receives no love from a worshipper with ‘brother hatred’ in his heart (Matthew 22:37-39, Mark 12:30-32).
  • Scripture commands face-to-face meetings as a first step in every conflict resolution, because inevitably it produces a removal of things verifiably false and softening of hearts that tend to harden when we talk about people rather than to them.
  • Biblically there is no place for a Christ follower to ‘mail in’ written accusations against an Elder (especially when the authors themselves have tenure as spiritual leaders and surely know better). How much was lost by ignoring Scripture, giving in to the urgency of the moment, rationalizing away what God’s Word commands? What if the letter writers had met with me? What if a substantive portion of what they wrote would have been fact checked leaving only the sin between us to resolve in a meeting of mutual humility? What if they had been pastored through their frustration and hurt rather than used and publicly exposed? To date I have heard from none of them, but remain open while not wanting to press in or cause more hurt. I truly pray to see these matters resolved for the sake of all. What if HBC Elders had put their efforts there, regardless of whether I stayed or left HBC?
  • The 1 Timothy 5:18-22 passage was badly misinterpreted by Mike Vanlaningham, with devastating consequences (see Dr. William Mounce, who was prepared to testify at the arbitration and broad agreement among conservative biblical scholars).
    1. The context is honor and the careful process not to dishonor those who “work hard at preaching and teaching”;
    2. The 2-3 witnesses are from the same event, with specific detail as corroboration;
    3. The accused Elder is to be present for the witness testimony;
    4. The text implies a time interval for repentance (between 1 Timothy 5:19 and verse 20 (the public rebuke);
    5. The accused is to be present for the public rebuke; 
    6. The action must be extremely careful to avoid any private agenda, which Scripture calls “partiality”.
  • The passage closes with an exhortation to make sure Elders are not chosen hastily, lest they fail as novices at such a sober task, harming the whole church. Harvest Elders failed on every single point. Entirely missing the main emphasis of the passage, in their rush to accomplish public rebuke (driven by Bradshaw, who was driven by Jenkins/Vanlaningham), they affected an ecclesiastical lynching.
  • The statement prepared by HBC staff for services on February 16-17, 2019, was so false and far from the actual reasons the Elders decided upon termination, that the Elder chair Ron Duitsman, who led the meeting where I was fired (he and I have since reconciled) refused to read it and resigned from the board over it. Instead it was read by Bill Sperling (we have also since reconciled).

Broke Bylaws:

HBC bylaws (legally binding in Illinois) mandated that the Executive Committee of the Elders could not meet unless all members were duly informed of the meeting which is standard board protocol. The Senior Pastor was a member of the Executive Committee.  In order to fire the Senior Pastor, per the bylaws, the EC had to: inform me of the meeting along with every other EC member, which they did not do (more than once); and give me opportunity to respond to the accusations, which they did not do. Upon agreement to terminate (my agreement not needed), they were to bring their unanimous recommendation to the full Elder board, for a simple majority approval.

Yet despite my offers to resign, none of those steps were taken. My sabbatical was used as an excuse for not informing me of late January/early February meetings. These unlawful meetings utilized secrecy to prevent me from seeking to participate, and possibly alter the downward spiral. Not once was I given a chance to see, hear, or respond to those six letters – which somehow appeared all at once. Additionally my pension, written and approved by these same Elders, states that no determination or “firing for cause” can take place unless I receive due notification and am given a chance to respond to the accusations in person, but again, that never happened. Talk to a member of the mob and you will hear, “none of that matters, throw the bum out.” But in reality Elders are to be “sober minded and temperate,” which they accuse me of lacking, yet I have not lashed out in fleshly public response,  nor has any member of my family, not a single time, since the unlawful, bylaw bypassing actions of HBC Elders on February 12, 2019.

“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)

Broke Common Sense:

In early February 2019, despite objections and pleas for common sense by multiple Elders, Executive Committee (EC) leaders collapsed under mob pressure. The remainder of the board was swept away, having no clue of the forces at work within the board itself to gain my ouster and to achieve CEO-level HBC leadership for Greg Bradshaw, independence of the Niles Campus for Mo Zachariah, relief from financial fears for Jeff Smith, and revenge for Dallas Jenkins. To hide this fact the Elder minutes of these and preceding meetings were edited (doctored) to eliminate evidence of objection, promises to care for my family, clarity on the rightful disposition of Walk in the Word, etc.

