James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel Goes After The Elephant’s Debt Blog Accusing it of Defamation in a Lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago, Illinois

James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel file a lawsuit against The Elephant’s Debt which chronicles the abuse of power and financial issues inside Harvest Bible Chapel. This is an overview of James MacDonald, his empire and his scandals. The Wondering Eagle stands in the corner with The Elephant’s Debt during this lawsuit. 

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Abraham Lincoln 

“If you want to remove me, you’re going to have to sue me to get me out of here. And gentlemen, I have two things you don’t have: control of the pulpit and the control of the money. So good luck.”

James MacDonald in 2007

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Galatians 5:22-23 NLT 

James MacDonald 

There is some news in regards to Harvest Bible Chapel which is run by James MacDonald who is the senior pastor of the church network. Harvest Bible Chapel grew out of the Chicago, Illinois area. But let’s do an overview of James MacDonald. 


Who is James MacDonald

James MacDonald is a well known celebrity pastor in American evangelicalism. James, originally calls Ontario, Canada home. He attended London Baptist Bible College in Ontario where he earned a BA in in theology in 1984. In 1988 he graduated from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the Chicago area. He also graduated from Phoenix Seminary in 1996 with a D Min. James MacDonald planted Harvest Bible Chapel in 1988 with his wife Kathy. The first location had 18 people and in time it grew to be a giant in the Chicago area with 13,000 people across the seven campuses. The growth of the network in Illinois is as follows. In 1995 the congregation moved into a converted warehouse in Rolling Meadows. Elgin and Niles were added in 2004. Crystal Lake was the next plant in 2007 while the Chicago Cathedral came about in 2012. Aurora launched in 2011 and Deerfield Road occurred in 2012. James MacDonald has published a large number of books. There are too many to feature but these are but a sampling of some of the books released in the past two decades. “Act Like Men: 40 Days to Biblical Manhood“,”Lord, Change My Attitude – Bible Study Book: Before It’s Too Late“,”Think Differently – Bible Study Book: Nothing Is Different Until You Think Differently“,”Lord Change Me“,”When Life Is Hard“,”Always True: God’s 5 Promises When Life Is Hard“,”Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be“,”Gripped by the Greatness of God“,”God Wrote a Book” and “Ancient Wisdom: The Book of Proverbs with Devotions for Today.” 

James MacDonald is also known for his radio program called Walk the Word. That successful radio program began in 1997. In 2000 the program was added to Moody’s broadcasting network. In 2014 Walk the Word expanded to a global audience and received an award for “Best Television Teaching Program” shortly thereafter. The program is broadcast on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. Another feature of this evangelical church network is Harvest Christian Academy. The Academy began in 2004 at the Elgin campus as a private Christian school. There are 700 students and 90 faculty. The academy appears to have a strong education program as well as athletics, arts and pushes community service. The upper academy in athletics is a member of the Illinois High School Association and students can compete in bass fishing, cheer leading, cross country, basketball, baseball, golf, soccer, track and field, wrestling and volleyball.  Harvest Bible Fellowship is the church planting arm of Harvest Bible Chapel. It was founded by James MacDonald in 2002 and planted more then 170 churches on the continents of North America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa. You can see a list of their church plants right here.  Prospective church planting pastors are trained by Harvest. In 2018 the work of Harvest Bible Fellowship continued through the Vertical Church Network which is based out of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  

There are three other elements of the network which also deserve attention – its worship and film ministry. Vertical Worship launched in 2012. The worship division released five worship albums. Vertical Church Films started in 2012 with the goal of producing professional feature length movies. Two short films that were released are The Ride in 2012 and Once We Were Slaves in 2014. In 2017 the ministry released a professional length movie called The Resurrection of Gavin Stone which played in 1000 movie theaters inside the United States.  The last ministry of note from Harvest is Camp Harvest. Camp Harvest is located n Croton, Michigan. Camps Harvest is a youth and family camp and retreat that operates year round. Also there is a pastoral training center 


The Elephant’s Debt Blog 

There is another issue that Harvest Bible Chapel became known for in the course of time. That is of James MacDonald’s character problems and spiritual abuse. The blog The Elephant’s Debt launched in October of 2012, chronicles those issues. The authors of The Elephant’s Debt are Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant. Over the course of time these are some of the concerns that The Elephant’s Debt has spoken about

