Over the past year, we’ve seen the complete downfall of Pastor James MacDonald, the founder of Illinois’ Harvest Bible Chapel church.
Things got rocky, however, following a devastating article by journalist Julie Roys, subsequent details from Chicago shock jock Mancow Muller, and an exposure of his mismanagement by independent bloggers. MacDonald later sued Roys and the bloggers for defamation. The lawsuit was dropped months later in part because the church didn’t want to produce documents that would make their way into the public sphere. MacDonald was fired from the church in February.
Oh. And he allegedly wanted to hire a hitman to go after his son-in-law. As one does.
He has since repented — take that as you will — and plans on returning to preaching.
His next church ought to take a close look at a recently released report from the Chicago-based law firm Wagenmaker & Oberly. They were hired to basically conduct an audit of the church’s finances in the wake of the MacDonald scandal(s), and what they found is incredible.
Just look at what MacDonald was able to get away with using the church’s money, as summarized by Emily McFarlan Miller of Religion News Service. And remember that all of this is in addition to his seven-figure salary.
Of the $3.1 million spent from those accounts between 2016 and MacDonald’s firing in February 2019, $1.2 was payment of deferred compensation — mostly toward retirement for MacDonald. That had been approved by Harvest’s compensation committee, according to Schechter Dokken Kanter’s separate report.
The remaining $1.9 million was used for other spending — “frequently at MacDonald’s discretion,” [Harvest treasurer Tim] Stoner said.
That includes about $286,000 in direct payments to MacDonald and his family for things like an internet tower installed at the MacDonalds’ house, car repairs, college tuition and two motorcycles, he said.
“For sure, it is difficult to see how one could justify spending the church’s money on these items,” Stoner said.
There was also $94,000 spent on clothing and eyewear, mostly for MacDonald; vehicles for friends and ministry donors; a $25,000 donation to the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.; $171,000 on hunting and fishing trips; $71,000 on a deer farm owned by Harvest in Newaygo, Michigan; and $36,000 on a private investigator, of which the treasurer said, “We’re not sure of the purpose of this expense.”
It’s one hell of a job if you can get it. All you need is the ability to dupe a giant crowd of gullible Christians and zero ounces of integrity.
How the hell does that sort of spending occur for years without any church leader raising red flags, resigning in protest, or at the very least alerting the congregation? It’s possible some wanted to, but weren’t allowed to given their contract. That also should have been a red flag. All the more reason for all these non-profit churches to be fully transparent in their finances.
The report, which you can read here, doesn’t just detail all the church money MacDonald wasted. It blames the church itself for a “highly problematic culture” and “unhealthy power structure.”
For their part, the church has closed the accounts that MacDonald abused, restructured its board, began a new finance committee, and plans to review or adopt other recommendations.
They have not decided, however, to make public how much money the church takes in and where it’s all going. Which means they’re refusing to take the most important step to root out future corruption.