A church is suing its former members for making “false allegations” that they say resulted in a loss of 2,000 members.
Harvest Bible Chapel, outside of Chicago, and its pastor James MacDonald (above) are going after the authors of the blog The Elephant’s Debt, their wives, and journalist Julie Roys.
Among the many claims made in the lawsuit, the church says the blog “falsely and negligently” claimed the church, in 2010, had “$70 Million in debt and barely survived a bankruptcy in 2006.” The site also referred to the church’s mortgage as “reckless debt” and said MacDonald “bears the lion’s share of the responsibility” for those debts. The website also made allegations that MacDonald has a gambling problem. It goes on like this for a long while, but the point is the church refutes those characterizations and suggests the blog’s authors knowingly published false information.
As for Roys, the church says she worked “extensively” with the blog and tried to get Moody Bible Institute (for which she hosted a radio show) to remove MacDonald’s show from its network.
Said MacDonald in a letter to his congregation:
We are indeed living in an age of rage, fueled by ‘fake news’ where the presumption of innocence has almost universally given way to the presumption of guilt. Due process seems entirely disregarded in our national discourse and, for the church, this cultural decline can cause great damage to worship communities.
We have carefully reviewed the Scriptures related to the purpose of human government and the church. We have contacted many influential pastors and biblical scholars, and received near unanimous confirmation of our thinking. Now it’s time to step up and say “enough is enough,” employing less traditional but entirely biblical provisions from God.
No more sitting by doing nothing while digital attackers ravage the body of Christ. We filed our lawsuit this week…
It’s hard to believe that a megachurch with “assets worth more than $100 million and some 400 employees” can’t settle this dispute with a (relatively) small blog and respected reporter. The specific defamation claims aside, the lawsuit strikes me as a last-ditch effort to save face, as if bloggers critical of a church could be held responsible for the mass exodus of church members. (If they were spreading lies about the church, it’s easier to imagine the congregation shutting the website out of their minds entirely.)
In any case, so much for “turning the other cheek.”