James MacDonald fights over firing, assets of Harvest Bible Chapel amid murder-for-hire allegations

Pastor James MacDonald founder of Harvest Bible Chapel in greater Chicago.
Pastor James MacDonald founder of Harvest Bible Chapel in greater Chicago. | Creative Commons

Harvest Bible Chapel founder James MacDonald is still contesting his firing from the greater Chicago megachurch even as police investigate murder for hire allegations.

Elders at the embattled megachurch revealed in an announcement Saturday that MacDonald is pursuing arbitration with the church to settle a dispute over his firing and the church’s broadcast ministry, Walk in the Word.

“On May 16, 2019, we received a letter informing us that James MacDonald is pursuing arbitration with Harvest Bible Chapel through the Institute for Christian Conciliation,” the church said.

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“Arbitration is a method used to resolve disputes outside of the courts. Essentially, it allows a group of arbitrators to listen to arguments presented by both parties and then the arbitrators decide how this issue will be settled. Both parties submit to the decision of the arbitrators as it is legally binding. This is not a lawsuit in a court of law, and James has not sued our church by taking this action. The issues of this claim primarily involve the termination of James MacDonald and the ownership of Walk in the Word,” the announcement continued.

MacDonald’s Feb. 12 ouster from Harvest Bible Chapel was triggered by "highly inappropriate recorded comments" he made on a radio program as well as "other conduct."

He was recorded talking about planting child pornography on Christianity Today CEO's Harold Smith's computer, and making crude remarks about independent journalist 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.

He also exited the megachurch under a cloud of allegations of financial abuse.

The elders maintain that he was fired for cause and that Walk in the Word belongs to the church.

“As the leaders of this church, we are committing to communicating about this arbitration process as it progresses. There is no desire to keep this matter unnecessarily private. We expect this to take months, not weeks. The Elders and Church Leadership Team are united in their position that James MacDonald’s termination was with cause and that Walk in the Word is a ministry of Harvest Bible Chapel,” they insisted.

The announcement came just days before police in Illinois confirmed they are investigating new claims that James MacDonald sought to find a hitman to commit murder multiple times.

“A subject came in and filed a report and we are doing an investigation based on that report,” Wilmette Deputy Police Chief Pat Collins confirmed with The Christian Post Monday.

The allegations regarding MacDonald’s efforts to commit murder were first reported by independent journalist Julie Roys, who cited Chicago radio personality Mancow Muller and Emmanuel “Manny” Bucur, a deacon at HBC and former confidant and volunteer bodyguard of MacDonald’s, as the individuals making the claims.

Bucur told Roys that in 2015, MacDonald asked him to kill his former son-in-law, Tony Groves, and offered to help dispose of the body. He argued that he did not report MacDonald because he was angry about his daughter allegedly being hurt, and chalked up the proposal as a momentary lapse in judgment.

On Monday Muller published a pre-recorded interview with Bucur speaking under the alias “George” in which the former volunteer bodyguard first revealed MacDonald’s proposal.

Harvest Bible Chapel in greater Chicago.
Harvest Bible Chapel in greater Chicago. | Instagram

“As it turns out I’m not the only one he’s approached and asked about this which is just insane how many people he thought he could trust to ask something as crazy as this you know. What’s to say he won’t come after me?” Bucur a combat marine veteran said.

“I basically told him, we’re not talking about this. I can’t believe you would even ask me this. I shut it down and that was the end of that,” he explained.

Bucur, who said he believes MacDonald got away with “millions” from HBC, noted he also had to get a restraining order against MacDonald for trespassing at his house.

Muller alleges that MacDonald asked him at least twice in 2018 if he knew a hitman he could hire. Initially, he thought that the HBC founder was joking but it became clear to him during a conversation in December that MacDonald was “really serious,” and he told him that this was something he could go to Hell for.

“He came to me and wanted me to have a hitman and he wanted me to hire a hitman and my understanding was to kill one of his rivals. At that moment, I realized I was in a cult, this guy was bad, and I couldn’t support it any longer. Do I think he was kidding? No. I think he really wanted me to find a hitman for him as I had found other people to do deeds for him. Had he stepped up and apologized, had they (HBC) done any kind of forensic audit, had anybody done anything right at any step of the way at this place called Harvest, I wouldn’t have done this today,” he said.

“He was a good friend with me and he could have trusted me with anything but hiring someone, seriously, I said ‘you don’t want to kill someone here? You could go to Hell for that. And I tried to talk him off the ledge … but man it scared me and it frightened me and I also thought I wouldn’t be able to get here today without him killing me. I’m very afraid of the guy,” Muller said on the podcast.

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