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James MacDonald Recording Reveals Ungodly Evangelical “Celebrity Machine”

By Julie Roys
James MacDonald Ed Stetzer Harvest Bible Chapel

About two weeks ago, Mancow Muller aired vile, recorded comments by James MacDonald on his Chicago radio show on WLS/AM890. This shocked the Christian community and prompted Harvest Bible Chapel to fire MacDonald. Yet MacDonald’s comments apparently didn’t shock Johnnie Moore.

Moore, a leading evangelical who sits on the board of the National Association of Evangelicals and President Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board, features prominently on the 50-minute recording from which MacDonald’s vile sound bites were pulled. Many of MacDonald’s comments were made in a conversation with Moore. And portions of this conversation can be heard on a podcast Mancow released days later. (This has since been taken down, but is now posted to the Wartburg Watch.)

As MacDonald explains at one point on the 50-minute recording, which I’ve heard in full, he hired Moore to help him manage the fallout from both my investigation for WORLD Magazine and the lawsuit MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel had filed against me and four others. Moore is founder and CEO of The KAIROS Company, a public and media relations company.

Johnnie Moore, CEO of The KAIROS Co.

Shockingly, when MacDonald makes his vile comments in his conversation with Moore, Moore doesn’t object; he laughs, and at some points, even agrees. Moore expresses no objection, for example, when MacDonald calls Mark Galli, editor in chief of Christianity Today, a “certifiable prick.” In fact, when MacDonald explains how he had snubbed Galli when he saw Galli at a suburban Chicago country club, Moore responds that he agrees with that.

Similarly, Moore laughs when MacDonald suggests vulgar, imaginary headlines, announcing, for example, that Harold Smith, former CEO of CT, “exposes himself”; that Ed Stetzer, contributing editor of CT and executive director of the Billy Graham Center, “fails to stop unwanted erection of Christianity Today tabloid”; and that Galli and I are having an illicit affair. (Nothing could be further from the truth.)

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When MacDonald says, “This frickin’ Julie Roys is going to be riding around on a tricycle with a midget on her shoulders,” Moore responds that MacDonald is the kind of client every publicist has nightmares about. But this doesn’t cause Moore to hang up and fire his vulgar client. Instead, when MacDonald repeats the insult, Moore laughs again.

But perhaps most troubling, when MacDonald jokes that he’s calling off the plan to put child porn on Harold Smith’s computer, Moore again laughs, giving tacit approval to MacDonald’s reprehensible speech. Moore even adds, “I’ve got a few other people, though, if you need to do that.”

The Evangelical Celebrity Machine

For the past year, I’ve been writing about the evangelical “celebrity machine” or “industrial complex”—a network of Christian media, publishers, and ministry “partners,” which rely on each other for promotion, book deals, conference invites, networking, and income. In the best of all possible worlds, this “machine” would be leveraged to inspire vision, support important initiatives, and hold Christian public figures accountable.

But as the MacDonald recording reveals in perhaps the most grotesque fashion I’ve ever witnessed, the machine is often used to protect the powerful and to crush truthtellers. And though the machine is comprised of professing Christians, there’s nothing Christian about the way it operates.

The machine is all about leveraging influence. Burying the truth. And promoting and protecting your public image. In MacDonald’s case, there’s also vulgarity, insults, and obscene jokes thrown in.

The context of Moore’s conversation with MacDonald is that Christianity Today has just published an article about Harvest’s lawsuit against me and the authors of The Elephant’s Debt and their wives–and MacDonald is not happy. So, he and Moore are having a conversation about it.

Moore is on a speaker phone. And MacDonald is in a room with people who sound like they could be employees or friends of MacDonald. They’re clearly familiar with Christian ministry, yet they don’t seem to be bothered any more than Moore is with MacDonald’s speech.

“The machine is often used to protect the powerful and to crush truthtellers. And though the machine is comprised of professing Christians, there’s nothing Christian about the way it operates.”

As for Moore, he’s coaching MacDonald on how to influence CT to get more favorable coverage. Moore encourages MacDonald to contact Jeremy Weber, deputy editor of CT because Moore says Weber “will change things . . . adjust things.” Moore also coaches MacDonald to give false compliments to Weber’s bosses based on whether Weber capitulates to his requests.

This is just gross. I know PR professionals are paid to help people project the best possible public image, but if that requires being disingenuous and manipulative, Christians should have no part of it.