  1. James MacDonald’s character and his greed and abuse of  power. A number of people who were affiliated with Harvest Bible Chapel came forward to speak to this issue. In 2005 James MacDonald purchased a $1.9 million dollar home in Village of Inverness. If I remember correctly he purchased it from former Illinois Senator Peter Fitzgerald. He sold the house “for the sake of Jesus” and then upgraded substantially to a home with 4 acres and 8,400 square feet. And despite James MacDonald preaching against gambling James is known to frequent casinos and gamble heavily. Much of this was revealed at The Elephant’s Debt.  James MacDonald, it appears, has a deep taste for luxury. 
  2. Harvest Bible Chapel has issues with debt. At the Elgin location they stated that they might have to go into debt $30 million to revitalize a former corporate headquarters. By 2010 Harvest Bible Chapel was  $70 million dollars in debt. They did a debt free campaign but in 2017 Harvest Bible Chapel was $44 million dollars in debt. There are questions as to who exercised the ultimate authority for the said debt and who knew of the financial commitments. 
  3. James MacDoanld’s salary is deeply troubling. Amidst a financial crisis he got a 40% raise to $350,000. That does not include speaking fees, honorariums the income from his radio ministry, or book deals. In 2009 James MacDonald brought home $500,000 the question is how much is he making today? 
  4. James MacDonald is addicted to power and lusts after it. There were conflicts with his elder board in 2007 amidst the financial crisis. In a confrontation he dared his elders to sue him saying:

    “If you want to remove me, you’re going to have to sue me to get me out of here.  And gentlemen, I have two things you don’t have: control of the pulpit and the control of the money.  So good luck.”

    Many elders began to disentangle themselves from Harvest Bible Chapel and leave. In 2009 James MacDonald changed his views on elders and believed he should have a bigger “piece of the pie.” After all he was the senior pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel. In a casual discussion and James MacDonald’s house after having pizza a pastor from Harvest Bible Chapel in Davenport, Iowa – Rob Willey challenged him. Angrily James MacDonald yelled at him over challenging his authority. The elder board if I am reading this correctly changed from meeting weekly to growing to about 30 people and meeting quarterly. So four times a year was how the board changed.

  5. Another aspect is when three elders tried to govern Harvest Bible Chapel. Dan Marquardt, Scott Phelps and Barry Slabaugh attempted to take their responsibility as elders seriously. They asked to see a line-item budget and were denied. Then afterward Phelps, Slabaugh and Marquardt were publicly excommunicated and the video was shown at all campuses. Later on Harvest Bible Chapel backtracked and used Christianity Today to issue an apology. Harvest Bible Chapel was doing damage control. 
  6. The last issue is that in 2017 there was a revolt by churches against Harvest Bible Fellowship Churches. James MacDonald sent a letter to 150 senior pastors. Two issues were communicated in that letter. First, the local HBC, of which he is the Senior Pastor, would be pulling out of HBF. Second, he himself would be “resigning” as the President of HBF. MacDonald claimed that Harvest Bible was $27,000 in debt and needed churches to replenish the funds. People started to ask what happened? What is going on financially? David Wissen did an accounting of the funds and over $500,000 was unaccounted for from Harvest Bible Fellowship. 

In all of these issues The Elephant’s Debt has led the way and been the goto source to understand Harvest Bible Chapel and James MacDonald. Former elders have published documents, released statements and more. 


James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel Goes After The Elephant’s Debt 

On October 16, 2018 filed a defamation lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against former workers of Harvest Bible Chapel accusing them of defamation. The lawsuit claims that false information about the church, its finances, and governance have been written. The plaintaff is James MacDonald, Senior Executive Pastor /Chief Operating Officer James Scott Milholland, Elder Board Chairman Ronald Duitsman and Elder Board member William Sperling. The defendents in this lawsuit are Ryan Mahoney, Melinda Mahoney, Scott Bryant, and Sarah Bryant. They are accused of funding and operating The Elephant’s Debt. in legal documentation Harvest Bible Chapel is stating that The Elephant’s Debt is defrauding and defaming. Another plaintiff is in the lawsuit for comments she made on Moody Radio in Chicago. The formal allegations claim that Illinois Deceptive Trade Practices Act were violated. Harvest is calling for a jury trial and want the plaintiffs is issue a restraining order to prevent the publication of false information and award damages. You can read the article in the Cook County Record here. 

The Elephant’s Debt issued the following statement on October 19, 2018.

On 17 October 2018, James Sherwood MacDonald, individually, and Harvest Bible Chapel, corporately, filed a complaint in law as well as a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the authors of this website, the wives of the authors, and an independent journalist by the name of Julie Roys.  

The complaint and TRO stem from the contents of this blog, and for simplicity sake, the essential legal allegation is defamation.  According to the article published by the Cook County Record, Ms. Roys “declined to meet with church leadership for a story on Harvest she is currently reporting for World Magazine.”

