Elders Announce Changes Coming to Harvest Bible Chapel; Executive Committee to Resign (Video)

Tonight Executive Board member Bill Sperling announced changes coming to Harvest Bible Chapel.

Sperling discussed the overall charges from all sources against James MacDonald. It all came to a head for the group last Tuesday night. Inappropriate language, anger and other conduct he didn’t name lead to the removal.

Sperling said the elders failed to act quickly enough. The Executive Committee therefore will resign and the structure of the elder board will change by downsizing.

There will be no new campus in Hinsdale.

The church will set up a group called HBC 2020 to evaluate the structure and organization of the church. The group will be led by Rick Cordray (?).

I wonder who the outside professionals are and why they were not identified.

What Now for Harvest Bible Chapel and James MacDonald?

Here are some issues I have been looking into.

James MacDonald appears to be on track to launch Walk in the Word as a digital program on March 1. An informed source told me that the plan remains intact. Given the fast-paced nature of recent changes, anything can happen but there doesn’t appear to be any movement there.

According to a source, this weekend’s Wake Up Youth Conference is still limping along but without the participation of as many as 30 churches. These preregistered groups pulled out after Mancow Muller’s bombshell revelations on his radio show.

According to an eyewitness at HBC-Elgin, the elders aren’t responding well to being questioned.

Many are wondering what will happen to the Rabbi Trust established for retiring or disabled pastors at HBC. The larger question relates to a severance for MacDonald. HBC is not legally obligated to disclose this information but a transparent organization would do it.

When Mars Hill dissolved, these details remain secret. Only a few people (who never talked) know the arrangements of Mark Driscoll’s severance. One might argue that his privacy should be protected. Donors might argue that those gifts were never intended to be a golden parachute for a disqualified pastor.

 

Harvest Bible Chapel Removes James MacDonald as Elder and Pastor

This morning, Harvest Bible Chapel announced the ouster of Pastor James MacDonald due to “conduct that the Elders believe is contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church.” This is one of the reasons given in the bylaws for removal of the lead pastor.

Dear Harvest Bible Chapel Family:

It is with great sadness that we as the Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel wish to convey to you a very recent development that has caused us to take immediate action regarding our Senior Pastor, Dr. James MacDonald.

Following a lengthy season of review, reflection, and prayerful discussion, the Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel had determined that Pastor MacDonald should be removed from his role of Senior Pastor. That timeline accelerated, when on Tuesday morning highly inappropriate recorded comments made by Pastor MacDonald were given to media and reported. Given that and other conduct under consideration, in accordance with the procedures in our Bylaws, Pastor MacDonald was removed as Senior Pastor and as an Elder of the church for engaging in conduct that the Elders believe is contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church. His employment has been terminated from Harvest Bible Chapel, effective today, February 12, 2019. This decision was made with heavy hearts and much time spent in earnest prayer, followed by input from various trusted outside advisors.

Our Elders and Staff are committed to fulfilling our fiduciary duty as the leadership of this congregation, knowing that at times the outcome may be misunderstood or emotionally painful. A more detailed communication regarding next steps for our church will take place in our weekend services.

We sincerely thank you for your prayers, your support, and your patience as we work together to restore a trust in leadership, a humility to surrender to biblical authority, and a firm resolve to move forward as a church family. Please continue to uphold our church, the Elder Board, staff, and the MacDonald family in prayer at this time.

– The Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel

Yesterday, Chicagoland radio personality Mancow Muller played audio of who he alleged was James MacDonald making critical and threatening remarks toward his critics. In response, sources have informed me that a weekend youth conference at Harvest has been called off due to cancellations of participating churches. Even if the youth conference is still on, the audio most likely put pressure on the elders to act.

Are the Elders Next?

There are many questions which remain for the HBC elders. Many of the decisions associated with MacDonald were made with the awareness and apparent support of the elder board. It is unclear how many of them heard the unsavory comments (e.g., threatening to place child porn on a critics computer) and did nothing about it. While the focus of public scrutiny has been MacDonald, the attention now will turn to the elders of HBC. In a similar situation at Willow Creek, the entire leadership team resigned in a bid to return trust of the people to the leaders. Will HBC elders follow suit?

