The elders of Harvest Bible Chapel announced this morning that they are removing Senior Pastor James MacDonald from his position at the church he founded. While the elders have been reviewing MacDonald for a “lengthy” amount of time, their decision was “accelerated” after audio recordings surfaced in which MacDonald, it is believed, uses vulgar language to attack his opponents.
“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,” the elders wrote in a statement.
Voice of James MacDonald Believed to Be Featured in Vulgar Comments
The audio recording that the elders reference was aired on popular Chicago radio personality Mancow Muller’s show. Muller, once a trusted friend and confidant of MacDonald and also a member of Harvest Bible Chapel, has used his platform recently to call the pastor out on his less-than-exemplary handling of his critics. Now he is using it to air clips of someone, who he doesn’t say explicitly is MacDonald, out of fear of litigation, but who many, including the elder board and journalist Julie Roys, believe is MacDonald. According to Muller, the clips he played are pulled from 50 minutes of audio he is planning to publish in its entirety.
The main focus of the verbal attack, at least in the clips heard on Mancow’s show, are a couple people in the leadership of the media outlet Christianity Today (CT). CT’s CEO Harold Smith and editor-in-chief Mark Galli are named specifically. Smith is called by a rather vulgar word. In one clip, the man believed to be MacDonald implies he had a plan to plant child pornography on Smith’s computer. At another point, he also implies Galli and Roys, the journalist who wrote the World Magazine article that exposed Harvest’s and MacDonald’s mishandling of funds, had an affair. Roys wrote about the audio clips in a recent blog post. Roys denies having an affair with Galli and writes “it’s repulsive that anyone—a pastor, no less—would make a joke about that.”
The criticism of CT didn’t stop there, however. During a particularly long clip, the voice believed to be MacDonald articulates a disparaging description of CT, calling it a “pipe-organ protecting, musty, mild smell of urine, blue hair Methodist loving, mainline dying, women preacher championing, emerging church adoring, almost good with all gays, and closet Palestine promoting Christianity.” The man goes on to say “so of course, they attacked me.”
In response to the leaked audio, CT published an editor’s note, written by Galli, titled “On Mancow, MacDonald, and the Harvest Mess.” In it, Galli explains why he believes MacDonald is upset at CT, despite the fact that they published an op-ed piece written by MacDonald in which he defended his choice to sue his critics last year. Galli explains it is the tradition of CT to present multiple sides of a controversy as it is unfolding and also “to allow mainstream, otherwise orthodox evangelicals accused of being unbiblical a chance to defend their views.” In addition to MacDonald’s op-ed, CT also published four news articles in which the views of critics of MacDonald and Harvest were highlighted. Galli says while the slanderous statements against himself and Smith are “unfortunate,” they can be chalked up to a day in the life of journalism. “We know that we’re not exactly popular with people about whom we have to report bad news,” Galli concedes.
Galli says CT is “not going to blast back at MacDonald or to demand a public apology” because he realizes everyone says things in anger that they later regret. It appears CT is trying to give MacDonald the benefit of the doubt. What they are asking of MacDonald, however, “is that he deal fairly with his accusers, that he tell the truth about what’s been going on at Harvest, and that he make amends if and where he has misused his office.”
As far as Roys is concerned, while she agrees with Galli that journalists often are on the receiving end of anger, she believes “MacDonald’s behavior seriously crosses a line” and that he should be denounced by evangelical leaders.
While Harvest learns to function without MacDonald, the elders wish to assure their congregation that they are committed to “fulfilling our fiduciary duty” to them. More details about the future of the church will be disclosed at this weekend’s services, the elders say.