WORLD Publishes Long Awaited Story About Harvest Bible Chapel; Church Silent on Inclusion of Wives in Suit

On Thursday, WORLD published the long anticipated article on Harvest Bible Chapel. Written by Julie Roys, the article gives a summary of various concerns expressed by former members and observers of the Illinois megachurch. Roys is also the defendant in a defamation suit brought by HBC.

In an earlier post about the lawsuit I wrote, “The legal action appeared to be designed to frighten the bloggers and intimidate the magazine into pulling the plug on the article.”

In an email, HBC Associate Communications Director Sherri Smith objected to my characterization of the suit saying, “We have said in multiple communications why we filed this lawsuit. To editorialize, disguising it as reporting, is disingenuous at best.”

Why Sue the Wives?

I also asked Ms. Smith why HBC included the wives of the bloggers as defendants in the suit. She replied, “Regarding defendants wives, we are not at liberty to discuss anything related to the lawsuit. The position of our Elders is published on our website and when they consider a matter worthy of response, they post a response there.”

I searched for a mention of the wives of the defendants and couldn’t find anything on the church website. An elder update in October refers to “three defendants.”

In a specially called meeting on September 29, the Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel carefully considered our biblical options related to three individuals, who have long been outside of our church. Our goal was to end their prolonged and divisive effort to undermine the Elder governance of our church and to discredit our primary leaders. We have chosen to accomplish that by filing a civil suit in Cook County.

With the wives of the two bloggers involved, there are five defendants, not just three.

Response to the WORLD Article

HBC has responded to the WORLD article. Actually, they responded once and then quickly altered at least the headline on their website (see below).

The combative tone continues in the response:

It is a sad day when once-credible Christian publications consider the opinions of a few disgruntled former members, already rehashed ad nauseam, of greater weight than the carefully expressed viewpoint of a plurality of local church Elders.

Harvest Bible Chapel has owned its mistakes and endured to become a happier and healthier church, whose members recently pledged — financially, in their walk/work for Christ, and in their promise to share Christ with others — at unprecedented levels. The anticipated attack that comes with God’s kingdom moving forward has come, sadly, not from those in the world but from other professing Christians.

Christianity Today published an article covering the story yesterday.

I am looking into several other aspects of HBC’s ministry and hope to write more next week based on communications I have had with the church.

 

 

 

National Prayer Breakfast Russian Spy Maria Butina Admits Guilt

Surrounding the 2016 election, the Russian government was quite busy in the U.S. One component of their efforts was an effort to infiltrate the Republican party via the National Rifle Association. Alex Torshin and Maria Butina were point people on that effort. Today, the plea agreement with Butina was released by the Department of Justice. Butina has been in custody since her arrest in July.

My interest in Butina’s arrest was due to a minor aspect of the story. Butina also infiltrated the Fellowship Foundation and the National Prayer Breakfast. You can read my posts on Butina’s involvement in the NPB via the links at the end of the post.

The one mention of the NPB in the plea agreement is below:

The NPB is a perfect place to meet people of political influence. Making friends at the NPB is a first step toward making deals of all sorts. Butina hoped to make many friends for her bosses in Russia.

Although Fellowship leader Doug Burleigh joked about “Russian collusion,” it is now clear that the Russians were using the NPB for their aims. After the Butina plea agreement, there shouldn’t be anymore scoffing about the seriousness of the Russia investigation.

The NRA and Alleged Russian Operative Maria Butina

The Fellowship Foundation’s Doug Burleigh Jokes About Russian Collusion with Jesus

National Prayer Breakfast Organizer Doug Burleigh Predicted Trump and Putin Would Become Friends

 

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Trump’s Dirty Deeds: Is This an Off-Ramp for Evangelicals?

Yesterday President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen was sentenced to 3 years in prison for several crimes, including campaign finance violations. In his remarks prior to receiving his sentence, Cohen said he was sorry he helped cover up Donald Trump’s “dirty deeds.”

According to Cohen, Trump directed him to make hush money payments to two women for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential campaign. If Cohen (and Dept. of Justice prosecutors) are right, Donald Trump deceived the American people when he told reporters that he didn’t know about the hush money payments. Putting aside the intricacies of campaign finance laws, the evidence is mounting that Trump told the nation a story he knew wasn’t true.

Evangelicals in 1998 and Evangelicals Now

I am old enough to remember when presidential lying about personal moral behavior set off spasms of indignation among evangelicals. In 1998, some of them put pen to paper with an admonishment and solemn call for integrity.* They said the Clinton presidency was in “crisis.” Now, many evangelicals think we are in the best of times. My, how times have changed.

The entire statement is here. Let me bring out a couple of segments which could be written about the current crisis, if only it was seen as one.

