Harvest Bible Chapel Acknowledges Failures, Still Claims Only Three Defendants

Promising a change of tone, Harvest Bible Chapel posted tonight on the church’s website what is described as an acknowledgment of failures and deficits. In an admission that they have been marginalizing critics, the church promised to stop:

The Executive Committee of the Elders has declared a moratorium on all efforts to minimize or marginalize our critics, except a carefully considered and conscious decision to pursue a legal remedy regarding attacks against the church that upon advice of counsel we believe are illegal.

Time will tell if church leaders will honor that promise. In my opinion, they should drop the suit. As I pointed out this morning, the existence of the suit heightens the tension and animosity. I doubt that a nicer tone in public remarks will change that.

In what seems like a violation of the spirit of that pledge, the church continues to refer to “three named defendants.” There are five.  I cannot understand why the church continues to speak as if the wives of The Elephant’s Debt bloggers haven’t been sued as well.

The lawsuit against our three named defendants, moves slowly forward and again we state that we would gladly accept no financial settlement, no resolution of damage done or redaction of existing slander. All we ask is that they agree to stop attacking our church permanently and entrust the ongoing reforms to the Elders of our church.

I asked the church about this and did not get an answer about why the wives are being sued.

You can read the rest of the response from the elders here.

Harvest Bible Chapel: Mars Hill Church 2.0?

James MacDonald (left), Mark Driscoll (right)

From where I sit in small town PA (usually at a fast food place with good WiFi), it appears that there are some similarities between the last couple of years at Mars Hill Church and the current situation at Harvest Bible Chapel.

Elders and Leadership Style

At MHC, trouble had been brewing for several years over treatment of elders and perceptions from departed members and elders that Mark Driscoll was domineering and unnecessarily harsh. The same perceptions and polarization have occurred at HBC involving their founding pastor James MacDonald.

This morning I became aware of something called the Statement of Record on the HBC website where former and current elders are pledging loyalty to MacDonald. Up to the very end of Mars Hill Church, a core group of elders and members remained committed to Driscoll and expressed animosity toward the elders who brought formal charges against Driscoll.

Also this morning, the Elephant’s Debt blog posted a resignation letter from a former elder and staff member. In the letter, questions are raised about the leadership of MacDonald and financial management of the church. This letter along with the texts and emails posted earlier by Julie Roys remind me of various leaked letters and formal charges written by current and former MHC elders concerning the leadership of Mark Driscoll.

Many of the concerns seem similar. Driscoll’s charges included allegations of harsh treatment of subordinates, domineering leadership style, and using the church structure to enrich himself. Similar allegations have surfaced regarding HBC and MacDonald.

Driscoll and MacDonald

It should also be noted that Driscoll and MacDonald have a relationship which dates back to the Mars Hill era. MacDonald was on MHC’s Board of Advisors and Accountability. He resigned near the end of the church’s life in 2014. Recently, Julie Roys reported that HBC gave $50,000 to Driscoll’s new church in Phoenix. And who can forget the little trip by MacDonald (on the left) and Driscoll (right) to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference.

We They

Another similarity I see is the adversarial relationship between critics and defenders in both situations. There were sharp differences and strong feelings in the MHC camps. The same dynamic is at work here. When MHC responded to public or media questions, they were cagey and defensive. In private, the sides were fierce in opposition. In the HBC case, a lawsuit is in play. This really ratchets up the polarization.

I can’t see it getting any better as long as HBC maintains the defamation suit. Putting aside biblical arguments for or against the action, I think it is a terrible precedent to set as a matter of public perception of how Christians do things. The tension and animosity will only escalate with each new revelation.  In MHC’s case, the church was always the PR loser when differences emerged into the light of day.

Those supporting MHC’s establishment felt their situation would get better if they could just make their case in the court of public opinion. During the church’s demise, MHC had the blessing of the ECFA, touted numerical results, and portrayed a measured and positive front. However, each new disclosure had a cumulative downward impact. In HBC’s case, the existence of the lawsuit has great potential to multiply this effect.