The after-midnight board meetings leading up to February 12, 2019, were by all accounts unlike any in the history of Harvest Bible Chapel and dominated by 2-3 rogue Elders (Dan George, Mike Dunwoody) who continuously breached the Elder Code of Conduct without consequence. What if the Elders had held each other accountable for their own anger and raised voices, before undertaking to provide the same for me?

“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” (Romans 2:1)

More than anyone else, Greg Bradshaw forced the unvetted letters on the unaware Elder board, one of whom leaked them online. Conversations with Michael Vanlaningham seemingly inflamed Greg’s self-righteousness to where he was walking the halls in Elgin with the root of bitterness springing up, defiling many (Hebrews 12:15). Dr. Vanlaningham defiled Greg about a matter he previously sought and received my forgiveness for, then Greg’s bitterness sprang up from the gossip in Dallas Jenkins’ letter campaign, and it was spreading like wild fire, full of deadly poison (James 3:2-10).

When the Elders asked me to resign, I agreed, pending the release of Walk in the Word and its net assets per historic agreements regarding my intellectual property. But when that was refused, I realized there was a lot more happening than most Elders knew and delayed until I was assured my pension and Walk in the Word would not be unlawfully seized. Only then did Dallas Jenkins, Greg Bradshaw, and Mo Zachariah meet with Mancow and somehow pass what a WITW audio engineer had recorded without permission – a 45-minute phone conversation, which many have never heard in its entirety. These men boasted about the coup they had affected, bragging that they controlled Mancow’s public volume, and that their ’termination team’ (Mike Vanlaningham, Sam Booras, John Dierker, Gil De las Alas) had achieved its goal of removing the whole MacDonald family.

This biblical, bylaw, and common-sense Elder fail, jettisoned 30 years of faithful ministry in order to silence the mob, and acquiesced to a few who threatened to resign if I was not fired. But that was not the only reason.

Some are no doubt saying, “Dude, you got fired. It happens, even unjustly, all the time – own what you can, get over the rest and get on with your life.”

I agree! And I surely would have, were it not for the false and destructive financial accusations against me, voiced by Tim Stoner to HBC congregation and online for 10 months. Those November 2019 allegations would accomplish their goal of ending my ministry forever, if not refuted here and now with clear documentation.  

As the HBC congregation listened, the leadership’s rhetoric escalated:

  • Upon being fired, no mention of financial concerns (February 2019)
  • Then “an ongoing pattern of financial abuse” in firing announcement (February 2019)
  • Then “ungodly spending” (March 2019)
  • Then “HBC suspended ECFA membership” over failed standards for accountability and arm’s length transactions (April 2019)
  • Then “found the documentation of [2018] expenses to be insufficient and inconsistent” = $451,000 (April 2019)
  • Then in November 2019, serious misconduct – their ‘hired gun’ intensifies HBC’s accusations to “malfeasance” and $1,900,000 million in funds purportedly paid to me and my family personally.

Any thinking person had to be wondering, “Why would James do this? Why would he spend so lavishly and foolishly while being compensated so well and loving the church as he surely seemed to?”

Answer: I didn’t and wouldn’t do that, as anyone who knew us and our love for the church would have understood. But “a lie travels around the world, while the truth is still putting its pants on.”

In the next post, I explain in detail with documentation why the financial accusations are false

– and all that has happened after I was terminated. The driving force behind everything that has taken place between the MacDonalds and HBC from February 13, 2019, until today…

PART 2 – The purpose of this statement is to bring truth to light and begin closure toward healing for all.

Covering 5 topics:

  • ONE: My repentance
  • TWO: The unbiblical, anti-bylaw, no common sense firing
  • THREE: The seizure of Walk in the Word to plunder its $6.6 million in assets ($4.1 million of which is in dispute)
  • FOUR: The false financial accusations to cover #3
  • FIVE: Speaking up for the innocent, and what God has been teaching me

Part 1 includes points 1-2 (above). Part 2 below includes points 3 and 4. Follow the green links for documented evidence.

