James MacDonald, former senior pastor of Chicago-area Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC), has filed a lawsuit against local radio host Mancow Muller—and the station’s parent company—for defamation, invasion of privacy, eavesdropping, and emotional distress. In the complaint filed in Cook County last week, MacDonald seeks $50,000 in damages.
MacDonald, who led the megachurch for more than 30 years, was fired by elders in February for unbiblical behavior.
MacDonald vs. Mancow
Mancow Muller, whose morning show is broadcast on Chicago’s WLS-AM, is a former friend and follower of MacDonald’s. That soon changed when the radio host learned about alleged impropriety by the pastor. Muller had “endorsed” MacDonald and HBC for years, he says, but “when I found out the truth, I felt it was my duty to tell my listeners.” The host adds, “For me, this has always been about trying to help people and trying to expose a bad guy.”
In January, Muller wrote a Daily Herald essay claiming MacDonald led “a culture of authoritarianism, secrecy, intimidation, outlandish fundraising expectations, poor financial controls, and debt.” A month later, Muller played a recording of MacDonald apparently talking about planting child porn on a Christianity Today editor’s computer. In May, the saga intensified when Muller accused MacDonald of asking him to hire a hitman.
MacDonald’s lawsuit accuses Muller of making false claims and calling the pastor a “con man” to “build up listener interest for his radio/podcast shows.” According to the complaint, Cumulus Media, the station’s parent company, failed to properly oversee Muller’s work.
MacDonald Has Sued Critics Before
In October 2018, MacDonald sued two bloggers, their wives, and independent journalist Julie Roys for defamation—only to drop the lawsuit a few months later, before subpoenaed documents were made public. The pastor later apologized, calling the suit “fearful and defensive,” and paid court costs and damages for the parties involved.
Roys, who’d been investigating HBC and MacDonald, contacted Muller for comment about this new lawsuit. The host, who says he learned about the complaint through county records, insists, “Everything I said is true.” Muller says when he discovered MacDonald “was a fraud,” he “wanted to listeners to know”—especially since he’d sung the pastor’s praises on air for so many years.
In a report issued last month, HBC elders said MacDonald improperly used church funds for his own financial benefit. They acknowledged “systemic failure” and a lack of oversight and financial transparency. Earlier in 2019, the church lost its accreditation with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
Arbitration is underway between HBC and MacDonald about who owns Walk in the Word, the pastor’s former broadcast ministry. The broadcasts were halted earlier this year. Moody Publishers also stopped selling MacDonald’s books, and the pastor’s two sons resigned from the HBC staff.
In a November 3 update, the HBC elder board notes: “We believe James could be restored to ministry someday, but in order for that day to come, the fruits of repentance must be evident. Based on Harvest Bible Chapel’s interpretation of the Scripture, we have not yet seen evidence of this. There is much potential for God to be glorified through him in the coming years, and our hope is to witness that someday.”