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James MacDonald Sues Attorney Who Looked Into His Finances

Sally Wagenmaker

Although former megachurch pastor James MacDonald reached a settlement with Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC) in August, he’s heading back to court. MacDonald, who was fired from the Chicago-area church in February 2019, is now suing HBC and the attorney and accountants it hired to review church finances and MacDonald’s use of them. 

On November 4, MacDonald filed a lawsuit against HBC, attorney Sally Wagenmaker, her Chicago-based firm (Wagenmaker and Oberly), and the Minnesota accounting firm that Wagenmaker hired. The pastor, who founded and served at HBC for 31 years before elders disqualified him from public ministry, claims that defendants intended to harm his reputation as well as his eventual arbitration efforts.

James MacDonald Alleges a ‘smear campaign’

In the lawsuit, MacDonald says HBC, the attorney, and the accountants engaged in a “smear campaign” against him, knowingly publishing false information. He claims they all “agreed that they would seek to delay responding to MacDonald’s arbitration demand until after they published the defamatory information against him, and that they would aggressively pursue counterclaims against him in the arbitration once they had publicly destroyed his reputation.”

The suit alleges defamation, invasion of privacy, and civil conspiracy. MacDonald asserts that Wagenmaker advised HBC elders and helped write the statement about his disqualification in a way that favored the church. He also accuses the attorney of not contacting him while compiling the report and of “intentionally” ignoring documents and people “who had information which was at odds with the defamatory picture of MacDonald which she manufactured.”

The pastor has posted statements about the ongoing controversy at JamesMacDonaldMinistries.org and also released videos of conversations with Ron Duitsman, a former HBC elder who sides with him. In the videos, MacDonald denies financial impropriety, saying, “I went to such great lengths to get approvals” on spending. He and Duitsman also refute letters from church staffers about alleged misdeeds, and they attempt to discredit a vulgar “hot mic” recording that landed MacDonald in hot water—and led him to sue radio host Mancow Muller.

Arbitration Settlement Didn’t Settle Much

In the August settlement, MacDonald received $1.45 million, other deferred compensation, some land, and assets of his “Walk in the Word” ministry. But now the pastor accuses HBC of stealing $6.6 million from that broadcast operation. His new lawsuit also claims that investigations into Vanilla Bean LLC, which an HBC lawyer helped create for MacDonald’s personal finances, invaded his privacy.

MacDonald has a history of suing critics, including Elephant’s Debt bloggers and investigative journalist Julie Roys, who wrote an exposé about MacDonald and HBC in World Magazine.

Today, Roys reports that Muller, the Chicago radio host MacDonald sued, is countersuing because the pastor “soured” the host’s relationship with his radio station. Referring to MacDonald’s recent settlement with HBC, Muller says, “Now I have real damages. And I’m going to go back and…get every dime (MacDonald) got from Harvest.”

Muller says he’ll give any earnings from the countersuit to Harvest, another ministry, or maybe to missionaries. Another goal, he adds, is to make sure the “MacDonald family doesn’t rise again.”

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Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 28 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her husband and two teenage daughters.