After we published Part 1, HBC filed yet another motion (November 13, 2020) to silence me, rather than face the truth of what they have done (draft thoughts on legal reply).

Multiple times I expressed to HBC Elders that their false statements protected by their refusals to meet would inevitably come to light and under the rule of law and to the detriment of HBC, but they forged ahead… 

“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

For 20 months, HBC unlawfully held (then released under force of arbitration) my Bible-teaching ministry, my pension, and my intellectual property, as well as personal property, attempting to force my acceptance of their false conversion of Walk in the Word donor assets.

HBC 2019 Elders began by declining my resignation, encouraging me to take an overdue sabbatical, with full assurance of a discussion about my tenure in the Spring of 2019. Four weeks latter, I was fired on a conference call I was not allowed to join – over issues I had never heard, sourced in letters I had never seen – from my 30+ year position as Senior Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC). A group of Elders, who never met with me and mostly didn’t know me, fired me over a falsely edited recording they didn’t review and unvetted letters, created in a collusion led by Dallas Jenkins with many false allegations that were leaked to intentionally cause me and my family harm.


Walk in the Word was seized by HBC to plunder its $6.6 million in assets.

In lawless disregard for historic covenants and signed contracts, HBC leaders (Jeff Smith, Greg Bradshaw, Carl Barkow, Steve Stewart, Jeff Sharda,  Sam Booras, then the Laird Elders since May 2019) seized Walk in the Word for its $6,600,000 ($4.1M of which they knew was in dispute).

1) Walk in the Word came under the HBC “umbrella” in 2010, under the recommendation of auditor Capin Crouse. In hindsight, a benefit sought by HBC but never explained to me was WITW’s financial strength, which was used to bolster the church’s balance sheet in the eyes of their lender, Evangelical Christian Credit Union (ECCU).

2) Walk in the Word’s 2010 “merger” with Harvest was conditional upon the ability to separate at will, and never stated nor intended to be permanent. Ample documentation existed in files for the original 2019 Staff and Elders, and subsequent leadership iterations, to acknowledge that WITW was a ministry I started, led, supplied with content, and was fully under my stewardship – just as with all other evangelical broadcast ministries, from Tony Evans to Chuck Swindoll.

Yet HBC Elders seized WITW and destroyed the ministry to access the money, publicly declaring Walk in the Word is a ministry of Harvest Bible Chapel,” with the Elders communicating directly to the WITW donors – unprecedented in the history of HBC prior to 2019. To those who knew the truth, these assertions of WITW ownership by HBC were immediately recognized as false. As former Elders remained silent, numerous knowledgeable men warned HBC leaders their actions would bring ruin to the church, but these leaders did not relent. Maybe selecting Elders who didn’t know me or HBC history and had never been Elders before (Greg Bradshaw and Harvest 2020’s idea) was unwise? It made them prone to being misled.

3) At the time of the 2010 ‘merger,’ the outgoing Walk in the Word board required the documents to specify two things:

These were not questioned by HBC in the initial April 2019 draft settlement agreements. WITW’s cash was already being seized by Smith and company, but the remainder was offered in all settlement offers. In an effort to cement their unlawful seizure of Walk in the Word, HBC Leaders unlawfully removed me and others from the original Illinois 501c3 retroactively redacting to 2018, abruptly canceled all the monthly donors, and wrote to the WITW mailing list after I would not bow to their threats. The idea that I would never get Walk in the Word was a Wagenmaker invention in cooperation with the Laird Elders. Fact is, Walk in the Word merged with HBC while maintaining an independent status – accountable inside HBC, with the freedom to separate at will with its net assets.

4) Sally Wagenmaker knew the impact of the seminal documents “The Secretary’s Certificates of Directors’ Action, which governed the Capin Crouse advised merging (with both a Walk in the Word portion signed by the Executive Director, and a Harvest Bible Chapel Portion Signed by HBC’s CFO), Wagenmaker in her professional capacity makes several terrible arguments that were damaging to HBC and all concerned.

5) WITW never relinquished its autonomy, and all parties believed Walk in the Word was a major blessing to HBC. Elders and Staff were grateful for WITW’s proximity to and positive impact on the church (more than 50% of first time visitors to HBC mentioned WITW as the primary reason for their visit). For example, in the fall of 2017, HBC financial leaders requested a documented loan from WITW for $1,500,000, which I agreed to lend. After they repaid an initial $500,000, I forgave the remainder, as it was equivalent to their support of WITW that year, and we had promised to return some of HBC’s Walk in the Word support from surplus WITW revenue when the Aurora Studio was sold to TBN.

