Harvest Bible Chapel, ex-pastor settle financial differences, but aren't giving details

  • Pastor James MacDonald preaching at the Harvest Bible Chapel campus in Elgin.

    Pastor James MacDonald preaching at the Harvest Bible Chapel campus in Elgin. Daily Herald file photo, 2013

  • Radio show host Mancow Muller, left, and former Harvest Bible Church pastor James MacDonald, in happier times.

    Radio show host Mancow Muller, left, and former Harvest Bible Church pastor James MacDonald, in happier times. Photo courtesy of Mancow Muller

  • Harvest Bible Chapel's Rolling Meadows campus.

      Harvest Bible Chapel's Rolling Meadows campus. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer, 2019

 
 
Posted9/17/2020 1:00 AM

Rolling Meadows-based Harvest Bible Chapel and the founding pastor it fired -- James MacDonald -- have resolved their differences about severance pay, expenses and publishing and television royalties.

But the details are being kept private. The two sides agreed to keep the terms confidential, according to a document MacDonald's lawyer sent to lawyers for the defendants in a defamation lawsuit MacDonald is pursuing.

 

The document contains written answers to questions posed by Cumulus Media, which owns WLS-AM 890, the radio station that airs Mancow Muller's radio show. Both WLS-AM and Muller also are defendants.

MacDonald's lawsuit complains that Muller's broadcasts that were critical of him were defamatory and cost him his job. Muller and MacDonald had been friends when Muller attended the church, but Muller has said he became disillusioned by MacDonald and left the fold.

Cumulus' attorney said he could not comment about the document. Muller's attorney confirmed its authenticity Wednesday.

MacDonald and his attorney declined to comment on the contents of the document. When asked if congregation members had been told of the settlement, Harvest's spokesman, Sherri Smith, would say only that anything related to the arbitration is posted on the church website. A check of the website showed the last reference came in a church update posted in June that said the coronavirus pandemic had slowed progress, but that a resolution was expected "by the end of the summer."

She declined to comment otherwise on the agreement.

What it says

Cumulus asked for information about any defamation lawsuits filed by MacDonald or the church. MacDonald listed a 2018 defamation suit against journalist Julie Roys and two bloggers. But he also listed the private arbitration demand he made of the church.

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MacDonald and the church agreed to resolve their dispute using the Institute for Christian Conciliation. That happened Aug. 14, and both sides agreed to keep details confidential, according to the document.

The lawsuit

MacDonald's 18-count lawsuit claims that Muller said untrue and defamatory things about him, on the air and in podcasts. According to the lawsuit, on Feb. 12, 2019, Muller discussed whether a criminal racketeering case could be made against MacDonald, that there were "secret books and black ops," that MacDonald planned to put child pornography on Muller's computer to get him to shut up, and that MacDonald was a con man.

The suit also accuses Muller of illegally eavesdropping on MacDonald, by airing the contents of a phone call that someone else recorded without MacDonald's permission at a Harvest campus. In that call, MacDonald made derogatory comments about Roys and the editors of Christianity Today, and wondered whether child pornography could be put on the computer of a Christianity Today editor.

Church leaders announced in a Feb. 13, 2019, website post that they had already decided to fire him before the Feb. 12 broadcast, but that the release and publication of the recording "accelerated" their timeline. So they made the firing official as of Feb. 12, 2019.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

MacDonald alleges what Muller said about him contributed to the church firing him in February 2019; has prevented him from obtaining a church job; and caused him to lose $1.9 million in salary and deferred compensation, $300,000 in intellectual property royalties and speaking engagements, and $500,000 in publishing opportunities.

Arbitration

The church and MacDonald approved a separation agreement in April 2019, contingent upon the approval of a credit union to which the church owed nearly $40 million.

But in June 2019, the church announced the lender had refused to approve the agreement, saying the church could not give away any of its assets including cash, physical property and intellectual property.

The intellectual property included the "Walk In the Word" radio, television and digital ministry MacDonald led. The two sides disagreed over who owned it.

Since Harvest

In February, MacDonald announced on his James MacDonald Ministries website, that he was starting the Home Church Network. HCN would train people to host church services in their homes. That training has been put on hold until at least November, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the website states.

He has been publishing devotionals via the site, Facebook and email. The website also sells nine of the Bible study books he wrote.

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