The elder board of Harvest Bible Chapel formally apologized to independent journalist Julie Roys and several former members, months after joining founder James MacDonald in a defamation lawsuit accusing them of publishing false information about the church’s management and finances last fall.
“Regarding the lawsuit against Julie Roys and The Elephant’s Debt, at the time, Harvest leadership had grown weary of continued negative, and what was then believed to be untrue, commentary towards the church. As a result, in the fall of 2018, former staff leadership strongly recommended, and after much deliberation the elder board approved, pursuing legal action with the belief that this was protecting the church,” a new HBC elder board said in a statement Tuesday.
“While scriptures were sought and a biblical rationale was given at the time, the elder board now believes that this action was sinful. We have repented before the Lord and sought His forgiveness,” the board added.
The church then shared the apology sent to Roys, and former members Scott and Sarah Bryant as well as Ryan and Melinda Mahoney.
HBC’s former complaint against the group alleged that Ryan Mahoney was a Harvest Christian Academy teacher until 2010 when the church didn't renew his contract for allegedly negating MacDonald's sermons in his classroom, and offering a cynical view of the church and its culture.
Mahoney allegedly met Scott Bryant at the church, who also became "equally divisive after being declined a teaching opportunity that he repeatedly pursued." Both men allegedly stopped attending the church at the same time, and "began publishing negative and defamatory information about Harvest" on Bryant's personal website called Blood Stained Ink, which would eventually become The Elephant's Debt, launched in October 2012.
The website alleged that the church was $70 million in debt in 2010 "and barely survived a bankruptcy in 2006," information which the lawsuit disputed. It also alleged that MacDonald has problems with gambling, is financially unstable, and leads the church with an authoritarian style – all disputed by the church at the time.
Since the lawsuit against the former members however, MacDonald has been fired and the church has admitted to poor fiscal management in the wake of a drop in tithing and membership stemming from the firing.
“The elder board of Harvest Bible Chapel is writing to you to apologize and ask for your forgiveness for a lawsuit that should never have been brought against you,” the apology from the church to the former members said. “This action put you through undue stress, took significant time, energy and resources, and left you to defend your reputations. We are sorry; please forgive us.”
Along with the apology, HBC said that it has made or offered restitution which “we hope this will start the healing process between each of you and Harvest.”
Roys confirmed with The Christian Post on Wednesday that HBC paid all her legal fees as well as compensatory damages.
She also noted on her website that: “I was not expecting an apology, but it is a welcome development and a step in the right direction. I do forgive each one of the elders for pursuing the lawsuit against myself, the Mahoneys, and the Bryants. And I truly hope for healing and reconciliation in the days to come.”
The greater Chicago church also noted in their statement Tuesday, that they privately apologized to the Evangelical Christian Credit Union which they accused in another lawsuit last fall of negligent supervision, deceptive trade practices, and common law fraud.
The lawsuit against the ECCU pertained to 5 loans the church took from the organization. HBC contended that they had offers to get better loan arrangements from other groups but stayed with ECCU because they had reason to believe they would be able to refinance the loans at lower interest rates. ECCU denied applications from the church to modify or refinance the loans.
“Regarding the lawsuit against ECCU, Harvest’s mortgage lender, weeks ago Harvest privately apologized to ECCU, and the apology was accepted. We are thankful for the gracious response ECCU has given to Harvest in this matter. However, because our suit against them was public, we also felt compelled to make our apology public,” HBC elders said.
In the apology sent to ECCU, HBC elders noted in part: “We only want to let you know that we are sorry for any anxiety, pain, grief, and cost that ECCU incurred due to the lawsuit filed by Harvest. To that end, Harvest is offering to reimburse ECCU for any reasonable out of pocket legal expenses incurred by ECCU which resulted from the lawsuit.”
HBC is currently undertaking a massive external audit of MacDonald’s use of church finances. Just over a week ago, The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability also announced that they had terminated HBC’s membership based on further investigation into the megachurch’s operation.
While an earlier report said MacDonald had access to between $800,000 to $1.2 million in discretionary funds on top of his nearly $1 million annual salary, the church confirmed that he was only given $451,000 in discretionary funds in 2018. The church also revealed that the discretionary spending account was at the crux of the ECFA’s termination of their membership.