Pastor MacDonald says he'll preach again, but Harvest Bible elders say not at our church
Former Harvest Bible Chapel megachurch pastor James MacDonald says he intends to resume preaching -- but he won't be allowed to do so at the church he founded, whose leaders say they still find him spiritually unfit to do so.
In a Facebook post Friday, MacDonald and his wife, Kathy, announced they have become members of the Humboldt Park campus of New Life Covenant Church in Chicago, which also has an Elgin branch. They plan, according to the statement, to focus on preaching and teaching and helping other pastors improve their preaching. MacDonald will be "free from the weight of large organizational leadership," according to the statement.
It does not say where he will be doing the preaching. MacDonald could not be reached for comment Saturday, and messages left at New Life Covenant about the level of his involvement there weren't immediately returned. Last month, journalist Julie Roys and radio show host Mancow Muller reported that MacDonald had preached at a men's retreat in Wisconsin run by New Life Covenant.
The MacDonalds' post seems to be a response to a Nov. 3 rebuke by Harvest, which was read at worship services and posted on its website. The message said it was intended to provide "clarity." The church fired MacDonald in February, saying he had not behaved in a manner above reproach, as the church requires of its pastors, and that MacDonald had demonstrated "a sinful pattern of inappropriate language, anger and domineering behavior."
"With the scope of the damage caused by his behavior, James will not be able to serve again as an Elder or Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel," the Nov. 3 message said. The elders said they came to that conclusion after interviewing multiple witnesses and documenting only firsthand evidence of what MacDonald is alleged to have done.
MacDonald could return to Christian ministry, the statement said, if "the fruits of repentance" were evident. However, "we have not seen evidence of this."
"Though this is painful, we desire this rebuke to be loving and we remain open to meeting with James. Please don't ever stop praying for James and Kathy," it concludes.
MacDonald and his wife, Kathy, provided their own update Friday on Facebook.
"Our efforts to work through existing channels in our former church have reached an unsuccessful end, leading to this release of words we have long sought to express," the MacDonald's post said.
"After waiting many months in hope of a pathway toward restoration, we have been welcomed into the congregation of New Life Covenant Church in Humboldt Park, Chicago. A multiethnic church under Pastor Wilfredo DeJesus, New Life has embraced us in love, offering us a place to serve and the beginnings of healing community."
In the 854-word statement, MacDonald says he is sorry "for the careless and hurtful words that were illegally recorded and publicized," that he has sent written apologies "where appropriate," and admitted "regrettable decisions" leading to other Harvest Bible leaders' departures and a "fearful and defensive lawsuit" against three critics.
In January, Muller played recordings in which a man believed to be MacDonald made fun of Roys and accused her of having an affair with an editor of Christianity Today magazine, which she denied; speculated about putting child pornography on the computer of another Christianity Today editor; and said he could raise $100,000 "in a minute."
MacDonald and the church filed a defamation lawsuit in 2018 against two former employees and Roys. The ex-employees wrote a blog critical of MacDonald and Harvest, and Roys was investigating Harvest Bible.
He asked for forgiveness, saying he had regressed starting in late 2016 to "sinful patterns of fleshly anger and self-pity that wounded co-workers and others." He said desperation led to wrong decisions. "I wrestled with the stress I felt, the injustice I endured, etc. Yet, over time I have come to see only myself and my own relational failing in the mirror, and with grief and sorrow I ask your forgiveness," the statement says.
Roys said Friday, via her website, that she has not received any letter of apology from MacDonald.
MacDonald's statement says he released it because of decisions by Harvest's current elders and staff, "along with inaccurate announcements and recent public condemnation." "With sadness we accept that no face-fo-face confession or truth-advancing interaction will be forthcoming," it said.
MacDonald sought arbitration with the church to resolve financial issues, including the ownership of the "Walk In the Word" radio, television and digital broadcast ministry. The church contends it owns "Walk In the Word." It shut "Walk In the Word" down when it fired MacDonald. The dispute has not been settled.
An April 12 separation agreement was declared null and void by the church, because the lender that holds the church's mortgages did not approve.
New Life Covenant belongs to the Assemblies of God denomination. Its lead pastor, DeJesus, was named one of the nation's Top 100 influencers in 2013 by Time magazine. The church has four sites in Chicago, one in Elgin, one in Hartford, Connecticut, and one in Wesley Springs, Florida.