We are aware that certain moral qualities are central to the survival of our political system, among which are truthfulness, integrity, respect for the law, respect for the dignity of others, adherence to the constitutional process, and a willingness to avoid the abuse of power. We reject the premise that violations of these ethical standards should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy. Elected leaders are accountable to the Constitution and to the people who elected them. By his own admission the President has departed from ethical standards by abusing his presidential office, by his ill use of women, and by his knowing manipulation of truth for indefensible ends. We are particularly troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse with the aim of avoiding responsibility for one’s actions.

Remember this was written by evangelicals in 1998. Now we hear that a good economy and Supreme Court justices trump violations of ethical standards. Evangelicals of 1998 were “troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse.” Now they join in the debasing.

It appears clear to me that evangelical leaders no longer believe “the moral character of a people is more important than the tenure of a particular politician or the protection of a particular political agenda.”

Neither our students nor we demand perfection. Many of us believe that extreme dangers sometimes require a political leader to engage in morally problematic actions. But we maintain that in general there is a reasonable threshold of behavior beneath which our public leaders should not fall, because the moral character of a people is more important than the tenure of a particular politician or the protection of a particular political agenda. Political and religious history indicate that violations and misunderstandings of such moral issues may have grave consequences. The widespread desire to “get this behind us” does not take seriously enough the nature of transgressions and their social effects.

This statement finds new relevance in the presidency of Donald Trump for reasons which go far beyond hush money payoffs to women. It is absolutely stunning what is now acceptable to evangelical leaders. Current evangelical leaders clearly have flipped this statement. It appears to me that they believe that their political agenda is more important than the “moral character of a people.”

At least that is how it has seemed up to now. I have to wonder: Could the Michael Cohen sentencing and surrounding events be the off-ramp for evangelical leaders? It was also revealed yesterday that the National Enquirer entered into a cooperation agreement with prosecutors regarding the hush money to one of the two women. The effect is that they acknowledged the money was paid to influence the campaign which contradicts Trump’s story. In other words, the magazine sided with Cohen’s version of events. Will evangelicals stick with Trump if it becomes crystal clear to them that he directed felonious violations of the law in contrast to his claims?

 

*(Declaration concerning religion, ethics, and the crisis in the Clinton presidency. The following declaration can be found at moral-crisis.org, November 16, 1998. To be released on 13 November 1998.)

Dominionism and the Actual Deep State

At one time, I wrote a lot about dominionism and the teaching that Christians were called to take over seven mountains of culture: government, education, entertainment, business, religion, family, and media (category:Dominionism). Christians who believe that often also believe America was founded as a Christian nation. Empirically the belief that America is a Christian nation has been associated with likelihood to vote for and support Donald Trump.

It is important to understand that Christians who believe America’s laws should reflect a conservative reading of the Bible don’t need everybody in power to personally be a Christian. They need a critical mass of people in a “mountain” of culture to be Christian in order to influence policy. For instance in government, as long as Trump has Christians around him influencing him to make policy they like, they don’t care that much what he does or says. According to a seven mountain resource, “The definition of reality is controlled by those that control cultural output.”

With this background in mind, please read this article by Jack Jenkins at Religion News Service. Jenkins watched the live feed of an event featuring Jon Hamill of Lamplighters Ministry.  His opening description is ominous:

But last Friday afternoon (Dec. 7), one of the hotel’s many glimmering ballrooms was transformed into a sanctuary, where dozens of worshippers held their hands aloft and spoke in tongues as Jon Hamill, co-founder of Washington, D.C.-based Lamplighter Ministries, led the group in prayer.

Hamill — whom supporters describe as a prophet — closed his eyes tightly and shouted above the chattering: “In Jesus’ name, we declare the Deep State will not prevail!”

Jenkins then described how participants see their church and the government as being intertwined.

Yet conference speakers repeatedly cast Trump administration officials as agents of God. And they urged the gathering of “intercessors” — believers who offer invocations on behalf of others — to aid the White House through prayer. Doing so, they argued, would help bring about a cosmic, spiritual “turnaround” for the nation.

According to the event organizers, there are Christians in the government who want to bring about their vision.

“We have governmental leaders throughout the Trump administration who love Jesus with all of their heart, and they are giving their all for this nation and for God’s dream for this nation,” Hamill said.

While loving Jesus is fine, attempting to enact anyone’s religious dream as a part of government service is a problem.

What is the Actual Deep State?

Hamill and dominionists describe their intentions to control the mountain of government.  For dominionists, it is a problem when others want to do the same thing, but it isn’t a problem when they do it.