6) WITW maintained separate budgets, separate bank accounts, separate audits, and their own CFO, while working cooperatively within HBC for the betterment of both ministries. As I openly discussed succession from my role as Senior Pastor of HBC, all understood I would continue to lead and build Walk in the Word in or outside HBC facilities in the future, but there was never consideration that I would leave HBC and Walk in the Word would remain that could only happen unlawfully.

7) My intellectual property did not belong to HBC or WITW. From the time Kathy and I began Walk in the Word in 1996, I had an Intellectual Property (IP) agreement with HBC. Intellectual property law covers ownership issues related to an employer and their employee’s ideas, inventions, or other creative work. Typically, if there is demand for those ideas, there will be an IP agreement governing who owns the work product, what the employee is being compensated for, and where the employer/employee relationship ends. My original IP agreement derived its precise wording from established radio ministries we researched in 1995. I do not know of a single Christian broadcast ministry where the preacher does not own his sermons.

8) The IP agreements between myself and HBC Elders were clear, frequently reiterated for newcomers, and never in dispute prior to 2019. Regarding my sermons, Harvest paid me to prepare and deliver them; the residual content and audio/video recordings belonged to me. For 22 years WITW paid an annual license fee to utilize my IP. Per the National Religious Broadcasters, of which Walk in the Word was a member, my IP arrangement was not unusual or remotely improper; nor was it secret among leaders of HBC. My IP income was publicly disclosed on IRS 990 forms when independent from HBC, and it did not increase when Walk in the Word came under Harvest January 1, 2011.


All documentation for the above was in HBC leaders’ hands by mid-February 2019.

Yet their communications reveal their conspiring to coerce my submission to their seizures of Walk in the Word and its donor funds. The men named above confiscated and attempted to keep my intellectual property (sermon audios, videos, digital/print materials, etc.). More remarkably, they stated publicly that my pension was fully and legally vested and signed a document committing to the same, while both chastising me behind the scenes for trying to access it and actually working with ECCU to steal it.   Yet, Brian Laird told me at least three times in the fall of 2020 – once in front of the entire board – the exact opposite. These are boldfaced lies, not misunderstandings, and I thank the Lord my attorney wrote to Fidelity to seal my pension or it would be gone too. To say nothing of also holding extensive amounts of personal property; canceling $2,400,000 in annual revenue in February 2019 from monthly Change Partners  without even a thank you; then writing disparagingly to my Walk in the Word mailing list in April – all to force my acceptance of the many millions being seized from the WITW coffers.

On January 31, 2019, Walk in the Word had approximately $2.5 million in its bank accounts and efforts to confiscate those assets had already begun. Three months earlier, I had informed the Executive Elders that I wanted to remove WITW from HBC per the contracts; I had no idea efforts were already underway to eliminate me and keep the cash. Additionally, WITW owned the TBN TV time as its Elder-approved portion of the Aurora Studio sale in 2014, which generated $4 million for HBC.

HBC Treasurer Jeff Smith was reprimanded by the Elders’ Executive Committee (EC) Chairman Steve Huston for trying to prevent my selling the airtime, which I had already stipulated could be divided between HBC and WITW. Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN) was so conflicted about HBC’s pressure to receive the airtime money, they specified in the closing documents that HBC must indemnify them against any legal action from me or WITW in seeking the return of those proceeds. In laymen terms, that means if we filed a lawsuit against TBN for selling WITW TV time to HBC (who had no right to those funds), HBC must cover the cost of TBN’s defense and any award that WITW would win. But HBC appears to have burned through the funds they unlawfully seized, and we wouldn’t do that to our friends at TBN.

Keep in mind none of this would have happened had they simply honored instead of conniving to cancel the April 2019 settlement agreement between me and Harvest, which would have ended it all.