I suspect there are more parallels but I think this is sufficient to make a point that MHC could be a learning experience for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see. Fair or not, a prolonged public war will erode the church’s effectiveness and probably do more to harm the bottom line than anything the bloggers have done up to now.

Despite Video Claim, David Barton’s New Book Doesn’t Mention an Earned Doctorate

David Barton (left), Eric Metaxas (right)

In September of 2016, Barton asserted that he possessed an earned doctorate that he had chosen not to talk about. Watch Barton make that claim:

Transcript:

Something I’ve noticed about progressives and liberals is how careless they are in throwing false claims around. For instance, I was recently on a national television network where I was introduced as having a doctorate, and progressives instantly ran stories claiming that I don’t have a doctorate. That false claim is amusing on so many levels. First, things like health information and tax information and college educational information are fully protected by privacy laws. So they don’t know whether I have a doctorate or not! And I’ve always chosen not to talk about it.

Second, just for the record, I do have an earned doctorate. There it is.

And third, not only do I have an earned doctorate, I also have two honorary doctors of letters from other colleges. And according to West Virginia University, the doctor of letters degree is reserved only for individuals who have the highest level of knowledge in their chosen subject matter. Hmmm.

So for all of you critics, sorry to pop your balloon, but I do have an earned doctorate.

The day after Barton posted this video, I discovered that the degree (partially hidden in the video) was issued by unaccredited Life Christian University, a church which passes itself off as a school. Despite those privacy laws, the president of the entity Douglas Wingate confirmed that Barton was given a doctorate in “Christian history” from the school even though he didn’t attend classes. Wingate calls these degrees earned because Wingate uses published books as a basis for giving a degree. No classes are attended, the degree recipient never enrolls. The federal government considers such practices to be signs of a diploma mill and the state of Missouri will not allow LCU degree recipients to advertise the degrees as earned.

New Book Does Not Mention This Doctorate

Recently, Barton is co-author with James Garlow of a book titled This Precarious Moment. In it, Garlow wrote a chapter where he commented on his and Barton’s education. He makes it clear that he has the earned doctorate and Barton does not.

Those Careless Progressives and Their Claims

In their new book, Garlow and Barton take on progressives and liberals and offer Christianity as the solution to social problems. However, it is Barton who threw out a false claim about himself and withdrew it the next day without any comment, explanation or apology. Simply put, it was hypocritical for Barton to blast progressives for false claims at same time he was making one.

Just today, conservatives on social media are reveling in the discovery that a Der Spiegel reporter and award winning journalist, Claas Relotius, was fired for writing fake stories. Popular right wing pundit Pamela Geller used the news to attack all “left-wing journalists.”

What those crowing about Relotius’ demise aren’t pointing out is that he was fired and his awards taken from him by the same mainstream journalists they criticize. In mainstream journalism, there are consequences for falsifying your public claims and published work. His superiors at Der Spiegel took swift action when it was discovered and CNN removed his awards.

What has happened with Mr. Barton after his false credential claim? Nothing. Crickets. Bloggers have written about it but the story didn’t even make Christian news.

Of course, Barton had to pay a price for false narratives in the past when his book The Jefferson Lies was removed from publication by Thomas Nelson. However, he has made a comeback among those who should know better, one even telling me that the number of Barton’s followers mattered more than the accuracy of his work.

The false education claims (and the NCAA basketball claim, and the Olympic interpreter claim) have come after The Jefferson Lies debacle. One might sense a pattern.

Eric Metaxas Sides with Russians over U.S. Dept of Justice in Maria Butina Case (UPDATED)

David Barton (left), Eric Metaxas (right)

Yesterday, Eric Metaxas tweeted this defense of admitted Russian agent Maria Butina (see my post about her case):

Butina was charged in July with attempting to advance Russian interests via the development of contacts within the Christian right, the National Rifle Association and the Republican party. Last week, she struck a plea agreement in which she admitted her guilt in exchange for a reduced sentence. About 97% of such cases end up in a plea agreement.

