Harvest Bible Chapel Cynically Responds to World Magazine's Article Highlighting its Financial, Leadership and Governance Problems

December 18, 2018

Following the publication of World Magazine's investigative report on Pastor James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC) last week, HBC quickly issued a highly unusual; one might even say bizarre, response, which can be found below. MinistryWatch would point out the following concerning HBC's response:

  1. Starting with just the first word of the title of HBC's response, in which they cynically refer to the author of the World report, Julie Roys, as a "defendant"; it is very clear HBC intends to take an aggressive approach in their response to her work. Of course, the only reason Roys can be labeled a "defendant" is because HBC has brought what appears to be a very dubious lawsuit, from both a legal and biblical perspective, against her. This lawsuit was an obvious, if ultimately futile, attempt to intimidate her into not publishing her analysis of a wide array of financial, leadership and governance failings at HBC (see MinistryWatch's earlier analysis of the lawsuit here). It certainly is disappointing to see HBC bringing lawsuits against fellow Christians, especially a flimsily founded one, and then using this shortcoming of theirs to besmirch a legitimate reporter who published a very well-sourced article chronicling many disturbing issues at HBC. Given what Roys uncovered in her reporting about the culture at HBC, however, it is not really surprising to see HBC continue to try to bully Roys as well as use such dishearteningly worldly tactics to discredit her.
  2. The remaining portion of the title of HBC's response distorts the reality of the situation and reflects desperation by Pastor James MacDonald and HBC to try to reset the narrative rather than address the concerning facts World's story highlighted. The full title is "Defendant Fails to Uncover Desired Scandal, Opting to Publish Old Gossip." It grieves us to describe this in this manner, but this is just pure rubbish. Roys' article contained a number of alarming details about Pastor MacDonald as well as questionable financial and governance issues at HBC. The article, as noted earlier, was exceptionally well-sourced, as one would expect from a well-regarded magazine like World. Our best guess is the decision was made inside HBC to attack the article using the above unfortunate approach because there really was no way for HBC undercut its credibility directly by presenting a point by point rebuttal. What does this say about Pastor MacDonald and those advising him that they have chosen an approach that might embarrass even a guilty politician? Can this type of behavior be abided in today's Christian church?
  3. Please see our comments in RED below in the body of HBC's statement:

DEFENDANT FAILS TO UNCOVER DESIRED SCANDAL, OPTING TO PUBLISH OLD GOSSIP

December 13, 2018

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.

No amount of insults from HBC will change the fact that World Magazine is widely considered the most credible Christian news magazine available in the United States. Moreover, Roys' article was extremely well-researched and highly credible. HBC has made no attempt to specifically challenge anything in Roys' article and instead resorted to simply throwing uncorroborated insults at Roys, not to mention its dubious lawsuit against her and others. Again, is this the way leadership of any Christian church should behave, even if they could clearly show Roys' article was inaccurate? Moreover, there were many, not just a few, concerned former members of HBC interviewed for the article. While it is possible, even likely, that much of what Roys reported has been "rehashed" by some within HBC, this is the first time many people outside of the church have ever heard of these issues. Given Pastor MacDonald's ministry extends well beyond HBC through his television and radio programs, this information is relevant to donors to those efforts who might never had known had Roys not doggedly pursued the HBC story over a period of eight months. And assuming HBC's elders are supportive of the nasty and worldly approach HBC is using to combat Roys' report, then it is fair to question their collective wisdom in this and in previous situations.

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.

Owned its mistakes? The reaction to Roys' reporting, which HBC wrongly characterizes as an "attack" in order to make itself appear as the victim, indicates just the opposite. While HBC here at least acknowledges it has made mistakes, as all churches do, their overall approach in this matter and others hardly leads one to think of the word humility. HBC has typically and disturbingly acted more like a bully when confronted with its transgressions as clearly seen in Roys' report. Moreover, we don't know if all the information discussed in Roys' article has been known to HBC's congregation. If not, it may be HBC may not have had as much success in reaching "unprecedented levels" of giving from its congregation. Furthermore, we believe it is far superior for Christians to hold each other accountable in matters such as this than to rely on the courts or non-Christians, as HBC has done in this case. To hear HBC complain about an attack coming from Christians while they are simultaneously using a secular approach (the court system) to resolve their quarrel with fellow Christians is ironic, to say the least.

We have chosen the high road and refused to engage in public assault on people we once served closely with who just can't seem to 'let it go,' even after all these years. The Elders are privy to many grace-filled private attempts to reconcile, extended in hopes that these unhappy Christians would find peace.

HBC has chosen the high road? This statement makes little sense in light of their above insults and distortions, not to mention HBC's lawsuit against Roys and other critics. Perhaps delusional is a better description. How can HBC expect anyone to believe they are credible when they make such an obviously false statement? Can they really not see their own bullying behavior for what it actually is? If so, that is another concern to be added to all the others. And when one sees such behavior so publically displayed, it is hard to believe HBC's claim there have been many "grace-filled" attempts to reconcile with those who have left the church and were subsequently insulted, bullied and sued after seemingly legitimate disputes with HBC's leadership. Indeed, HBC's leadership acknowledged such failings in some cases. Additionally, we attempted to contact HBC earlier to ask about attempts at biblical reconciliation with those who left the church but they never responded.

Subsequent to the most vocal departures, the Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel designed a system of Elder government filled with meaningful accountability for staff and active involvement of volunteer Elders that exceeds in every way the former system filled with conflicts of interest and poor decision making.

As Roys' article described, Pastor MacDonald has complete control over the operations of HBC under the church's constitution. Indeed, he can only be removed from his position if he himself votes for his firing. Furthermore, as Roys also highlighted, there are still two sets of financial books at HBC. One the elders apparently get to see and another is reserved solely for a much smaller inner circle of leadership. Clearly, this is very poor governance and financial transparency which makes a mockery of the claims above.

Let's remember - we have a godly, talented, dedicated staff with average tenure among top 10 leaders of more than 24 years, and a congregation focused on moving forward in the next 30 years to claim more ground for Christ. We praise God for the many faithful believers who refused to be interviewed for such an obviously biased effort and covet their prayers for our continued growth in grace and effectiveness.

As Roys' story pointed out, HBC has compelled staff and ex-staff to sign legal agreements which prevents them from making disparaging statements about HBC. MinistryWatch hopes HBC can make the needed additional reforms to be able to best represent Christ to a fallen world, but it is clear from the tone of their lawsuit and this response to the World Magazine report many more improvements are urgently needed.

We will continue to 'owe no man anything except to love' (Romans 13:8) and direct inquiries to Elder Updates on our website from the respective time periods, mostly 2012 and 2013.

Clearly, Roys and the others who were sued by HBC are not likely feeling much love from Pastor MacDonald and HBC at the moment. These duplicitous claims by HBC do not inspire confidence in their leadership or their weak defense against Roys' claims.

Based on the information contained in the Roys article, HBC's unfortunate response to it and other concerning information highlighted by the Elephant's Debt blog and others over the years, MinistryWatch encourages donors to Walk in the Word and other ministries related to HBC that extend beyond the church itself to prayerfully consider finding other ministry efforts to support. As the article makes clear, donations to these ministries may not be being utilized in the manner donors likely believe. HBC church members are also encouraged to utilize whatever means available to them under HBC's governance documents to address the shortcomings highlighted in Roys' article at the church.