Yet Moore’s strategy apparently works. On the second part of the recording, we hear MacDonald have a conversation with Weber. And at the end of that conversation, Weber agrees to publish an editorial by MacDonald defending lawsuits against believers entitled, “Why Suing is Sometimes the Biblical Choice.”

I since have talked to Mark Galli of CT about this decision. He said Weber was not authorized to offer MacDonald space in the magazine during the call, but that the decision was made afterwards by himself. Galli added that he significantly edited MacDonald’s opinion piece to remove any direct attacks against me and the other defendants.

I can appreciate that, but I still find what happened extremely troubling. And I can’t help but wonder how things might have been different if I and the four other defendants were the big celebrities and MacDonald was the writer with a much smaller platform.

I also reached out to Moore several times to get his side of the story. On the day Mancow aired MacDonald’s sound bites on his program, I emailed Moore and included a link to the audio of Mancow’s show. I also told Moore that I had heard the entire 50-minute recording from which MacDonald’s bites were excerpted and knew that these comments were made during a conversation with Moore.

Moore replied, “If indeed your description is what it sounds like on the recording (assuming it is an authentic recording), it is probably that I simply didn’t hear or understand what he was saying.”

He added, “I can honestly say I do not remember any such comment on any call, and I certainly wouldn’t tacitly or otherwise support something so absurd as this.”

“I don’t think anybody set out to build an evangelical celebrity machine that’s an affront to the gospel. Instead, this machine slowly took form as Christians’ pursuit of prosperity, prestige, and platform caused them to make one compromise after another.”

Yet, these responses aren’t believable. On the recording, which Harvest has since authenticated, Moore doesn’t appear to have any trouble hearing what is being said. He laughs at all the right times and his responses indicate understanding.

I later sent Moore audio of Mancow’s podcast, which included excerpts with his voice on them. I twice emailed Moore, asking for comment, but he did not respond.

However, in a statement given to Slate Magazine, Moore said his job sometimes requires acting as a “shock absorber” who listens when clients become frustrated. But he added that this “did not make it right for me to respond offensively and thoughtlessly. I’m very sorry for that, and I’m dealing with it directly, seriously and personally.” 

That’s a much more honest response, and I truly hope Moore will take some time to seriously reflect on his behavior. In the meantime, he should step down from the National Association of Evangelicals and Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board.  

I also hope the others involved in this unsavory chapter will reflect seriously and thoughtfully about their participation, as well.

I don’t think anybody set out to build an evangelical celebrity machine that’s an affront to the gospel. Instead, this machine slowly took form as Christians’ pursuit of prosperity, prestige, and platform caused them to make one compromise after another. And now, the evangelical church is much like the church in Sardis, with a reputation of being alive, but we are dead—of being dressed in white, but our clothes are soiled.

We need to remember that Jesus never cared about the prominence of His Bride. He cared about her holiness. He didn’t care about Her image to the world; He cared about her willingness to take up her cross. We have lost sight of what ministry and the church should be. And we need to repent and strengthen what remains before it’s too late.

UPDATE: Below is the full audio of Johnnie Moore’s conversation with James MacDonald.



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102 thoughts on “James MacDonald Recording Reveals Ungodly Evangelical “Celebrity Machine””

  1. Johnnie Moore is a poseur. It helps to look at how fast and loose he plays with the facts when describing himself. In reality, Johnnie attended Liberty University where he majored in Religion/Religious Studies (BA/MA). During his very first year as a Freshman at Falwell’s school (which is the ONLY reason he was appointed to the Trump Board) he started working in the Communications Dept. That’s the only job he had from July 2001-May 2014 and working in communications in the public sector is a pretty bureaucratic position no matter how many bombastic adjectives and labels Johnnie slaps on it.

    In 2014 he went to work for the charismatic Roma Downey helping out on Christian television projects for just over a year – but he spins that as some great lengthy career in the movie industry. Basically, he had to flog Roma’s “The Bible” TV series to Assemblies of God churches. After that year was up, he then he opened his Christian PR firm to help spin corruption in Big Eva.

    Johnnie takes that pretty thin experience and look at how he spins it? He refers to himself as a “humanitarian, a media personality, one of the “world’s most influential young leaders”, “one of America’s foremost spokespersons for international religious freedom” and my personal favorite “a modern day Dietrich Bonheoffer”. That one is extra funny because this PR genius who advises presidents and sits on the Board of the “world’s most successful Christian businessmen and multi-billion-dollar financial services firm”, does not know how to spell Bonhoeffer. That’s what a light-weight poseur this man is.