Read Maria Butina’s Plea Agreement

In 2015, Metaxas interviewed Butina on his radio program. With the two tweets shown above, he has come to her defense. In doing so, Metaxas has adopted the position of the Russian government over his own. The only people espousing the view that Butina was kept in or threatened with solitary confinement and forced into a plea are Russian authorities and their sympathizers. According to the Voice of America fact checking website Polygraph, Butina and her attorney said in court that she was allowed visitation and time out of her cell.

During the hearing for the change of plea Butina and her lawyers denied any physical or psychological pressure telling the judge the decision to enter the plea deal was voluntary.

Butina’s attorney Robert Driscoll told the court his client is allowed a “time out of her cell, daily activities and visitations, including those from the representatives of the Russian foreign ministry,” and that she is “doing well and competent.”

In addition to her own statement and her lawyer’s statement, we have a transcript of a pre-trial conference call where it is clear that Butina’s rights were respected. Not only did Butina get counsel about the nature of her right to a plea agreement, she had another attorney advise her when her own attorney thought there might be a conflict of interest. In the transcript, it is clear that Butina had been talking to other inmates and had been allowed to talk to others, including journalists, on monitored phone calls.

Metaxas’ tweet is interesting in that he implies he has information that isn’t public. “Wait until the whole truth comes out,” he pleads. Somehow he knows something about her faith he tells us. Has he spoken to her? He should enlighten us about his sources. The only sources I can find for the story that she has been kept in solitary confinement or threatened with any unusual treatment is Russia Today and the Russian Foreign Minister.* As noted above, those claims fly in the face of what Butina and her lawyer told the judge in the plea agreement hearing (although in November her attorney did claim she had been in solitary confinement at least some of her stay in jail. The U.S. Attorney’s office did not confirm or deny it).

Given what we have learned over the past year about Russian disinformation campaigns in the U.S., it doesn’t seem prudent or wise to trust the word of Russian authorities. While I don’t accept everything anyone tells me without examination, I reserve the highest level of skepticism for Russian claims. There is a high likelihood that these stories of torture and threats of unusual solitary confinement are aspects of an ongoing disinformation campaign the Russians have cultivated among conservative Christians (see this Christian Post article). Sadly, without providing any evidence, Metaxas is helping the Russians promote their position.

*(UPDATE: In November 2018, Butina’s attorney Robert Driscoll claimed in court that Butina had been held in solitary confinement for 22 hours at a time for a combined 67 days. There was no confirmation of this claim by the Justice Department. In her plea agreement hearing, Driscoll and client told a different story.

Having come across this media report, I am prepared to revise my position. I will wait to get more information now that Maria Butina’s gag order has been lifted and her plea deal becomes clearer. I would also like to hear from the Justice Department. When I contacted the DOJ, the answer was “no comment.”

Also in Maria Butina’s request to remove the gag order (which was successful) her attorney wrote:

Importantly, the sentencing has not yet occurred, and the government holds in its sole discretion the determination of whether the defendant has offered “substantial assistance” to other investigations and will evaluate, as will the court, the defendant’s acceptance of responsibility. Thus, the defendant and her counsel have no incentive to publicly contradict the Statement of Offense or her guilty plea or otherwise take issue with the plea, nor to discuss any aspect of possible cooperation.

In other words, Butina isn’t going to debate or dispute the governments account of her treatment or whether or not she was forced to enter a plea deal. She and her attorney already said she did so voluntarily.

Image: Twitter

Defendant in Harvest Bible Chapel Defamation Case Posts Insider Emails with Accusations of Deception and Control (UPDATED with HBC Response)

UPDATE: HBC has responded to Julie Roys’ post. Without talking to Mr. Williams, they believe he didn’t mean it.

