I woke up this morning to multiple texts informing me that James MacDonald had been fired from Harvest Bible Chapel. My first emotion was relief. Finally, some 10 months after a former Harvest pastor contacted me and urged me to investigate the mega-church pastor, MacDonald was out.
No longer can he prey on the sheep he was supposed to protect. No longer can he use church members’ money to line his pockets. No longer can he rage on innocent employees and get people to believe the lies he’s spread about those who challenge him.
Scripture encourages believers to rejoice in the judgment of God (Psalm 96:13; Rev. 18:20) and this morning I felt a bit of that. But it was quickly tempered.
Sadly, thousands today are reeling in pain. A church is in shambles. Evangelicals are publicly embarrassed—again. And more men remain in positions of influence who have done reprehensible things.
No, today is not a day to rejoice; it is a day to pause and reflect. A day to mourn. A day to pray. A day to sit before God and plead for revival—both personally and collectively as His Body.
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It is a solemn day. And in that spirit, I offer the following thoughts and suggestions that have been ruminating in me for some time:
- Continue the Cleansing at Harvest
While I am heartened that the elders finally removed MacDonald, he should have been fired five years ago. That’s when eight former elders sent a letter to the sitting elder board, warning them that MacDonald was disqualified for office. Yet instead of investigating MacDonald, the board excommunicated some of the messengers. And shockingly, two of the elders who participated in a video slandering those men, Steve Huston and Paul Inserra, remain on the board. Huston even chairs the Executive Committee of the Elders.
In addition, Jeff Smith, the chairman of the finance committee who’s clearly failed to oversee properly the finances of the church, remains an elder. So do Fred Ananias and Scott Stonebreaker, who wrongfully fired Pastor John Secrest from HBC Naples. And let’s not forget that the entire elder board recently pledged their unconditional support for MacDonald, showing a grievous misunderstanding of what it means to be an elder. All of them should step down and a transition team should be put in place.
Plus, the members of Harvest’s dwindling executive leadership team, including MacDonald’s two sons, should resign. These men worked very closely with MacDonald, and certainly knew of his reprehensible behavior. At best, they did nothing. At worst, they protected him and punished his critics. If Harvest is going to have any hope of reforming its culture, it needs a clean slate and fresh leadership. These men need to go.
- Fix the “Evangelical Machine”
The men surrounding MacDonald at Harvest weren’t the only ones who insulated him from accountability. As I wrote last year after blowing the whistle on the Moody Bible Institute, there’s an entire evangelical infrastructure, or “celebrity machine,” that shamefully protects the powerful. Sadly, evangelical leaders have known about MacDonald’s miserable behavior for years. I’ve heard them repeatedly talk about it behind closed doors.
MacDonald should have been removed from radio in 2012 when his gambling first came to light. I remember talking to leaders at Moody about it and being assured that MacDonald was repentant, only to find out later that he had been gambling with Moody’s chairman of the board.
But more recently, I heard a recording that’s perhaps the most disgusting example of this collusion and protection that I’ve ever witnessed. I am hoping and praying that Mancow will publish the full 50 minutes of audio that he has. As I mentioned, I have heard that full audio. And it includes two separate conversations with men in powerful positions within evangelicalism. They laugh along with MacDonald’s vile comments and become accomplices in his smear campaign against me and others. This kind of behavior is reprehensible and inexcusable and needs to end now among evangelical leaders. The good, old boy network is not good. It’s sinful.
- Renew a Commitment to Holiness
As I said recently in my interview with Drew Marshall, we serve a God who is both loving and holy. Yes, love compelled Christ to die on the cross. He did not wish any to perish. But His holiness compelled Him too. Had his holiness not required that sin be punished, Jesus would not have had to die.
Sometimes I think we forget this truth in the church. We forget that God has standards—and that breaking those standards has serious consequences. So many times over the past few months, I’ve heard Christians excuse inexcusable behavior by saying that nobody’s perfect. But as I’ve said numerous times, 1 Timothy 5:20 is clear: elders who continue sinning must be publicly exposed.
That is not harsh. That is not cruel. It is Christ protecting His Bride and His own reputation. God hates sin. And those in leadership should possess a healthy fear of God’s judgment. Likewise, those who follow should expect and require holiness in their leaders.
- Support Truth-Telling
In a statement yesterday, Christianity Today urged Harvest to conduct an independent investigation, which the magazine said would “bring out the full truth” in a “more healthy atmosphere than what we’re witnessing now on social media and talk radio.” In addition, throughout the Harvest debacle, Harvest has repeatedly complained about “attack bloggers” and “gossip.”
Though I concede that not everything blogged, tweeted, or broadcast has been edifying, the truth is that nothing would have happened without passionate people employing these mediums. I have repeatedly told the guys at The Elephant’s Debt that I stood on their shoulders. I never could have done the reporting I did had Scott Bryant and Ryan Mahoney not doggedly researched and published for more than six years. Similarly, by the elders’ own admission, had Mancow not broadcast the shocking audio clips yesterday, MacDonald’s removal could have dragged on much longer. Given the elders’ track record, I’m not convinced it would have happened at all.
Christians are sometimes very uncomfortable with publicly reporting negative news, even when it’s true and necessary. I understand that. And I’m a big proponent of reporting responsibly—naming sources, double-checking facts, seeking comment from both sides. But I think we need to admit that when a system is broken, as it is at Harvest, there often is no other recourse. And instead of denigrating those who speak, we need to support them. Public truth-tellers are critical to reform. As Ephesians 5:11 says, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” I am grateful to every source who went on the record concerning MacDonald, and every truth-teller who posted or broadcast. Thank you.
- Comfort the Hurting
Lastly, we need to comfort the hurting. I know many people who attend Harvest or who have been impacted by MacDonald’s preaching are crushed today. As one person whom MacDonald led to the Lord recently remarked to me, “It’s like finding out your wife is a serial killer.” The disillusionment, betrayal, and loss can be excruciating. This is a very vulnerable time for a lot of people and I am sure God weeps for every wounded soul.
I am so sorry. I am sure words fail to soothe the pain you’re feeling right now. And I understand if you’re angry at me. Perhaps you wish this had never come to light.
I want to encourage you, though, to fix your eyes on Jesus. I’ll never forget a time when I was serving in a youth ministry and we discovered that a popular youth pastor at a neighboring church had abused several girls under his care. It was awful. We knew him. We knew his wife. We knew the kids in his ministry. And we grieved—and we prayed that God would not allow this betrayal of trust to drive kids away from Jesus. Surprisingly, it had the opposite effect.
At a meeting of all the youth who had been in this man’s ministry, a teenager stood up and declared, “We never worshipped or followed Jeff. We follow Jesus.” And that became the rallying cry for all those kids in that ministry. And God used that awful betrayal of trust to purify that church and lead them to a more focused devotion to Jesus than they had ever had before.
That’s my prayer for Harvest today. I know many of you at the church passionately love Jesus. You’re devoted to His Word. You sacrifice for His mission. And God can rebuild something beautiful from these ashes. That is His will. And He will do it if we remain focused and submitted to Him.