Statement by James MacDonald, part 2

This is the second of three installments (or more, if warranted in the future), primarily written to the Harvest Bible Chapel congregation I had the joy of leading through 2018.


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

Covering 5 topics:

Part 1 includes points 1-2 – read it here. 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.


THREE:

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.


DON’T MISS A SINGLE LINK IN THE PARAGRAPH BELOW.

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).


FOUR:

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:

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). 

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? 

Coming soon in FIVE… 

Speaking up for the innocent, and what God has been teaching me.