We believe that Randy Williams is not the man portrayed in the texts publicized by Julie Roys. He has never said anything to the leaders of our church in the many years we have served with him that resembles the content of the texts she published today. If Randy Williams was secretly antagonistic about the health of our collective governance, it was not known to any of us. We offer him the grace we all need in the context of regrettable words or actions. Love prompts us to believe he does regret these words. After a positive and warm lunch with Jason Acres today, Randy has not been available to us by text or phone. Based upon what is known about his love for our church and Pastor James, we believe he must have read what Julie Roys published and felt devastated. Love compels us to believe the best; if that is not the case, we will of course make it known here. Key points are below (if you’re in a hurry, read points 10-13).

Read the entire response here where current elders contest what pastors White and Borinstein wrote in their texts.

……………………..

(original post)

Call this the fruits of discovery.

This morning, Julie Roys, journalist and one of five defendants in Harvest Bible Chapel’s defamation lawsuit, posted emails of a current elder accusing senior pastor James MacDonald of control and manipulation. The elder and former chairman of the executive committee Randy Williams also indicated that the church had endured financial mismanagement, and governance failure. Roys reproduced the email thread on her blog.

The emails were obtained as the results of a subpoena by Roys attorney as a part of her defense in the defamation suit brought by Harvest Bible Chapel. Roys also obtained text messages from others who had concerns about the leadership of MacDonald. For instance, according to material provided by Roys, pastor of a Harvest Bible Chapel in North Indianapolis Brian White said

The problem is James. His control, his manipulation, his anger, his torching of others to protect his reputation, the wake of his irresponsible financial stewardship and direction of his organization. The continued manipulation of people and narratives. The problem is James.

In that text thread, another HBC pastor, Bill Borinstein (at the time of this writing, pastor at HBC North Phoenix) wrote:

No church would ever allow their Sr Pastor and leadership team to act over a long period of time with such a blatant lack of transparency or in a culture of fear. . . . We were told by James in a meeting that HBC paid for the systems upgrade and they were giving it to us for free (yet we were charge(d) $500K), we were never told that 10% of our funds were given to WITW (Walk in the Word), we were never told that the bylaws of our organization were changed in 2014 . . . we were never told about a 100 year lease the HBF was signatory to or that the HBF would be paying operating expenses for the training center in Croton (including staff), we were never told that designated funds for Harvest Gives were being held and not paid out… do I need to go on. . . .

I know not one pastor who cares that James lives in a $4-$5 million* dollar house, what they care about is his publicly lying about it and the lengths he went to hide it (all while he was president of our organization). Where is the integrity in that? . .

There are too many people in our fellowship who know too much, who have seen too much of James. They have seen how employees have been treated, they have been in rooms where they have been berated or seen others berated, they have heard about his blow up at HCA (Harvest Christian Academy), the blowup at the Sr pastors retreat, the blowup at our leadership meeting in downtown Chicago, they have sat in restaurants when he has dressed down servers, they have heard the stories from the many ex-employees scattered around the country, from the ex-elders who have left because they could not in good conscience stay in that culture anymore. 1 Tim 3:2 says, “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach…” You are dealing with 100+ pastors who know that passage. We are not perfect, we do not expect James to be perfect. What we have seen and experienced is not above reproach . . .”

Borinstein and White are on the board of the Great Commission Collective which is the subject of the HBC elder update in 2017 and no longer has a relationship with James MacDonald. An earlier version of this post referred to Borinstein and White as HBC elders. That is not the case. I apologize for any confusion that caused.

What Can Elders Do?

Recently, I asked HBC how a senior pastor may be removed and if it was true that removal required an unanimous vote, including James MacDonald. Sherri Smith answered, “According to page 22 of the bylaws of Harvest Bible Chapel (https://www.harvestbiblechapel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/bylaws.pdf), unanimous under Executive Committee does not include anyone under corrective who could not participate in a decision concerning themselves. The Elder Board does not need to be unanimous, just in general agreement or “consensus” that the decision is best for the church.”

