Harvest Bible Chapel’s founder and former leader James MacDonald has slapped Chicago radio personality Matthew “Mancow” Muller with a lawsuit alleging multiple counts defamation and is seeking at least $50,000 in compensatory damages for the spread of false information which caused him emotional distress and significant harm to his reputation.
Also named in the lawsuit is Cumulus Media, Inc., a Delaware corporation, which owns and operates WLS-A.M. 890 Radio, which broadcasts Muller’s morning show in Chicago as well as individuals involved in the production of Muller’s podcasts.
He was recorded talking about planting child pornography on Christianity Today CEO Harold Smith's computer, and making crude remarks about independent journalist Julie Roys — including joking that she had an affair with then CT Editor-in-Chief Mark Galli — and a vulgar reference to Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.
“MacDonald’s statements, as broadcasted, streamed and otherwise published by Muller and Cumulus, was a private conversation between James MacDonald speaking on the telephone in the presence of Walk in the Word employees Daniel Sumpter and Wayne Shepard on one side, and Johnnie Moore, a noted Christian evangelical leader and public relations specialist, on the other side, from an enclosed and soundproof studio at the Harvest Bible Chapel campus in Elgin, Illinois with no outsiders or extraneous participants known to be listening, invited to listen, or listening with MacDonald’s knowledge, authorization or consent,” lawyer’s for MacDonald argue in the lawsuit filed Thursday in Cook County, Illinois.
“The recording was made through eavesdropping as defined in 720 ILCS 5/14-1 as MacDonald had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the private telephone conversation that took place in a closed-door, soundproof room, and he had not given authorization or consent to uninvited third parties outside the room to listen to the private conversation via an electronic device or record same and lacked knowledge that the conversation had been intercepted through a listening device and was being recorded,” they continue.
“Muller knew, or should have known, that the telephone conversation was private and was recorded unlawfully …. One who uses or discloses any information he knows or reasonably should know was obtained from a private conversation is liable for eavesdropping in violation of ILCS 720 §5- 14-2(s)(5) unless he does so with the consent of all the parties,” the lawsuit adds.
It further notes that because of Muller’s eavesdropping, “MacDonald suffered mental anguish, humiliation, anxiety, monetary damage and injury to his reputation” and that the radio personality’s actions were carried out with “a wanton disregard for MacDonald’s rights and privacy.”
MacDonald is represented in the lawsuit by Phillip J. Zisook and Richard M. Goldwasser, of the law firm Schoenberg Finkel Newman & Rosenberg LLC, in Chicago.
The lawsuit challenges a number of other allegations made against MacDonald, such as the former pastor seeking to hire a hitman or seeking to plant child pornography on anyone’s computer.
“MacDonald never asked Muller if he could find someone to plant ‘kiddie porn’ on someone’s computer, never asked Muller to find a hitman or any person to kill any of his rivals, and did not conspire to commit murder. Muller intentionally and knowingly fabricated his accusations or acted with reckless disregard for the truth in publishing the above statements so as to constitute actual malice,” the lawsuit said.
It also disputes claims by made by a woman identified as Anne Green on Muller’s show in Feb, that James made inappropriate contact with her during a mission trip.
“Green stated that on the return private plane trip, James MacDonald sat next to her, and at some point, leaned his head on her shoulder, and reached across her, placing his hand on her right side, ‘next to her crotch.’…. Muller described MacDonald in the course of the program as a man who ‘feels up women’ and that MacDonald was ‘running his hand over Green’s crotch,’” the lawsuit says.
“Anne Green’s statements on Muller’s radio show and their implications were false. MacDonald did not make any inappropriate physical contact with Green, much less ‘next to her crotch’. Further, contrary to Muller’s false statements, MacDonald does not feel ‘women up’ and did not ‘run (his) hand over Green’s crotch,’” it further notes.
In May, Elders at the embattled Harvest Bible Chapel revealed in an announcement that MacDonald was pursuing arbitration with the church to settle a dispute over his firing and the church’s broadcast ministry, Walk in the Word.
The church’s elder board also formally apologized to independent journalist Julie Roys and several former members, months after joining MacDonald in a defamation lawsuit accusing them of publishing false information about the church’s management and finances last fall.
He was later investigated for financial abuse and last month Harvest Bible Chapel published a summary of a legal and financial review of MacDonald’s reign, suggesting he extensively misused the church’s financial resources for improper financial benefit.
Reacting to the lawsuit Monday, Roys noted how alarmed she was by MacDonald’s lawsuit against Muller in light of his recent apology tour.
“Barely a month after issuing a public ‘repentance,’ and apologizing for the lawsuit against me and and others that he called ‘fearful and defensive,’ disgraced, former Harvest Bible Chapel senior pastor, James MacDonald, has sued a believer again. This time, the target is Chicago radio personality Mancow Muller—a former church member and confidant whom the lawsuit accuses of defaming MacDonald,” she noted in a Facebook post.
“Muller told me he can't comment on the specifics of the lawsuit but maintains that ‘everything I said is true.’ As for why he spoke out against MacDonald, Muller said that he had endorsed MacDonald on air for years, so ‘I wanted my listeners to know he was a fraud once I discovered it,’” Roys added.
MacDonald, who founded the greater Chicago megachurch more than 30 years ago, has signaled he could likely return to the pulpit in “early 2020.”