All committed for $6.6 million reasons – and it worked. HBC paid WITW a $250K reimbursement (covering only 25% of legal fees) and a Crystal Lake property they falsely claimed appraised in 2018 for $1.2 million, to match their insurance company’s demand of equivalent contribution toward settlement. In reality, the property is worth maybe half that, and now the ICC panel must rule on yet another HBC overpromise/underdeliver.

Bottom line: HBC Elders took $6.6 million from WITW ($2.5M of which is indisputable) and paid WITW back approximately $850K (when the property sells), while I spent more than $1M just for the return of my IP and WITW’s physical/digital assets. Much of the equipment, which I had been promised was sequestered until an arbitration ruling or settlement, turned out to be in usage on multiple HBC campuses. My pension was finally returned, as was most of our personal property; but regarding WITW’s financial assets, HBC netted more than $5 million

“There is one who scatters yet increases all the more and there is one who withholds but it only results in poverty, the generous man will prosper and he who waters will himself be watered” (Proverbs 11:24-25).


The financial accusations against me – of misspending or misappropriating money – are entirely false and were created as cover for the millions unlawfully seized from Walk in the Word.

“An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule by their own authority; And My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?” (Jeremiah 5:30-31)

One of the more remarkable Laird Elder denials was repeated to me on October 19, 2020. I pressed them about the errors, omissions and slanders in the Wagenmaker report of November 2019, so unnecessary given undeniable EC assertions to the contrary. Laird Elders replied, “we didn’t hire Sally Wagenmaker.” While true – the only action related to Sally Wagenmaker the Laird Elders are not responsible for is her hiring – what they must own are their decisions to follow her damaging recommendations and to pay $300,000 for such a false and easily refutable report. Ron Duitsman (Executive Committee Elder who led my February 12, 2019, firing meeting) stated under oath that the Wagenmaker report was “the worst piece of work product I have seen over my 40 years of leadership in the banking industry, a true hit job,” because he knew the truth, as did the other EC Elders.

The Laird Elders may not have hired Wagenmaker, but they are responsible for what she did. After 16 months of stalling and stonewalling, the night before Sally would be exposed at the arbitration hearing, they finally made a settlement offer. Of course the offer required us to release them personally for their unlawful actions, but we refused to clear Wagenmaker and recently filed in Cook County Court for a legal remedy to her defamation.

Sally Wagenmaker created what HBC congregants were told was “an independent investigation,” yet she never attempted to speak with me, or former CFO Fred Adams, or former Treasurer Joe Martin, or former COO Scott Milholland, or former Senior Administrator Sharon Kostal, or my 26-year Administrator Kathy Elliott, or church auditor Capin Crouse, or any longstanding member of the finance committee. Sally wrote an opening statement for current HBC Treasurer Tim Stoner to read that claimed three times her report from Schechter Dokken Kanter (SDK) was forensic, yet he confessed under oath that he did not know what a forensic audit was (and SDK warned the report was not even finished).

If chronological progression is helpful…

Regarding finances in the Senior Pastors Office:

