Evangelical financial group suspends Harvest Bible Chapel's accreditation

Even as Harvest Bible Chapel attempts to recover from scandal, its leaders are facing more negative news.

The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability announced last week it suspended its accreditation of Harvest, while it investigates whether the church violated the organization's core principles.

In its announcement, the organization said it launched an investigation of Harvest Nov. 28, and after an on-site visit in December, believed the church was in compliance.

But it has received new information, it said, that has it concerned the church "may be in serious violation" of four standards of stewardship.

"The investigation has been and will remain ongoing during the suspension as we work to determine whether Harvest Bible Chapel should be terminated, advised of the steps necessary to come into full compliance or whether they are in fact in compliance with our standards and should, therefore, be restored to full membership," council President Dan Busby said in an announcement of the suspension.

The standards require that every organization be governed by a responsible board of not less than five individuals, a majority of whom are independent; prepare complete and accurate financial statements; exercise appropriate management and controls to provide reasonable assurance that all of the organization's operations are carried out in a responsible manner; and set compensation of its top leader in a manner that demonstrates integrity and propriety.

The statement did not provide details about Harvest's suspected violations.

Efforts to reach Harvest officials Sunday were unsuccessful.

However, an interim leadership team has announced that the church is opening a new bank account to handle members' tithes, and the money will be used only for ministry expenses, "banking obligations" and staff salaries. None of it will be directed to the senior pastor's office, or to items in past budgets, the church's website says.

It also announced that donations recently have decreased 40 percent. As a result, the church will reduce its weekly operating expense by 25 percent, from $409,000 a week to $308,000 a week. It did not say how it would do so.

And, in response to questions from parishioners, it says that although two of the church's sites were bought by congregants and leased to the church, no leaders of the church, including founder and former senior pastor James MacDonald, have any ownership in those corporations.

Allegations regarding church finances have surfaced on social media, blogs and in reporting by Julie Roys, who was one of five people the church and MacDonald sued in October, claiming they had defamed Harvest. The church dropped the suit after a Cook County judge refused to prohibit the defendants from publishing church documents they received as a result of subpoenas.

Last month, the church dismissed MacDonald as senior pastor and members of the elder board announced they would step down. Longtime Assistant Senior Pastor Rick McDonald later was placed on leave and pastors Luke and Landon MacDonald, James MacDonald's sons, resigned.

The church says it is attempting to change, and reconcile with people who may have been wronged.

The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability was founded 40 years ago as a voluntary organization that aims to ensure that churches and other Christian organizations follow certain accounting, fundraising and governing practices, to give donors confidence their donations are being handled responsibly and spent as intended. Local organizations that belong include Wheaton College, Willow Creek Community Church, the Moody Bible Institute and Christ Community Church of St. Charles. National organizations including the Billy Graham Association also are accredited by the organization.

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Former Harvest Bible Chapel Senior Pastor James MacDonald. Courtesy of Harvest Bible Chapel
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