“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:19)
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.
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.
“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)
“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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 our next post, I will 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… coming soon.