  • The donor hunting/fishing trips were strategic and extremely successful, raising $8.4 million for HBC ministries, through 13 men from 2015-2018.
  • HBC Elders knew the amount of money raised in hunting/fishing trips presented by bookkeeper Kelly Altieri in the September 19, 2019, Elder meeting. Yet Tim Stoner, current HBC Treasurer, who was present for that meeting still stood up 60 days later and said “Once again, many of these payments may have been well-intended or might’ve been part of a strategy of donor development that in the end raised more funds than were spent, but too often there is insufficient documentation or no documentation at all.” How is feigning uncertainty different than lying?
  • 11 months later (to the day), I finally sat in an Elder meeting with Tim Stoner face to face, and he still refused to own his deceit.
  • Imagine if Tim had told the truth that night: “I am happy to report that the confusion related to Pastor James hunting trips has been resolved. By digging, we discovered that these trips were fundraising trips, the aggregate of which raised, $40 for every $1 spent.”
  • He might have correctly continued … “We also learned by sitting down with Pastor James who despite being fired really wanted to clear this up, and he showed us evidence that the 40 Mighty Men project promised those donors their special gifts would not go to the cost of fund raising, so at times we paid those costs out of WITW’s surplus, or HBF if they were the direct beneficiary. It was all above board and reflective of diligent efforts to financially undergird our mission efforts. I am so sorry you had to believe your Pastor would waste your tithes on these matters as was said last April. That was never the case. If only we had slowed long enough to review the documents Pastor James, which provided understanding and evidence that our hasty conclusions were false. ”
  • Instead, Stoner issued his Wagenmaker preamble: “And it appears the decisions to spend these funds were made unilaterally without proper budget procedures, oversight, or approvals.” But here you can see, for example the much discussed “Blessing Account” was entirely accountable and broadly understood for many years.
  • Stoner also deceived the HBC congregation on November 19, 2019, after Brian Laird in his preamble implied multiple times the report was ‘forensic’. (Forensic audits are very detailed with specific procedures to avoid bias in preparation for a legal proceeding involving fraud.) Later Stoner admitted under oath at his deposition, that he didn’t know what the word forensic means. (SDK themselves said they had done only phase 1 of the audit.)
  • Stoner deceived the congregation again saying that I misspent HBC funds on college tuition for a family member, knowing the spending had nothing to do with me, and that HBC had a tuition reimbursement policy utilized by countless other staff at all levels.
  • Stoner mentioned money for car repair – this was a CFO decision to repair my truck, damaged in my absence by an HBC staff member and fixed for $5000 because the church’s deductible was $25k. But again, not only was the truth omitted, the matter was twisted into a lie and woven into the mischaracterization of me they were exhausting themselves and all credulity to create.
  • Stoner says of WITW and HBC, “The reality of this statement is that these entities were not truly separate,” while knowing Capin Crouse says they’re separate, WITW merger documents say they’re separate, an internal study brought to Elders August 2019, says they’re separate.
  • Stoner says, SDK looked “in depth at the spending in the private accounts.” but SDK says their report is incomplete and asked for it not to be publicized, as they never talked to anyone involved (a basic element in a forensic audit).
  • Stoner says, “the HBC accounting staff members were not privy to either account operations.” So, the accounting staff didn’t know that the CFO, church treasurer, and finance committee were part of the accounting team?
  • Stoner said, “The Walk in the Word reserve account was apparently used by MacDonald for personal clothing, hunting, and vehicles.” To be clear, he was referencing studio clothing (some of which was reimbursed, some were gifts to donors and ministry partners around the world, and some added to my W2  – all funded by WITW surplus not HBC tithes, such as this reimbursement for studio apparel at the end of 2018), fund raising trips, and a car repair for damage caused by an HBC staff member.
  • Stoner continued, “[SDK] paid particular attention to whether there were excess benefit transactions, an IRS legal term, and whether any adjustments may need to be made to employee W2’s as a result of their findings.” Nice job scaring people. A year later, the answer is 0. As in ZERO adjustment to my W-2, which was in my hands before I was terminated. No adjustment of any kind post termination to my W-2. Tons of accusations and innuendos, but in the end – nothing. Except incalculable damage to my family and to the body of Christ.
  • Stoner: “To date, we have spent over $300,000 on legal expenses related to these [financial] reviews.” Finally, some actual misuse of HBC tithe money. But not by James MacDonald; instead, Laird Elders invested in keeping the unlawfully converted WITW funds and attempted to destroy me before the arbitration.

There were no ‘secret’ accounts (see former CFO Fred Adam’s deposition testimony under oath). There were no lack of approvals. And apparently no record kept of offsetting revenue that covered many expenses related to out of town, Elder-approved ministry I did away from HBC. Apparently when a church or other ministry paid for travel or reimbursed us for hotel costs, etc., it was not credited to its expense in church records. Hence the cost but not the off-setting revenue. When I or my office reimbursed the church from my private funds, apparently that was not included in the Wagenmaker report – such as this reimbursement for studio apparel at the end of 2018, that would have otherwise been been taxable.

Rather, the men responsible for OSP financial oversight went silent, most abandoning me from fear of being named in a public gossip riot. They refused to stand up and speak out publicly for unknown reasons about the quality financial oversight they did in fact provide.

The financial controls over my spending were higher than any other budgeted category at HBC. Reviewed directly by HBC’s CFO/COO, and HBC treasurer, OSP expenditures were also available to the finance committee and EC Elders, and specifically reviewed by independent auditors Capin Crouse.