While the authors of this website would never have chosen to resolve our differences in a litigious manner, we are confident that the legal process will ultimately uphold the values of the first amendment right to freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of the press, all of which are essential to safeguarding the values of the Protestant Reformation and our common life.


The Lawsuit is Going to Fail…Here’s Why

When I heard about this the first thing that came to my mind is the following. What is James MacDonald scared about being revealed? What is coming down the pike that he doesn’t want the public to know? What is trying to bottle up and contain? This behavior by MacDonald shows that The Elephant’s Debt is effective and that people are learning about the issues of Harvest Bible Chapel and staying away. MacDonald is into empire building. Religion is a business for him and he has been corrupted by the fame, money, power and more. James craves the power and The Elephants Debt has revealed his motivation and what makes him tick. 

Here are my thoughts if James MacDonald didn’t want such a website to launch he should have treated people with the respect and kindness they deserve. He should have treated the Harvest elders and more with grace and kindness. I have no sympathy for James MacDonald as he brought this upon himself through his behavior. This lawsuit is an act of spiritual abuse to try and coerce and use the legal system as a weapon. It won’t work for the following reason. The Elephant’s Debt hasn’t defamed James MacDonald, it just told the truth and backed it up with documents and stories from those in the know. As I have learned from writing The Wondering Eagle a good blog depends on sources in order for it to work. James MacDonald did one of the stupidest things a person could do. He empowered The Elephant’s Debt and drew attention to the website. Attention that it would not have gotten otherwise. The lawsuit will be stressful no doubt but in a court of law I believe The Elephant’s Debt will have the upper hand. The Elephant’s Debt is doing what the Chicago Tribune or the Washington Post has done. They are just sharing the news as it becomes available. I want The Elephant’s Debt to know that this blog supports them. If any former members of Harvest Bible Chapel want to share any stories I will give them a platform. Today we are living in an age of authoritarians, as you see that globally and domestically. James MacDonald is a representative of that authoritarianism, and yet in the course of time he too will fail. That is all I have to say for today guys, The Elephant’s Debt know that you are loved. 

23 thoughts on “James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel Goes After The Elephant’s Debt Blog Accusing it of Defamation in a Lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago, Illinois

      • I love the fact that this article premises with a quote from 2007!!!! In all the things this man has said and done – a quote from over 10 years ago is all they authors can come up with? Are you the same person you were 10 years ago? Or are you just living in a time that no longer exists?


    • More like our church has had enough (10 years enough) and time for someone to move on. Amicable attempts have not succeeded so leave it to the authorities. Not much to misunderstand here. The authors have not been involved in this church since they left around 2007 – so why bother? The church is not one man – it is thousands and thousands and I know I am personally exhausted with these sad tactics at trying to slander an individual that has dedicated his life to bringing people to our Lord Jesus Christ. This is not only against the pastor but against each of the members and supporters. I personally hope these individuals will move on and use their time (Gods currency) for useful work – helping others, insteaf trying to break things and people down. Just as others have mentioned God will take care of this and trust – they can do the same and if they truly believe there is some misdoings – they should give that to God and let him take care of it and turn back to His work. These articles are definitely not Gods work.


      • You are wrong Angelique and obviously have not looked at all the facts in this case. It is so sad James has treated people so poorly and has the audacity to preach Gods word when he obviously acts much different behind the door. May God use the voices of the oppressed to cast a light and destroy this Darkness!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. James Macdonald is forgetting that defamation is reserved for claims that are false. No chance he’s winning this.

    People who still attend HBC need to leave now. The church should not be spending your money on this ridiculous lawsuit.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I agree with you deeply. Why would people give money to Harvest knowing the financial problems. Plus why give to a church that would misuse your money for legal action? People need to walk away from Harvest Bible Chapel. This is not going to end well for Harvest. Thanks for your comment Ann.


