Home News James MacDonald Sues Critics of Harvest Bible Chapel

James MacDonald Sues Critics of Harvest Bible Chapel

In a statement to the congregation, Harvest elders write that the lawsuit’s goal is to end a “prolonged and divisive effort to undermine the Elder governance of our church and to discredit our primary leaders.” 

Roys’ Involvement Is Under Dispute

Roys, an author and former radio host, is accused of partnering with The Elephant’s Debt, a claim she denies. She’s also accused of making defamatory statements about MacDonald and of “asserting false allegations” while investigating Harvest for an upcoming article in World magazine.

Marvin Olasky, the magazine’s editor, confirmed that Roys has been researching the church and has unsuccessfully attempted to obtain on-the-record interviews with Harvest leaders.

“I always knew I ran the risk of being sued for speaking the truth,” Roys posted on Facebook. “But I always envisioned that it would be for something I actually published, not for something I merely indicated I was going to publish.”

In an email to Roys, Steve Huston, Harvest’s elder executive committee chairman, wrote, “We have come to the end of our willingness to be lied about and are ready to take every reasonable measure to protect our church family.”

Conflict Resolution in the Age of “Fake News”

Legal experts say defamation lawsuits involving churches are rare and are usually filed by former members, not churches. Roys’ attorney, Charles Philbrick, says, “When people leave churches, really what they are voicing are their opinions, and opinions are not actionable per se.”

MacDonald justifies taking the matter to court, saying our current age of “fake news…can cause great damage to worship communities.” He adds that a decision to sue came after carefully reviewing Scripture and consulting with “influential pastors and biblical scholars.” MacDonald writes:

“‘Turn[ing] the other cheek’ (Matt 5:39) is a compelling command for dealing with people who offend us personally—but no one struggles with dialing 911 when a criminal act is underway. What about wrongs society agrees are so destructive that laws are established to prevent their continuance? … What about when bloggers are civil lawbreakers and the activity is demonstrably illegal?”

A Cook County judge dismissed Harvest’s request for a temporary restraining order, which would have prevented the bloggers and Roys from writing about the case while it proceeds through the legal system.

Mahoney and Bryant have set up a GoFundMe page to defray their legal expenses and promise to return any unused money. The bloggers thanked their supporters “for the many kind moments including prayers, shared scriptures, and even just a willing ear to listen.”

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Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 27 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her husband and two teenage daughters.