Where Satan really showed up in this debacle was in the decision to destroy WITW and defame me to justify their seizure. That defamation centers around the false financial accusations.

In an effort to believe the best about HBC’s early financial misrepresentations, in March 2019, an extensive document explaining how OSP expenses were managed was sent to HBC and WITW CFOs, where it was apparently ignored (for $6.6 million reasons). 

  • According to CFO Jeff Sharda/COO Roger McCoy, when this detailed explanation of every OSP expenditure was submitted from 2015- 2018, establishing full integrity for OSP spending, Greg Bradshaw instructed Sharda and in-house General Counsel Chris Nudo to ignore her submittal and what she documented.
  • Wagenmaker also disregarded the detailed provided, using terms like “it appears” while actively ignoring evidence to the contrary. She also ignored the Memorandum of Understanding, historic Elder board minutes documenting the Intellectual Property Agreements, a board report to the Laird Elders documenting how much money was raised through donor hunting trips ($8.4 million), etc. Did Sally really not know this?
  • Pejorative terms like “private” or “black box” accounts were chosen to inflame the public and impugn my financial integrity, despite the fact that no financial concerns by any active Elder prior to my firing were ever expressed to me, in three decades of building HBC from the ground up. The accounts called ‘private’ were known to Executive Elders and financial committee members. 
  • The unvetted letters used to campaign for my firing were brimming with false financial information. HBC’s own documents show they knew this by spring 2019, stating things like, ‘We can’t find the Naples resort where James spent $20k’ or, ‘We can’t find anything close to the totals he supposedly spent on his palooza campsite’, etc.
    • The private flight home from Haiti was offered and personally paid for by an Elder, not HBC.
    • The cost of my truck was incorrectly inflated by $30,000+.
    • Taxidermy was the gift given to men who paid for their own hunting and gave millions of dollars to HBC ministries.
    • The cost of the Risen for the Nations tour and who funded it, the description of outside ministry costs, private travel, who paid, who reimbursed – all of it falsely presented in Dallas Jenkins’ letter campaign.
    • HBC leaders knew these and other pieces of financial data to be false, but they hid the truth and kept inflating the “ungodly spending” balloon as their method of destroying congregational support for my leadership.
  • Those Elders and financial Staff tasked with review and accountability for Executive and WITW Reserve accounts may have feared to own their roles publicly, given the hell storm falling on anyone who suggested that the digital mob was not correct. Thus I was left alone in the deafening silence of Elders who assured me over and over again, creating detrimental reliance upon the finance team’s professional oversight [promissory estoppal], then went entirely silent in self protection. (See Ron Duitsman interview for first hand testimony to these realities.)
  • During my tenure, the EC Elders were actually the best HBC Elders. By fall 2019 they personally informed Wagenmaker that many of her accusations and conclusions were false, but she disregarded them and her faulty report is now the subject of a Cook County defamation lawsuit. One of the EC’s primary objections to Wagenmaker was her condemnation of the compensation committee, and the due diligence they demonstrated in setting my compensation. She had their meeting minutes and rationale in her hands but deceptively wrote her report as though no documentation for their decisions existed.
  • Wagenmaker was informed by HBC attorney Chris Nudo and CFO Jeff Sharda that the Vanilla Bean personal checking account and credit card were used exclusively to pay our household bills in a private manner, and had no relationship to HBC. Yet Wagenmaker (at time of arbitration, President of the Christian Legal Society) declared the Vanilla Bean account “secretive” and “raises concerns with respect to specific expenses that may have been paid by HBC and attributable as taxable income to MacDonald, as well as broader concerns about MacDonald’s financial improprieties” – that sentence still takes my breath away with the scope of its lie. Multiple HBC leaders (who were far from friends to me in 2019) told Sally, ‘There is nothing wrong with Vanilla Bean,’ but she published the opposite. That is worse than incorrect, it’s evil. Think of the number of believers who had to battle family members they longed to reach for Christ, raising Wagenmaker’s garbage as factual evidence, when in fact it is fictional.
  • Worst of all is the false air of stewardship… people with no financial acumen attacking my stewardship of HBC. We started with nothing in 1988, and left HBC (per the 2018 audit) with $95 million in net assets. Additionally, 2018 was HBC’s best year ever financially, with nearly $30 million in Closer campaign pledges, and another $20 million yet to come in through 40 Mighty Men pledges.
  • When I was terminated, both campaigns went to zero, a minimum $45 million loss to HBC, not counting the closure of WITW, $10 million annually, or the the budget was cut in half, another $20 million loss to date – as HBC Elders only recently stopped arguing about who paid for a pair of pants.

