A Breakdown of the Harvest Bible Chapel Refugee Community

This post is a break down of the refugee community from Harvest Bible Chapel. Harvest experienced three many hemorrhages of people in its history. The first one in 2013, followed by 2018 and then 2019. Understanding the demographics of each group can help us look at the Harvest Bible Chapel scandal from another angle.

“Refugees come to us seeking asylum, seeking freedom, justice and dignity – seeking a chance just to breathe. And people in our country are saying close the doors and don’t let them in?”

Mandy Patinkin 

“Helping refugees settle and integrate peacefully, often in the face of distrust and prejudice, is essential work.”

Katharine Viner 

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

Harvest Bible Chapel Rolling Meadows

In the Daily Herald today there is an article talking about the drop in financial giving at Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago. Harvest, which is $42 million dollars in debt, has experienced a substantial decline in denotations by 40%. You can read about the details in this article here. In writing about the Harvest Bible Chapel scandal I have worked with many sources who have shared information about Harvest. Over the last couple of months I realized that when you broke down those who have left Harvest they mainly fall into three camps. Let’s look at those three camps as it will help us understand the Harvest Bible Chapel problem set from a different angle. 


Individuals Who Left in 2013 Timeframe 

The first group of refugees from Harvest Bible Chapel left in the 2013 timeframe. I have interacted with individuals from this group. From my background they tend to be older and upper middle class. Age wise they would be in their late 50’s to 60’s. Many people in this camp were with Harvest for years and called it their home. What resulted in many people leaving is when James MacDonald practiced church discipline that led to the excommunication of Scott Phelps, Barry Slabough, and Dan Marquardt. The church discipline was uncalled for, and Scott Phelps and Barry Slabough were described at being “satanic to the core.” This action by Harvest resulted in the first wave of people to leave. Those who left were outraged and angry over what took place. In many ways they are still bothered by it. I interacted with one individual who was deeply troubled by what occurred. He knew one of the elders that were excommunicated and the way they were handled was deeply troubling. 


Individuals Who Left in 2018 Timeframe

From 2013 for the next several years Harvest Bible Chapel moved forward. The second major wave of people who left Harvest Bible Chapel occurred in the 2018 timeframe. While there are exceptions, most of those in this camp are younger and I would describe as being in the age bracket of 35 to late 40’s. This blog wrote about Dan Haskel and RT Maldener. I would put them in this wave. Many of these individuals were troubled by the 2013 church discipline action but they decided to stay. The deeply believed that the situation could be resolved and that the issues could be worked through. If you speak with many of these individuals today they will tell you that they should have left in the 2013 and 2014 timeframe. They don’t think Harvest is worth saving and that it is beyond repair. Many of these people would like to see Harvest Bible Chapel closed down. 


Individuals Who Left in 2019 Timeframe 

The final group I have also interacted with as well. This group is a mix of people and have been walking away from Harvest Bible Chapel since the scandal peaked with James MacDonald being fired in February 12, 2019. If you recall MacDonald was fired for allegedly wanting to plant child pornography on the computer of the CEO of Christianity Today. If you would like to read more about this, you can do so in, “Mancow Muller Produces an Audiotape of James MacDonald Allegedly Wanting to Plant Child Pornography on a “Critic’s” Computer. Harvest Bible Chapel Elder Board Promptly Fires Him.” This recording led to a new wave of people walking away. There are still a number of people who are staying, which baffles me to be honest. But this new wave of people have left because of the new developments in the Harvest scandal. 


Why this Information is Important 

For those dealing with the ramifications from the Harvest scandal this information helps break down the flow of people. It can help those in other locations in the Chicago suburbs understand the demographics of this situation. Refugees can teach quite a bit. For example in situations where war has occurred the flow of refugees can teach you about the enormity of the situations, and help people to analyze the problem. For me as someone writing about Harvest many of these refugees are incredible sources of information that allow me to break down the scandal. In this conflict those who left Harvest first in the 2013, then 2018 and 2019 timeframe helps put the scandal in perspective. For some people this may be common sense but for others they might group all of individuals together. This information is essential as people read, process, and react differently. I have noticed that those who left in 2013 have strong feelings about certain aspects of Harvest. Whereas those who left in 2018 have other points of concern about Harvest. All of these views are legitimate but it helps those who are dealing with the refugee flow. 

2 thoughts on “A Breakdown of the Harvest Bible Chapel Refugee Community

  1. While I’m not sure of the anatomy of 2018 and 2019 departures, I believe the 2013 exodus (described as the excommunication of the three elders in your article) actually began in October 2012 when the Elephant’s Debt went live. The elder excommunication was a climax to what began in 2012 but the mass exodus began in 2012 for sure.

    Those who left after the 2013 incident were almost certainly wrestling with the implications of many past elders of the church going public with their concerns (via TED), with the theological drift and the temperament issues and documented actions of James MacDonald.

    Many of us had heard rumors, but The Elephant’s Debt met the biblical standard (in 1 Tim 5) of the “charges” coming through a plurality of elders (or former elders) of the church.


  2. If you look back at HBC over the years, I believe you will find a pattern of growth/exodus, growth/exodus throughout its history. HBC’s history is riddled with numerous times when large groups of people left, often leaving the church with a significantly reduced number of mature believers as a percentage of the whole congregation. These exodus moments would occur roughly every 7-8 years. This latest exodus occurred in half the usual time, a residual of the previous exodus never really having ended.

    Maturing believers begin to recognize error. New believers are being discipled in the MacD “church” model, growing up into the needed voluntary leadership roles to propel the organization. HBC has always relied on a steady flow of new converts. But what exactly were these people being converted to?

    The preaching appealed to a particular demographic – the “Type A” driver personality and mindset, both men and women – the kind of person who believes (but would never say) that they’ve got it pretty well together and wants marching orders as to how they can live for God, “worship, walk and work for Christ”.

    HBC is and always has been a pharisee factory. Jesus would be mentioned, as the need for salvation would be communicated (need to keep the flow of converts moving, right), but the Way of Jesus was not proclaimed. After all, James proclaimed that “Jesus is a demanding boss” not one who is gentle of Spirit and able to give us rest. Week after week, messages would be delivered that were entirely devoid of Jesus, with no hint of Gospel in sight. HBC was/is a place of bondage, not freedom.

    I am concerned for many of these “refugees” and for the congregations to which they are heading because, in my estimation, many of them have never actually encountered the One True Jesus. They’ve only been introduced to an erroneous conceptualization, a fabrication used for the purpose of control, manipulation and the building of a worldly kingdom, not the Kingdom of God. And i am concerned that this faulty mindset and the thoroughly ingrained “Verticle” way of doing church may hurt others as they migrate and attempt to assimilate into leadership roles in other congregations.

    In the end, HBC congregants need for their eyes to be opened, but only the Lord is capable of doing so. Just like Jesus, we need to view these people with pity, as sheep without a Shepherd. They’re all in need of mercy, because Mercy triumphs over judgment. And mercy has never been an HBC way.


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