Harvest Bible Chapel has dropped a lawsuit against author and journalist Julie Roys and the writers of the Elephant's Debt blog amid public scrutiny for an alleged culture of fear, intimidation, and financial mismanagement.
The suit first came about last fall before the publication of Roys' eight-months investigation into Harvest Bible Chapel's financial activities and allegations that longtime Pastor James MacDonald had serious anger issues and had been verbally abusive to many people, including staff and former elders. The Elephant's Debt blog has been writing about these issues since 2012; the site was launched for the purpose of making a public case that MacDonald should no longer serve in his pastoral office.
The church sought two motions in court, one for an emergency protective order to seal documents that had been returned during the discovery process. The other was a motion to stay discovery, which would have essentially barred them from conducting any further discovery until spring. Cook County Circuit Judge Diane Larsen denied both motions on Monday.
Following her refusal to grant the motions, on Monday the church put out a statement on their website maintaining they still believe that what Roys and the Elephant's Debt blog did was illegal, though they did not mention the parties by name.
"Recent events have made it clear that any further private content subpoenaed from third and fourth parties will likely be publicized online," the statement from the executive committee of elders explained.
"Case law contains many legal precedents related to restricting these actions, yet the court ruled against our motions in both instances. The result is that even if we filed a motion to reconsider, even if we amended the complaint to exclude private matters sensitive to some third parties, the court appears unwilling to protect our many friends, including those with whom we seek to reconcile. "
Harvest Bible Chapel went on to say that they could not in good conscience subject innocent people, in many instances against their will, to a complete subpoena process and therefore decided to scrap the lawsuit altogether.
"With this decision, we can again focus our energies on continued growth in personal and organizational faults we have owned, enduring what is false, and striving to mitigate the damage such attacks bring to our church family and friends," the elders concluded.
Last week, MacDonald announced that he was removing his Bible teaching program "Walk in the Word" from all television and radio platforms in the coming months and transferring them to digital mediums like podcasts. While he said the move was mostly pragmatic, he admitted that the scrutiny the church was under had been straining relationships with Christian broadcast ministries that had hosted his content.
“There’s all the upkeep that’s going on with all the relationships,” MacDonald said at the time. “When our church goes through difficult times like of late, that becomes even more of a strain and a burden to carry in a way that none of you would ever even know what goes on behind the scenes.”
"I am heartened that James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel decided to drop the lawsuit, but grieved that both the church and James MacDonald continue to spin lies," Roys said in an email to The Christian Post Tuesday afternoon.
"Their statement accuses me and the other four defendants of illegal actions and of publicizing false and distorted information, but nothing could be further from the truth. When Harvest filed the lawsuit in October, I hadn't published anything about the church, but simply had contacted Harvest for its response to allegations made by former elders and staff in the course of my investigation."
Harvest Bible Chapel has yet to name anything Roys has reported that is false, she added.
"It seems Harvests' decision to drop the suit was motivated by a desire to suppress the truth and maintain its secrets," she said.
"This lawsuit was a complete travesty. To make matters right, MacDonald and Harvest need to apologize publicly for bringing this frivolous lawsuit, reimburse all defendants for legal fees, and every church leader who had a hand in this unbiblical lawsuit needs to resign."
Likewise in a Tuesday blog post, Scott Bryant and Ryan Mahoney at The Elephant's Debt also urged MacDonald to make amends, repent and publicly apologize for his behavior, and reimburse them for their legal fees so they could in turn reimburse their donor friends who helped them with their legal bills.
"[B]arring these public acts of contrition, please understand that your words will not be received as anything other than another cynical ploy to manage your public image," the bloggers wrote.
Roys stressed in a WYLL AM radio interview on Monday that this is a case of elders not doing their jobs and a famous megachurch pastor who had structured the church such that he was shielded from any meaningful accountability.
The church's bylaws had been revamped to say that the only way a pastor could be removed was if the executive elder committee approved it, and MacDonald was himself a member of that committee. Thus, the only way he could go was if he wanted to leave.
"This is about church government, it is about how to hold leaders accountable," Roys explained on Monday, noting that most Christians find the subject uninteresting but that it is nevertheless vital.
"Christians, church members, need to pay attention. They need to read those boring bylaws but really look at them because those are important and that's how something like this happens."
CP also reached out to Harvest Bible Chapel for further comment on this article, but they declined to be quoted.
MacDonald founded Harvest Bible Chapel 1988 which now has several campuses across the Chicago region and one in Naples, Florida.