      • Harvest started with 18 people and grew with hard work, dedication and heart. It is easy for someone to sit behind a computer and criticize and make all the claims in the world. People who left the Church over 10 years ago and those who have never even attended one service. They dedicate their time and lives to trying to tear down a church of God and HBC IS MISUSING funds? Time is a currency as well and what we do with our currency makes a difference in God’s eyes. To try and take away a worship place that serves and brings people to Christ every day – you call that Christianity? Where is the first amendment in the Bible May I ask? The legal part of the first amendment is a whole other matter but will leave that for the courts where it belongs. It does say in the the Bible when a conflict arises and it cannot be settled by the personal means given – personally, to the church leaders… then give it to the local authority and that is what Harvest Bible has done. Is James MacDonald on the suit alone? No he is not.I do not see a personal attack on anyone else – because none of it belongs here. Are you or have you been involved in the growth and operations since the beginning and until today? No you have not. Even if there is something happening in the church that requires scrutiny – you do not throw it all away and walk out. You come together as a community and you fix what is wrong. The enormous amount of goodness in HBC cannot be denied! The lives that are changed cannot be denied. Just one small example – I saw 150 people baptized in one day. That is not Gods work?. Again – even if (and that’s a big if) mistakes were made financially – When you have made mistakes – have you never made a wrong move in your life? Are you so bold and so perfect you are really willing to cast the first stone. Have you ever run a major project, corporation, anything to this demention? Just building a house – we started with an estimate of one number and by time it was done it was doubled – things happen, problems arise and financial inputs change that is part of operations and anyone who has done it knows. I hope every person here is willing and able to face our Lord with a clear conscience – having gone to Him first before spewing comments. It is not our place to be gossiping here and making judgments. Let the true authority handle this and spend your time in a better way!

        As far as Pastor James owning any homes or how much he is paid – do you have any clue what goes into being a pastor of a church and how much he has done in his life? Being a pastor doesn’t mean you have to be poor. Dedicating your life to God doesn’t mean you have to live in poverty. He has dedicated his life to God.that is a gift alone and I know personally I want to see him comfortable and in the best place possible to continue to grow and reach as many people as possible in his lifetime. Anyone who has ever met and spoken with Pastor James even once knows his humbleness, his humility and his lack of desire for the spotlight. As far as I am concerned he deserves a million homes around the world at any price for the work he and his ENTIRE family has done.I pray for all those attacking him and HBC that your hearts may open.

        For those reporting – a good journalist shows all sides – not just the story that sells. I am not affected by that but many are.

        Liked by 1 person

    • As a supporter of the church and a family who has been changed and blessed in so many ways – I would be more than happy for my funds to support Pastor James and everyone at HBC in this unfortunate situation. Recommending people abandon their church in times of need is not very good advice but your perogative.


    • People who are not a part of HBC need not comment or pass judgement what do they have to do with any of it?. There is a congregation of thousands that stand behind the church (the church is not one man – he is serving God and by the way doing an amazing job)


  2. Apparently the “Christian” part goes out the window pretty quickly. Not Christ like behavior to be suing anyone, especially over things that others have said about one. If one is doing what is right, they should be able to trust that God will take care of the results. This is evidence that things are not right.

    Liked by 4 people

    • This has been going on for over 10 years since these individuals have left Harvest. It is time for this to end. All means to resolve this have, I’m sure been made and why now the judicial system is being relied on. It is really hard to understand why these individuals have dedicated their lives to trying to breakdown a church that they chose to leave.it was their right to go but walk away and move on in a place you find better to worship at. Taking some personal vendetta to the public constantly writing is gossip and itself a sin. The only purpose behind it is to cause problems and those individuals should be trusting God in this situation not the other way around. How is it in 10 years of writing these things nothing has come to fruition? Nothing but making people feel bad. No one seeems to be mentioning this. If those consistently writing were “informed” enough to make their own decision to leave – members of the church can do the same without individuals like this constantly sittings and waiting to see if any mistakes are made. I do not understand the obsession with trying to tear down a church that doesn’t want to be torn down but instead hads grown tremendously. Move on, please. The members of HBC are happy where they are. The members of the church are also , I imagine, tired of these articles and I can understand why they support this lawsuit. Pastor James did not make this decision on his own – it was made by a board and with the full support of the church. I would hope that these individuals writing would find better ways to use their time.


      • One of the things that needs to be exposed is the control within Reform theology. We were in several different Reform/Reformed churches, over the last 14 years. One item that is consistent: they must have control over the congregation. If there were no membership requirements in the past….NOW there are. If there were elders, deacons, voting congregations, NOW there aren’t. If you used to perform in the music/as a non-member, NOW you can’t, etc, etc, etc….we have finally left Reform theology, after losing our daughter to this thinking. We have been in a conservative Methodist church this last year (approx !5K attendees). Even at this new church …YRR/Young restless reform-types, try to infiltrate…to no avail. Reform theology is growing and “taking over” Baptist, Efree, Bible & conservative Presby congregations in my area. It is breath-taking. No longer did “God so loved the world”, but to them….”God so loved the elect”… Control and arrogance are the #1 goal of these leaders. IT MUST BE EXPOSED. Think: Harriet Beecher Stowe & Uncle Tom’s Cabin.


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