Harvest Bible Chapel founding pastor James MacDonald fired; 'shocking' audio revealed

Pastor James MacDonald preaches at Harvest Bible Chapel.
Pastor James MacDonald preaches at Harvest Bible Chapel. | (Photo: Courtesy of James MacDonald)

Longtime leader of the Chicago-area megachurch Harvest Bible Chapel James MacDonald has been ousted as senior pastor in light of unsavory remarks he made on a hot mic that were aired on local media Tuesday.

In an elders update posted on the church website Wednesday, the HBC elders stated "with great sadness" that they had determined that MacDonald should be removed from his role at the church. This action, they explained, came about following "highly inappropriate recorded comments" MacDonald had made that were played on the air of a local radio program Tuesday morning.

"Given that and other conduct under consideration, in accordance with the procedures in our Bylaws, 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. His employment has been terminated from Harvest Bible Chapel, effective today, February 12, 2019," the elder update reads.

"This decision was made with heavy hearts and much time spent in earnest prayer, followed by input from various trusted outside advisors."

MacDonald's firing comes after the publication of a lengthy investigative piece by Julie Roys in World magazine. Her article, "Hard Times at Harvest," which took eight months to complete, documented alleged financial malfeasance, abusive dynamics within the church from the top-down — particularly MacDonald's temper — and a culture of fear and intimidation.

Chicago radio host Matthew Erich "Mancow" Muller, who is a former parishioner of HBC, played portions of recorded comments of MacDonald on his WLS/AM 890 show Tuesday.

Among the things said in the audio is MacDonald talking about planting child pornography on Christianity Today CEO's Harold Smith's computer, crude remarks about Julie Roys — including joking that she had an affair with CT Editor-in-Chief Mark Galli — and a vulgar reference to Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. Muller also threatened to start a class-action lawsuit against MacDonald and the church.

Writing on her blog Tuesday, Roys articulated her disgust, calling MacDonald's words "shocking" and "breathtaking."

She explained that in addition to his rude comments, she was troubled that MacDonald accused her and someone else who used to attend HBC of approaching the homes of people who were victims in a DCFS investigation, shouting at them about a cover-up at the church.

MacDonald can be heard in the audio saying that Roys was “off the rails” and that in 30 days she was going to be “riding a tricycle with a midget on [her] shoulders.”

The allegation that she was harassing people was "a complete fabrication," Roys asserted Tuesday.

The Chicago radio personality is reportedly in possession of approximately 100 more hours of MacDonald on tape. He is planning to air in its entirety the 50-minute conversation from which he played audio excerpts Tuesday in an upcoming podcast.

Muller had claimed Friday on his Twitter feed that MacDonald was being ousted. The Christian Post reached out to HBC at the time to confirm that but received no response.

In a Wednesday post, Roys expressed relief MacDonald was finally out.

"No longer can he prey on the sheep he was supposed to protect. No longer can he use church members’ money to line his pockets. No longer can he rage on innocent employees and get people to believe the lies he’s spread about those who challenge him," Roys wrote.

"A church is in shambles. Evangelicals are publicly embarrassed — again. And more men remain in positions of influence who have done reprehensible things," she added, urging Christians to seek God, repent, and pray for revival.

Before the publication of Roys' investigation in World, the church sued her as well as two former members, along with their wives, who had been writing critically of HBC and MacDonald since 2012 on a blog called The Elephant's Debt. The church said both Roys and the Elephant's Debt bloggers had broken the law and had spread misinformation about them. But HBC dropped the lawsuit in January after a judge denied the church two motions in order to keep documents subpoenaed in the case private.

In a Wednesday statement, the Elephant's Debt bloggers expressed both sorrow for HBC members and gratitude for those who had helped uncover the problems at the church and with MacDonald.

"Over the past several weeks, Mr. Muller has displayed a courage that is often profoundly lacking in the evangelical community; and we will always be appreciative of the true leadership he provided in this era," the ED bloggers wrote.

"We recognize that many people at Harvest Bible Chapel are hurting today. And we are hoping and praying for better days ahead for your community."

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