James MacDonald issues 'repentance,' wants future focused on preaching and teaching

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

Ousted Illinois megachurch pastor James MacDonald issued a statement of “repentance” and said he hopes to return to preaching even though he was fired in February over allegations of bullying, intimidation and using his position for personal benefit.

The 59-year-old MacDonald, who served for over 30 years as senior pastor at the multi-campus Harvest Bible Chapel before his ousting, issued on Facebook a lengthy post in which he declared “my repentance.” 

“I was, am, and will remain very sorry for the careless and hurtful words that were illegally recorded and publicized,” MacDonald wrote Friday. “I immediately sent written apologies where appropriate, grieving what it revealed about the state of my heart at the time, as well as the hurt caused to those who trusted us to be a more consistent example of Christlikeness. I have no excuse and am truly sorry.”

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MacDonald’s ousting earlier this year followed "highly inappropriate recorded comments" that MacDonald made on a hot mic. The comments were aired on a Chicago-area radio station. 

The pastor was heard in the audio footage talking about things like planting child pornography on the computer of Christianity Today CEO Harold Smith. MacDonald also joked that freelance journalist Julie Roys was having an affair with Christianity Today Editor-in-Chief Mark Galli. He also made a vulgar reference to Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.

Although MacDonald said he sent apologies “where appropriate,” Roys wrote in a blog post that she has not received a written apology from MacDonald even though he was heard mocking her in the broadcasted hot mic clip. 

“I also don’t know of anyone else who’s received one either, including the more than two dozen sources who went on the record with me with horrific stories about MacDonald,” Roys wrote. 

In his statement repentance, MacDonald confessed to regressing “into sinful patterns of fleshly anger and self pity that wounded co-workers and others.”

“These sin issues had been points of growth and victory as expressed through my preaching and writing, but I fell back beginning in late 2016 and have only myself to blame,” MacDonald wrote. “I wrestled with the stress I felt, the injustice I endured, etc. Yet, over time I have come to see only myself and my own relational failing in the mirror, and with grief and sorrow I ask your forgiveness.”

“As part of this, I have come to see my sin of handling pressure in a way that got things done, but neglected the priority of love and the presiding humility of serving others first,” he added. “Letters have been sent to those the Holy Spirit has brought to mind, owning what is true without reference to what is false. We are looking to the Lord to keep my focus here as long as it takes in hopes of reconciliation with every willing heart.”

MacDonald’s post came just days after nine Harvest Bible Chapel elders issued a formal letter of rebuke formally disqualifying the former senior pastor from ministry. The elders stressed that his actions do not meet the Scriptural requirements to be an elder and noted that he had not yet shown any evidence of repentance.

The elders terminated MacDonald for having a “sinful pattern of inappropriate language, anger, and domineering behavior.” 

The church elders felt inclined to issue the letter months after MacDonald’s firing because of the existence of “confusion” over the church’s previous statements regarding MacDonald. 

The elders assured that the investigation only considered evidence from first-hand witnesses and that everything covered in the letter “includes many more witnesses than the biblical requisite of two or three.”

Among other things, the church’s investigation found that MacDonald had a pattern of being disruptive in public and private settings “at the expense of other people’s well-being.” Also, the church stated that MacDonald sometimes misrepresented gifts paid for by the church as being gifts from him personally. 

“We found that James had a pattern of improperly exercising positional and spiritual authority over others to his own advantage,” the letter reads. “We found that James made repeated efforts to profit himself beyond what was honorable. There was a pattern of extravagant spending utilizing church resources resulting in personal benefit.”

The elders also stressed that the former pastor "needs an extended period of time away from ministry in order to focus on repentance and to seek relational reconciliation and restitution where it is possible."

MacDonald noted on Friday that he and his wife, Kathy, have been welcomed to join the multi-ethnic congregation of New Life Covenant Church in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. The church is currently pastored by Wilfredo DeJesus. 

“New Life has embraced us in love, offering us a place to serve and the beginnings of healing community,” he said. “Please know that God continues His work in my heart — we have never doubted the Lord or His Word and believe He is not done with us.”

MacDonald assured that he and Kathy are “planning a future focused on preaching and teaching God’s word.” The goal, for now, is “helping pastors preach the Bible more impactfully, living the mandate of Christ’s love, and being free from the weight of large organizational leadership.”

In August, MacDonald hinted at a possible return to ministry. 

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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