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James MacDonald wants his name cleared after more than $1.45M settlement with Harvest Bible Chapel

James MacDonald wants his name cleared after more than $1.45M settlement with Harvest Bible Chapel

James MacDonald, former pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, speaks at the Pastors' Conference 2014, ahead of the Southern Baptist Convention's Annual Meeting, on Monday, June 9, 2014, in Baltimore, Md. | (Photo: The Christian Post/Sonny Hong)

James MacDonald, founder of Harvest Bible Chapel, called on the megachurch Thursday to end its “false narrative in financial matters” against him, a day after elders disclosed details of an arbitration settlement awarding him at least $1.45 million in cash, an undisclosed amount in deferred compensation, and assets of his Walk in the Word broadcast ministry, including real estate.

“Now that we are ‘post arbitration,’ we’re praying that HBC leaders would be entirely forthcoming with the church we loved for so long. (We would welcome publication of the entire arbitration transcript.) Please pray for the needed transparency,” MacDonald and his wife, Kathy, wrote in an extended statement posted on their ministry website.

MacDonald, who was ousted from HBC on Feb. 12, 2019, after making "highly inappropriate recorded comments" on a radio program as well as "other conduct" under a cloud of allegations of financial abuse and bullying, said the arbitration was “entirely avoidable.” 

Church elders at the HBC first revealed in May 2019 that MacDonald was pursuing arbitration over his firing and the Walk in the Word broadcast ministry. The elders maintained that Walk in the Word belonged to the church and that MacDonald was fired for cause.

In a summary of the settlement that was reached on Aug. 14, however, HBC elders agreed that Walk in the Word and all its assets legally belongs to MacDonald.

“Walk in the Word (WITW) will no longer be a ministry under the umbrella of HBC. As part of the merging of WITW to HBC, there was an agreement that MacDonald could remove WITW and its assets to an external organization,” HBC elders noted in their announcement.

Under the agreement, MacDonald walked away with the physical assets of WITW, the ministry’s digital assets, including sermons, podcasts and websites, along with its related cash and real estate.

“Our insurance company paid MacDonald $1.2 million. HBC also agreed to transfer a vacant parcel of property adjacent to our Crystal Lake Campus which we had listed for sale on the market since mid-2019. These funds and this land are for the assets that Walk in the Word brought to HBC when it came under the church in 2010,” the elders explained.

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MacDonald will also get an undisclosed amount of deferred compensation under a “plan [that] was in place prior to his departure from HBC and relates to a retirement plan of which MacDonald is the beneficiary.”

The church is also expected to pay him an additional $250,000 in cash reimbursement that was promised to him prior to 2019 in connection with the sale of his prior home.

Elders further addressed a controversial discretionary fund, which MacDonald was accused of using for personal expenses, noting that the largest expenditures were made under the purview of WITW and the remaining expenses have been accounted for in previous tax filings.

“The above resolves all claims and issues between HBC and James MacDonald and releases Harvest’s officers, employees, and members from future litigation over arbitration matters,” the elders said, noting that their insurance company covered 95% of their legal fees.

Since they have now reached a "resolution," the elders are now focused on the future of HBC.

But MacDonald in his statement Thursday has called for more transparency. He said the “false narrative in financial matters” against him and his ministry was “HBC’s most grievous sin against us” and that his ouster was a “hostile takeover.”

He alleged that the church wrongfully tried to seize the assets of WITW, sought to permanently end the ministry, shunned his family and refused to meet with him in 2019, among other “unseen actions so few know about.”

“I apologize if that is more than you wanted to know, but it gives you a feel for where we have been living and what we have endured, as my intellectual property and fully-vested pension were withheld in an effort to force our acceptance of WITW’s destruction,” MacDonald wrote.

"Please pray that HBC leaders begin welcoming our reconciliation efforts. Our hope is for a joint statement owning what they have done, that ends the stonewalling and prevents having to clear our own name – a biblical but last option. After 20 months, we are just days away from that decision. Please pray with us that church leaders will finally yield and make peace, so the church itself is not further injured by the many deceptions. We have simply reached the end of our ability to carry all of this alone."

MacDonald, who himself through HBC aggressively went after former members and journalist Julie Roys for reporting on his leadership and management of the church’s finances in a failed defamation lawsuit, admitted that he began struggling in his ministry in 2017 and his actions damaged relationships with his former congregation and a number of “good leaders.”

“Harvest Bible Chapel was blessed with what could be seen as success over many years, but since early 2017, I struggled increasingly under the weight of it all. I stepped away from the ministry multiple times with Elder support to regain my health and capacity to lead. In the end, I just burnt out, and had to ‘pull over’ for extended time away from ministry,” MacDonald wrote.

“I had carried too much for too long, and I am grieved by the impact that had on several good leaders working most closely with me. Three times in 2019, I confessed my role in those relational failings to the board in writing, and multiple times publicly. Most difficult in all of this has been the loss of long term friends who apparently believed HBC leaders’ narrative and cut us off completely, refusing our efforts to communicate with them regarding the truth. We covet your prayers toward softening hearts for all, protection against bitterness, and healing – especially where rejection by those who might have known better has, at times, been too much to bear,” he said.

The former HBC leader, who recently turned 60, revealed that he and his wife “are still quite broken and remain in counseling, seeking to own, process, understand, and heal.”

“There are still times of unhealthy rumination, shock, disbelief, and grief over the church family we lost. Yet there are also increasing days of hope and expectation in the Lord’s call to continue in ministry to His people,” he wrote. “This has been especially true since a successful arbitration with our former church confirmed with finality where the truth has been all along. Soon we must bring those truths to light, but for now we continue under the weight of so much falsehood in hope that the church will themselves initiate the needed steps of public confession.”

In their statement, the HBC elders apologized to the church and to MacDonald "for not always acting in a loving manner in our communications about him."

"The Scriptures are clear in their instruction to us to 'live at peace with all men, as far is it depends on you'  (Romans 12:18). We certainly have not done so perfectly. Sometimes we have spoken hastily, and at times our tone was unloving."

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