Mancow Muller: James MacDonald is Out at Harvest Bible Chapel (UPDATED)

Updates at the end of the post…

For several days, sources have told me that an announcement would be made today or tomorrow from Harvest Bible Chapel that James MacDonald was leaving Harvest Bible Chapel. I have been unable to confirm them but yesterday radio personality and former (?) friend of MacDonald broadcast his contention that MacDonald was out. The transcript of the announcement is at The Elephant’s Debt and was the subject of tweets from Muller. Here is a portion:

And this weekend, they will announce: James MacDonald is no longer a part of Harvest Bible Chapel.  That is what my sources are telling me.  There are many locations including the brilliant, beautiful cathedral in Chicago.  And this will be the biggest story in religious news on earth today and you’re hearing it here first.  I take no joy in this, but I really found him to be just a conman.  Would have been a great car salesman.  Would have been a great radio salesman.  I would’ve liked to offer him a job selling the Mancow show here.  My sources tell me he was fired, his assistant Rick will soon be gone and also the boys who I like a great deal, Luke and especially Landon.  Again, I take no joy in this, but they also will be gone shortly.  Again, I take no joy in this.

If this claim turns out to be accurate, it will mark the end of a stormy chapter in HBC’s history. Since 2013, HBC has been in and out of the center of public controversy. Most recently, the focus of attention has been on a defamation lawsuit brought by MacDonald and the church against two bloggers, their wives and journalist Julie Roys. The suit was abruptly dropped by the church when a judge refused to stay public revelation of information gained during the discovery process. Ultimately Roys’ investigative reporting and the lawsuit ignited withering public scrutiny.

I will provide updates here as I get them including a response to my email to HBC.

In hindsight, the most recent elder update (2/2/19) may have been signaling changes to come.

UPDATE | Shared in weekend services by Campus Pastors February 2-3, 2019

As shared with you two weekends ago, the Elders and staff are continuing to get low before the Lord. We have been working diligently to position our church in strength and health during this difficult season. To that end, the Elder Board has commissioned a team that has already begun to help us during this time.

The purpose of this team is to study and address critical areas of relationships and church functions that we know need to be addressed. It will consist of current Elders, staff, church members, and multiple outside professionals. As the plan continues to take shape, here are a few first priorities:

  1. Repentance – As the elders and leaders identify areas of sin, the first priority is repentance.
  2. Recovery – Ensure that the ministries of Harvest Bible Chapel are operating effectively in light of recent leadership transitions. Assign responsibility to existing Executive Leadership Team/staff and engage interim outside professional leadership where needed. Communicate effectively regarding our plan moving forward to increase confidence within our congregation.
  3. Review – Conduct a full review of our operating history to identify areas where we need to own our mistakes and areas that require change for a stronger way forward.
  4. Reconciliation – Initiate the peacemaking process under the direction of a third party, to pursue healing and reconciliation in all damaged relationships. The team will also seek to learn from all parties involved in an effort to help the ongoing efforts.
  5. Renewal – Recommend a leadership and operating structure that will position the church for future success in meeting the needs of the body.

Currently, our Elders are meeting multiple times per month. We will share more specifics on the work of this team as it unfolds in the weeks ahead, as well as other important areas the Elders and staff are working on.

Please continue to lift up the MacDonald family in prayer and also our pastors and Elders. We covet your prayers for wisdom and discernment as we seek the Lord together during this important time in our church.

UPDATE:

Mancow Muller may have a different source of information today. He now suggests MacDonald may be soliciting donations for HBC.

UPDATE 2:

An informed source tells me that elders at HBC are meeting today. Currently, there is uncertainty about the direction of HBC with some elders advocating for MacDonald’s removal and others wanting to keep him in place.

Has the National Prayer Breakfast Become a Partisan Event?

Often titles with questions are ways of saying something without committing to it. In this case, I really don’t know the answer to the question.

Today is the annual National Prayer Breakfast, an event facilitated by the Fellowship Foundation but one with the feeling of government sponsorship due to the involvement of numerous Representatives and Senators as well as every president since Eisenhower. Trump will speak today.

Of late, TYT Network’s (The Young Turks) Jonathan Larsen has been doing extensive reporting on the operations of the Fellowship Foundation. In a story out Tuesday, Larsen sited a 2018 blog post in which I noted that Fellowship volunteer leader Doug Burleigh seemed unusually partisan toward Donald Trump.

Larsen reports evidence that those now leading the Fellowship Foundation fund Republican political causes and are strongly in Trump’s court. If this becomes a wide spread perception around the world and in Washington, I think the Fellowship’s influence will decline. Being perceived as non-partisan was a value of the late Doug Coe and accounted for the success of Coe in attracting an impressive array of political figures from both parties to their list of supporters.