Here is the relevant section:

Removal of Senior Pastor. Subject to the rights, if any, under any contract or covenants of employment with the Church, the Senior Pastor shall only be removed, by unanimous recommendation of the Executive Committee and by the consensus of the Elder Board at any general or special meeting duly noticed pursuant to Section 7.05 of these Bylaws. The Senior Pastor shall only be removed from office, subject to the terms of any employment agreement or covenants, for any of the following reasons: (i) disqualifies himself as a result of a violation of the Sexual Immorality Policy; (ii) engaging in conduct that is in opposition to the best interest of the Church; (iii) teaching doctrines inconsistent with the Bible; (iv) neglect of duties; (v) resignation; or (vi) death, long-term disability or incapacity.

I also asked for a comment or reaction from HBC to Roys’ post but they did not reply by the time I posted. I will add any responses here.

 

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

Eric Metaxas Defends Russian Agent; Says Maria Butina’s Plea Agreement Was Forced

David Barton (left) Eric Metaxas (right)

Eric Metaxas is coming to the defense of an admitted Russian spy, Maria Butina. Apparently, Metaxas doesn’t believe his former talk show guest is a spy. Rather, he believes the government threatened her with a year in solitary confinement which led her to a forced plea agreement. No word from Metaxas how he knows any of this. Here is his tweet disputing Butina’s plea agreement (see my post about her admission to spying for the Russian government).

Read Maria Butina’s Plea Agreement

For Metaxas to believe Butina’s agreement was forced, he has to believe the Dept. of Justice is incredibly corrupt. Butina was represented by counsel and agreed that she was an agent of Russia in violation of federal law.  Her plea agreement refers to various documents which they have in their possession. They have text messages and emails with the information described in the plea agreement.

I don’t know how Metaxas will explain Butina’s agreement. Did the DOJ kidnap this girl and pin an espionage charge on her? Did the DOJ make up all of these events and communications? Did they really threaten to keep her in solitary confinement for a year if she refused to sign a false statement? Is her attorney in on the conspiracy too?

 

James MacDonald Declares Break from Public Speaking for a Season

According to Southern Baptist Conference president Danny Wood, Harvest Bible Chapel’s beleaguered pastor James MacDonald is “stepping away” from speaking “for a season.”

This tweet was followed by a second which said:

2/2 “Thankful for this brother, and he has my prayers as he focuses upon his own local church ministry.”

MacDonald and his church have been the focus of renewed critical social media attention since the church filed a defamation suit against two bloggers and their wives and journalist Julie Roys. Roys recently filed an article on the church with WORLD magazine. MacDonald has asserted that the bloggers at the blog The Elephant’s Debt and Roys have not portrayed the church honestly and the legal action is justified to bring legal sanctions against the illegal actions of the defendants.

I recently asked the church why the bloggers’ wives were included in the suit since they haven’t written anything about the church. The church through a spokesperson declined to add anything to what is posted on the church website. Currently, there is no mention of the wives on the church website.

Jordan Peterson Agonizes Over How to Answer a Question About God

I have heard rumors that some evangelicals like Jordan Peterson’s work. He gets all angry when he says words like intersectionality and postmodern so that really hooks some of my evangelical brethren, I guess. I have a hard time following what he says so I don’t get it. The video below is a good illustration of why his work seems like what he criticizes.

“It all depends on what you mean” is fine when he wants to use it but it isn’t fine when his ideological opponents want to do it.

Carl Jung, who I think Peterson considers an intellectual influence, didn’t particularly like this question either. Once, Jung compared himself to a witch doctor who found God in his dreams. On another occasion, Jung said he didn’t have to believe, he knew. According to his disciples at the time, he believed in a spirit or at least an immaterial existence but didn’t hold to the Swiss Reformed doctrines of his family.

Image: Dr.Jordan Peterson delivering a lecture at the University of Toronto in 2017. March 20, 2017, Source: Adam Jacobs, Wikimedia, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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.