Hamill worries about a shadowy deep state working to resist Trump. I am more concerned about dominionists who put their seven mountains teaching over the Constitution. The only real deep state conspiracy that I have seen evidence for is dominionism.

 

Website for Gospel for Asia Class Action Lawsuit Now Active

Donors who contributed to Gospel for Asia between January 1, 2009 and September 10, 2018 are considered members of a class in a pending lawsuit against GFA. Now there is a website which provides background and instructions for member of the class. From the site: GFACLASSACTION.US

There is a pending legal matter in a class action lawsuit against Gospel for Asia, Inc., Gospel for Asia-International, K.P. Yohannan, Gisela Punnose, Daniel Punnose, David Carroll, and Pat Emerick (“GFA”), who are the Defendants. The class action lawsuit involves whether GFA misdirected funds designated for specific charitable projects the donors selected.

The lawsuit is still pending. A judge has not made a ruling in this matter. There are no benefits currently available to Class members and there is no guarantee there will be benefits available to Class Members.  This notice is to inform you of your rights.

You are included in the Class if you live in the United States and donated money to GFA between January 1, 2009 and September 10, 2018.

Those who want to be excluded from the suit must write to the class administrator directly. Otherwise, donors in the class will be represented in the suit by the Stanley Law Group, Basset Law Firm, and Tom Mills. No charge will be assigned for their representation. Exclusion from the suit allows a donor to sue separately from this suit but there will be no benefit to an excluded party if the suit is successful.

Current donors should consider the information contained on this website.

Harvest Bible Chapel Treats Believers as Non-Believers; ECFA to Review Finances

Image: James MacDonald, pastor Harvest Bible Chapel

Recently, Harvest Bible Chapel sued bloggers  and a journalist who reported about the church. Since then various questions have been raised about why a church would sue fellow believers. In a statement dated yesterday but apparently uploaded today, the church addressed the lawsuit and their problem with journalist Julie Roys.

Q. “Why did we proceed with the lawsuit now, given that the attack bloggers had not published since December 2017?”

A. As of June 2017, the attack bloggers had not published since January of 2014 due to a period of relative peace in our church. Then, as we were concluding a difficult process of separation from leading HBF and all the churches we had planted, the attack bloggers began to publish in earnest doing great damage through outright falsehoods. This, after more than four years of silence and with significant detrimental impact upon treasured relationships in our own church and among our church plants. So after sixteen months of reflection and consultation among Christian leaders outside our church family, we decided to move past self-examination and the many changes we had made and take action to protect our church family. We agreed that the bloggers refusal to come under Matthew 18’s
prescription for conflict resolution among believers, freed us to “treat them as a non-believer” (Matthew 18:17) and seek the legal protection afforded us in the civil authorities “ordained by God for the punishment of wrongdoers” (Romans 13:1-6).

In the statement, HBC’s leaders makes it clear how they feel about journalist Julie Roys.

The issue with Julie Roys is her lack of objectivity and how she came to focus on Harvest Bible Chapel, a church she has never participated in. Our awareness of her attempts to stir up gossip, sow discord, inflame old animosities, and confront sensitive matters with specific church families in order to discredit the church led us to include her in the lawsuit.

In some circles, what HBC describes might be called reporting and fact finding but I guess we will have to wait for Roys’ article in WORLD to find out.

 

Image: By Esther 5000 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48825134

More Turnover at Harvest Bible Chapel?

Image: James MacDonald

UPDATE: As I reported yesterday, Chief Operating Officer of Harvest Bible Chapel Scott Milholland has resigned. His resignation letter was posted earlier today on the HBC website.

Illinois multisite megachurch Harvest Bible Chapel and pastor James MacDonald have been in the public eye over a defamation lawsuit filed against bloggers and their wives (see also this article from RNS for which I was interviewed). The suit also targets journalist Julie Roys who is about to publish an article in World on HBC. The legal action appeared to be designed to frighten the bloggers and intimidate World magazine into pulling the plug on the article.

The past year has been tumultuous for the church with turnover in various aspects of the gigantic religious business. In June 2017, MacDonald stepped down from the church planting arm of Harvest Bible Chapel (now called Vertical Church). Then at the end of 2017, three more executive resignations were announced.

Most recently, according to multiple sources, Scott Milholland has resigned. Milholland was the Senior Executive Pastor at HBC. Calls to the communications staff of the church were not returned.

 

Image: By Esther 5000 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48825134

White Evangelicals Stand with Trump

Are evangelicals moving away from Trump?

Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins wrote yesterday that any suggestion evangelicals are deserting Trump is wrong. He cited research from the Pew Foundation as a support.