For the longest time, HBC persisted in publicly arguing about hunting trips that raised 40:1 over what they cost, about spending that was actually reimbursed by another ministry, or reimbursed by us personally… not awakening to the futility of arguing over fractions while they flush millions down the drain that could be impacting lives for Jesus Christ. That is the work of Pharisees, blind guides whom Jesus says “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (Mathew 23:24).

The Final Financial Word

As part of the settlement of the arbitration claims, I agreed at HBC’s request to jointly conduct a final review of their list of questioned expenditures from the Senior Pastor’s office in 2017 and 2018, as per the Wagenmaker report. Finally, the meeting I had been begging for – even asking as the arbitration closed, “Can we do it today?”

On September 24, 2020, I met with HBC CFO Jeff Sharda and COO Roger McCoy for this long-awaited “W-2 meeting.” They bought only $104,000 in expenditures needing resolution – not even close to the $451,000 (April 2019) or the $1.900,000 (November 2019) as Tim Stoner and HBC fallaciously publicized.

The meeting I had sought for so long finally happened – with no tension, no arguments, just facts and overdue reasonableness. After reviewing every questioned expense, HBC’s CFO and COO agreed that each had a proper ministry purpose, be it HBC or WITW (they were less concerned about WITW spending, given the arbitration outcome that it was not their ministry) and/or had been reimbursed at the time it was made. In follow up, we sent this meeting summary statement:

It was agreed that the needed financial explanations had been offered to HBC in spreadsheet form by email dated May 16, 2019, and in multiple attempts by MacDonald to gain a hearing with HBC Elders and leaders throughout 2019. Jeff Sharda was instructed by an unnamed Harvest superior, not to review the offered spreadsheet. Upon review it was agreed that the majority of the items had a clear ministry purpose. A small percentage (approximately 10%) were clerical errors unknown to MacDonald; however, unreimbursed amounts to the MacDonald’s during that same period exceeded the total of the ~10%, and he agreed to forgo reimbursements potentially due him in order to bring the entire matter to closure. Both McCoy and Sharda expressed regret that MacDonald was publicly maligned for a large number of financial transactions with a clear ministry purpose, be they fundraising or a small number of approved gifts to publicly honor faithful servants of Christ. Dr. MacDonald’s financial leadership at HBC was conducted with integrity and at great advantage to all HBC ministries during his tenure.”

I was in the elder meeting on October 19, 2020, when the W2 meeting result was communicated to the Laird Elders, who responded with silence – no apology, no remorse. So I am left carrying the stigma of Tim Stoner (on behalf of HBC and Sally Wagenmaker) telling the church and the world that $1.9 million was paid to me and my family, or to others for my benefit. But now that slander has finally been refuted, and the outcome, with no post-termination adjustments made to my W2, accepted by HBC representatives in the legally prescribed resolution.

Laird Elders had access to the financial records that would have resolved the issues. They had the explanations of how / why / who / what for from me, from Sharon Kostal, from Capin Crouse, from Fred Adams and Trei Tatum – and chose to disregard it all. They could have utilized those facts, could have dug a little deeper or permitted the meetings I continually sought, but they did not. Which makes this truth unavoidable: The vicious and false financial accusations were not misunderstandings; they were deceptions that Greg Bradshaw, Jeff Smith, Carl Barkow, Steve Stewart, Brian Laird, Tim Stoner, and Jeff Sharda created or allowed, to provide cover for the $6.6 million of Walk in the Word assets they unlawfully converted. Instead of trusting God to provide for the needs of HBC, they villainized me to justify their seizures.

Had those funds not been under seizure prior to my firing in February 2019, I would have resigned, and none of this fallout would have happened. 

Had they not seen, had they not heard, how faithfully God provided for HBC over three decades?

Had they not been taught that any effort to take into their own hands the work of the Lord would surely lead to ruin for them and for those believers they were blessed to care for?