In a previous article, Larsen also reported that the Fellowship implemented new rules designed to make clear the Fellowship’s opposition to use of the NPB for influence peddling. For those interested in the NPB and the work of the Fellowship, I recommend that article and a review of those new rules which the Fellowship supplied to Larsen in full.

 

Did John MacArthur Visit the Lorraine Motel in the Wake of the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.?

On several occasions, Rev. MacArthur has claimed he visited the crime scene where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead on April 4, 1968. This issue has taken on new urgency with the publication of an investigative report in NOQ Reports written by Rogers.

Over several decades, MacArthur has described hearing about the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. In essence, he has said he was in the Jackson, MS NAACP office of Charles Evers, brother of civil rights martyr Medgar Evers when a man entered the office and said King had been shot. At that point, several of the men including John Perkins and MacArthur traveled to Memphis to see the crime scene. MacArthur claims the scene wasn’t monitored and the men were able to inspect the King’s blood stains at the Lorraine Motel and examine the bathroom from where James Earl Ray fired the fatal shots.

In Rogers article, Charles Evers is quoted saying he was in his car when he received word of the shooting. In the first edition of a book where he gives an account of the event, he says he heard of the shooting on the radio. In subsequent accounts, he said he got a call on his car phone. In any case, he was not in his office in Jackson.

However, I have found evidence that supports MacArthur’s contention that he was with Perkins. In John Perkins’ 1993 book, Beyond Charity, Perkins wrote the following:

While this passage doesn’t place MacArthur and Perkins in Evers’ office (and a later account from Perkins doesn’t mention Evers), it does place them together. This information was not in Rogers’ article.

A more important issue to me is whether or not Perkins and MacArthur went to Memphis that night (or at any time) and examined the crime scene. MacArthur has repeatedly said he did in the wake of the shooting even saying the security was lax which allowed them to go to the place where King was killed.

This seems unlikely since a curfew had been imposed and reportedly security was tight at the Lorraine Motel according to available police records. The Rogers’ article did an admirable job of bringing this information together.

I have emailed and messaged John Perkins via social media to ask him about his recollections of this night. He has yet to answer. In 2018, he told an interviewer that he was informed via the radio and community members after preaching. There was no mention of MacArthur, Evers or the NAACP office. I have been unable to find any mention in any of his books of a trip to the Lorraine Motel that night.

According to John Perkins, John MacArthur was in MS with him when MLK, Jr. was killed. I also believe that Evers was in his car when he heard about the death of King. I can understand how memory can reconstruct certain elements of an event. However, the trip to Memphis is another matter.

I would really like to hear from John Perkins about what happened after he heard the news. The logistics of that night and distance between Jackson and Memphis make it seem improbable that MacArthur’s detailed accounts are accurate as described. I can’t judge the situation beyond that and am certainly not willing to say anything more with certainty without hearing from Perkins.

(Information above without links is derived from Rogers’ article. Consult that article for more on the police reports surrounding the aftermath of the King shooting.)

 

Best Christian Workplace Institute Includes Harvest Bible Chapel on Best Places to Work List

I have a new entry for “best actual headline that could be a Babylon Bee headline.” My last post on Mark Driscoll and this one are in hot competition for winner in that category.

Yes, something called the Best Christian Workplace Institute has certified Harvest Bible Chapel as the newest best Christian place to work.

Was it the on again-off again lawsuit? Was it the regular turnover of staff? The tell-all articles in the newspapers by former volunteers and members? Was it the peacemaking process which began with the abrupt firing of a ministry “partner?” Was it the need for a peacemaking process at all?

Generally, BCW Institute doesn’t get responses to tweets — except this one. So far, 32 responses have been left for BCW asking how a church with such public difficulties can be rated as a great place to work. I sent BCW president Al Lopus an email and a couple of tweets asking questions about how churches can earn the rating. No answers as yet.

These ratings are often used by organizations to prop up their image. Gateway Church was rated highly the year they laid off 30% of their staff. Insiders tell me that the staff have to fill out the forms and are monitored. In other words, it would be quite possible for an organization to cook the books. Perhaps, Mr. Lopus can enlighten us.

Oh, maybe this is the reason why HBC is such a great place to work — free therapy.

Seriously, don’t do this. This isn’t how exposure therapy works. It may have been staged, I don’t know but if not, this isn’t a safe way to work.