Contrary to media reports, Perkins said white evangelicals, young and old, are sticking with Trump and also sticking with their evangelical identification. He took his information directly from a Christian Post article which reported on a speech given by Pew Foundation’s  Alan Cooperman. One fact that Perkins didn’t report is that evangelical voters are becoming more accepting of gays and same-sex marriage, even as they are becoming more pro-life and supportive of the Republican party. This is a trend I have written about previously.

Regarding Trump, white evangelicals gave him a 71% approval rating. For Perkins, this is a source of happiness; for me, it is a discouraging fact. According to Cooperman, those who attend church frequently are more likely than infrequent attenders to support him.

Something that Perkins doesn’t mention that concerns me is the wide gap between white and black evangelicals. Just 11% of black millennial Protestants identify as Republican whereas 77% of white millennial evangelicals do. While I don’t know what this means, the difference is stunning. On the big political issues of the day, religious similarity isn’t a unifying force. It is a big problem for me that the leader of a group purporting to research the Christian family doesn’t report this as a problem for the church.

This difference jumps out at me more than anything else in this report about Cooperman’s presentation. In general, blacks and whites see many issues differently in the culture. White evangelicals want to believe that the gospel unifies. Those opposed to social justice initiatives claim the gospel is enough to unify. However, in practice, that doesn’t seem to be working out. Instead of crowing about political victories, I think white evangelical leaders should be grieving and listening to our minority brothers and sisters.

 

Did Your Tax Dollars Pay for This David Barton Conference?

Look at this tweet.

Periodically, David Barton and his Wallbuilders organization bring together state and federal legislators for briefings and pep talks about how to promote the Christian nationalist legislative agenda. This is of course is how grassroots politics works and he has every right to do it. He can tell them aliens founded the nation if he wants to.

Although I have never heard him say anything about aliens, he does teach things which are troubling. For instance, he teaches that American judges should rule according to God’s law.  You hear echos of this in Trump’s recent appointment to the post of Acting Attorney General. When running for Senate, then candidate Mathew Whitaker said he believed judges needed to have a biblical view of justice (no, a Constitutional view is the standard). Did he take a class with Barton? I don’t know. But I do know that Barton’s teachings have influenced Christian nationalism for decades. Despite a disgraced book pulled by his Christian publisher, a fake PhD claim, and multiple debunkings, he continues to have tremendous influence among those who are now in positions of great power.

Although I don’t know what he said to the legislators about immigration and the states, he has talked about this before on his Wallbuilders Live show (which is taped). This claim is a doozy because he has to butcher Thomas Jefferson’s words to make both healthcare and immigration state functions. I have an entire post on this which you can read here.

Did your legislator attend this meeting? If so, did your tax dollars pay for it? Might be worth checking into.

 

 

 

Over Two Years Ago, David Barton Claimed to Have an Earned Doctorate

David Barton with Eric Metaxas

I am slipping. I missed the second year anniversary of David Barton announcing to the world he had an earned doctorate and the second year anniversary of the day he removed any evidence from the Internet that he ever claimed he had an earned doctorate.

On September 7 2016, I viewed a video (posted on both his Facebook and You Tube accounts) of Barton claiming he had an earned doctorate he chose not to talk about. Then after I figured out that the degree was from a school that meets the federal definition of a diploma mill and published those findings the next day, he removed the video from his accounts.

The following comes from a post marking the one year anniversary of the announcement.

In the video, Barton chastises progressives for questioning his claim to have an earned doctorate. He said he has an earned doctorate but that he has chosen not to talk about it. However, the next day Barton chose to take the video off of both websites and chose not to talk about the reasons why.
Barton’s haughty claim to have an earned doctorate gave way to silence after it was revealed that the degree came from Life Christian University, a

Life Christian University diploma reflection
Life Christian University diploma reflection

diploma mill. According to the president of Life Christian University, Douglas Wingate, Barton didn’t attend the school but was given credit for his historical writings. Even though one cannot meaningfully call a degree earned when you don’t take any classes, that is exactly what LCU does with famous preachers and religious leaders.

The state of Missouri advised fellow LCU degree recipient Joyce Meyer that her claim of an earned PhD from the school was against state law. Meyer’s lawyer responded that Meyer had already decided that describing the LCU PhD as earned was false. Meyer now describes her LCU degree as honorary. Although that description is legal in Missouri, LCU is not accredited by a Department of Education recognized accrediting body and the status as a university is unusual since the school is registered with the IRS as a church.

Barton called his degree earned but sarcastically dismissed the honest reporting of what he called progressives. Barton has never explained or apologized for his demeaning and misleading statements. Yet, he still claims to be “America’s premier historian.” Would “America’s premier historian” try to pass off what can only be called an honorary degree as an earned one?

As of now, America’s premier historian has chosen not to talk about it.

And over two years later, he’s still not talking.