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.

 

 

 

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

James MacDonald Regrets Wrongful Discipline of Harvest Bible Chapel Elders

Perhaps James MacDonald can do more good for Mars Hill Church off the Board of Advisors and Accountability than he did for the church while on it.
This is an extraordinary account of repentance and apparently reconciliation at Harvest Bible Chapel reported in Christianity Today late yesterday. CT’s article begins:

On Sunday, prominent pastor James MacDonald told his 13,000-member Harvest Bible Chapel congregation that he and his elder board were wrong for how they publicly disciplined three elders last year.

“For many months, we have labored under the awareness that our church discipline of a year ago was a failure in many respects, not the least of which was the complete lack of biblically required restorative component, which wronged the brothers that we were attempting to help,” MacDonald said in a videotaped message.

Harvest’s elder board has now “lifted all discipline” from the former elders (Scott Phelps, Barry Slabaugh, and Daniel Marquardt), apologized to them, and been reconciled to them after “outside Christian leaders” recently brought everyone back to the table, MacDonald said.

“Although the remaining elders of Harvest agreed to the need for such discipline, we almost immediately realized that we erred in the manner in which it was done and in what it implied,” said MacDonald. He noted, “We delayed making this confession, not wanting to worsen matters as we prayed for a true reconciliation. Praise God, that reconciliation happened meaningfully and mutually this week.”

The video from MacDonald and former elder chair Robert Jones is here.

I suspect this is difficult for Paul Petry, Bent Meyer and Lief Moi to watch, but perhaps hopeful as well that such a result could also come to Mars Hill Church.