A commenter pointed out that the church has already added the seal of approval.

Mark Driscoll’s Church to Host Church Governance Seminar

Yes, that Mark Driscoll.

In the comments, feel free to suggest other workshops which should follow that one. James MacDonald on transparent, controversy-free church leadership should get you started.

Here’s what you will learn on Feb. 28 in Scottsdale, AZ:

HOSTED BY PASTOR MARK DRISCOLL, THE TRINITY CHURCH

SESSIONS TOPICS INCLUDE

How the Church and pastors’ families both suffer under bad governance
A survey of Church governmental models
The biblical standard of singular headship and plural leadership
Theocratic government: a “kingdom-down” not “pew-up” unity focused model
How to embrace apostolic influence
How to implement a God-centered theocratic Church government

They aren’t hiding it. Megachurches in the Driscoll and Gateway image are little theocracies and kingdoms. They are definitely not “pew-up.” There is a lot of confusion about who the gods are.

The description of need for the workshop is priceless:

In an age of multi-site church planting, bad press for Bible-teaching churches, negative social media, lawsuits, disgruntled former leaders, and board conflicts, being a pastor is perhaps more complicated than ever. And too many times, church health is on the backburner, until a crisis happens.

It is so complicated in this age where everybody is wrong but the pastor. If only there was a right form of church government which could rescue a pastor from these disgruntled people and negative outsiders.

 

Friend of James MacDonald Calls for Close of Cult of Personality

Et tu Mancow?

James MacDonald somewhere might be saying something like that after Mancow Muller’s open letter to him was published this morning in the Chicago Daily Herald. Muller attends Harvest Bible Chapel and is a radio personality in the Chicago area. He says he loves MacDonald but also calls him to change his ways. He ends his letter with this:

For a great many, it’s time for the cult of personality of James MacDonald at Harvest chapter to close and the actual Bible to be opened again.

Muller’s letter is a summary of the public allegations hurled at MacDonald and HBC over the past several years. We learn in it that Muller suggested an attorney for the now dropped defamation suit against a journalist, two bloggers and the bloggers’ wives. In it, Muller claimed that MacDonald asked Muller for a $3-million donation to HBC. According to Muller, MacDonald asked Muller to sell his memorabilia and give the proceeds to the church. In response, Muller asked MacDonald to sell his motorcycle. MacDonald refused.

Muller claims the church has not been honest in messages delivered to the public and that MacDonald has not been truthful about his home.  He also said the Naples sabbatical has been planned as a vacation and is not being described adequately to the public. He says the church is cultlike in trying to keep members from reading about the church from online sources.

Muller doesn’t hold back when describing Harvest elders. He refers to them as a “caldron of yes men” and a “marionette quartet” who have “lost their way.”

Muller’s advice to HBC is drastic:

Pastor James should come home and face his church family and stop this game of charades. The so-called “elders” must all be fired. An outside truly independent group, not picked by the MacDonald clan, must be brought in.

If this is true…

Those interested in HBC should read the entire letter.  I maintain that many people who attend a Harvest church are so far removed that they might not realize any of this is happening. However, if what Muller (and many critics) says is true, donors are enabling a dysfunctional organization. If history (e.g. Mars Hill Church) is a guide, many will quietly do exactly what Muller recommends.

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

Gospel for Asia Drops Case Against Liability Insurance Company

In August 2018, I reported that Gospel for Asia sued Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company over unpaid attorney’s fees. GFA asserted that their legal costs should have been fully covered by Philadelphia. The insurance company countered that they paid all fees they were required to pay.  The defendant insurer argued consistently since August that the case should be dismissed.

Earlier this month, the case was dropped by GFA. According to a court filing dated January 2, 2019, GFA stipulated to the following:

Plaintiffs Gospel for Asia, Inc., K.P. Yohannan, Gisela Punnose, Daniel Punnose, David Carroll and Pat Emerick (hereinafter “Plaintiffs”), and Defendant Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company (“Defendant”), file this Stipulation of Dismissal under Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1)(A)(ii).

1. Plaintiffs sued Defendant seeking damages under insurance related causes of action.

2. Plaintiffs wish to dismiss their claims against Defendant without prejudice.

Since the case was dismissed without prejudice, GFA could later bring an action. However, for now the suit is over. There is no way to tell if the insurer paid more money.  There is no hint or indication that the insurer budged on that point.

GFA’s class action fraud suit is slated to be tried this year.