Harvest Bible loses financial stamp of approval

Harvest Bible Chapel has lost the stamp of approval from an organization that evaluates the finances of Christian organizations.

The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability's board terminated Harvest's membership Wednesday, according to a statement posted on its website.

It had suspended Harvest's membership in March, then reported it received more information on Monday, which it did not detail.

It said the church had violated the group's standards in four areas: governance, financial oversight, use of resources and compliance with laws, and compensation and related-party transactions.

The council described the violations as "significant" but did not provide more information.

Officials were unavailable Friday, when its office was closed for the Good Friday religious holiday.

Harvest Bible Chapel, founded in 1988 in Rolling Meadows, last year sued several former church members and a writer who publicly criticized its handling of finances and the leadership of founding pastor James MacDonald. The church dropped the lawsuit in January after a judge ruled against a church's request to keep some documents private.

MacDonald was fired in February after recordings by him that church leaders deemed "highly inappropriate" were aired by radio show host Mancow Muller, a former church member.

In recent weeks the church has reorganized under an interim leadership team whose members say they are determined the church will change and reconcile with people who might have been wronged.

They have acknowledged that there was a separate budget for MacDonald's office, under his control, that congregants and some leaders did not know about.

MacDonald declined to comment Friday.

Church leaders announced in March that contributions to the church this year are running about 40 percent below those in 2018 and that as a result, it was cutting operational spending by about 25 percent.

The church still owes more than $39 million on mortgages, according to a statement published Sunday on its website.

Harvest announced it is retooling a fundraising campaign to pay down debt and fund projects to be determined by each of its seven Chicago-area churches. Two original beneficiaries of the effort, a new Hinsdale congregation and an addiction recovery program at Harvest's camp in Michigan, were affected. The church was dropped and the recovery program suspended.

Harvest posted on its website Sunday that its "Closer" campaign will last just one year, ending Dec. 31, instead of the original three years. The money, which people were asked to give above their normal offerings, will still be split between debt paydown and projects. But now donations are being tracked by which Harvest campus they come from and funds will be allocated to those campuses, to be spent as leaders at each campus decide.

The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability began investigating Harvest Nov. 28, 2018. It was founded 40 years ago with the aim of giving donors confidence their donations are being handled responsibly and spent as intended.

Wheaton College, Willow Creek Community Church and the Moody Bible Institute are among local organizations that belong. Of about 30 organizations that were terminated in the last two years, only Harvest's is for violating standards, according to the website. The rest were because the organizations dissolved, merged with another member or failed to complete paperwork.

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