    Oh, and that big Board he sits on? That’s the National Association of Evangelicals. That would be the same one that Ted Haggard was serving on when the scandal over his 3 year stint of meth fueled sex with male prostitutes broke. Small wonder Johnnie refuses to list the name of that Board on his own company’s page. No one takes them seriously after that fiasco, except for Johnnie and his penchant for exaggeration.

    I heard Johnnie speak once and I kid you not, he said that HE, and he alone, was the person who saw ISIS coming and it was his tireless efforts that brought ISIS to the attention of the WH. This man has strained relationship with the truth, so it is not surprising that he would be yucking it up with James MacDonald, then pretending they had a bad phone connection and he couldn’t hear what James was saying.

    Johnnie’s trademark lack of sincerity can be seen in his statement that this incident “did not make it right for me to respond offensively and thoughtlessly. I’m very sorry for that, and I’m dealing with it directly, seriously and personally.” That’s the quote he gave to Slate Magazine, yet he refused to even answer Julie Roys’ questions. How can he possibly be dealing with it directly, seriously and personally, when he refuses to even talk to the people who were seriously, directly and very personally insulted by that verbal attack in that meeting? Can’t wait to see the spin on this Johnnie-boy.

  2. Interesting, I saw one of the comments mentioning MBI and Dr. Culbertson. I heard a message on WMBI last summer listening to Moody and thought to myself that it was the best message that I heard on that station in a very long time.
    I did a little online research to find out who the preacher was, I had not heard the name before. When I heard the message, I thought that it must have been from years past. Not because of the audio quality. The quality of it was really pretty good. It was the content that made me think it was from years ago.
    Evangelicalism, or really, what became known as New Evangelicalism, began as a celebrity culture, so what it has become would be no surprise to the “angry fundamentalists” who stood against it in the middle part of last century. Having a foot in the world and justifying it with “Jesus didn’t separate from the world” is unbiblical nonsense from a celebrity culture. The “prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners” that are always mentioned followed Him. He DID NOT follow them!
    What does this have to do with the Culbertson message? Dr. Culbertson’s message was scriptural, and relevant to ANY culture because it was a message about the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and not about trying to change the culture or the world. The world is evil and is not going to change no matter who gets into higher office and who has the culture’s ear. The world is marked for judgment at the Coming of the Son of Man. Our job as ambassadors for Christ is to preach the word of reconciliation that God made possible because He made His righteous Son sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God IN HIM! We are to preach the Word, not redeem the culture.
    I could go on and on, but I will simply leave it with this:
    On the title page of a book by W. R. Newell, published by Moody Press, that I have in my hand from many years ago, he quotes a former president of Princeton University with the following:
    “The only hope of Christianity is in the rehabilitating of the Pauline theology. It is back, back, back, to an incarnate Christ and the atoning blood, or it is on, on, on, to atheism and despair.”
    We know which direction Princeton went.
    Which direction is the “Evangelical Industrial Complex” going?

  3. I’m absolutely amazed that a community of believers are incapable of seeing the serious heart issues of Julie Roys. While it was sinful for James to falsely suggest that she was having an affair — that doesn’t excuse the continued attack. In Jesus parable of the unforgiving servant we forgive because we understand the enormity of the sins that we have been forgiven for. Jesus calls us to look at ourselves as the one who has been forgiven for millions while others have only been forgiven of thousands. My greatest awareness of sin should be the sin in my own life.
    Has Julie at any point written about the battle she fights in her own flesh since finding increased fame through this investigation? Or the natural desire in her to hurt the one who falsely accused her? Has she written about the temptation to enjoy exposing this sin? Julie is a human with a depraved nature that is inclined to sin, but there has been no mention of that at all. And now to hear her profess to discern what is true repentance verses false repentance….that is bold since we know that is the work of the Holy Spirit. There is so much about all of this that deeply concerns me. Certainly James M. failed tremendously and God is capable of holding him accountable for every sin seen and unseen, but I’m afraid Julie has been elevated and praised in a way that is concerning.

    1. Wow, Brian…you continue to be among the miniscule minority here which does not understand. Or does not want to.

    2. Susan Vonder Heide

      God is the one who knows the heart. The speculation or fantasy about “serious heart issues” in the person doing the reporting seems odd when a thorough job of reporting (as distinguished from a superficial job) is warranted in a serious story. Some of the comments from various people critical of Julie that I have seen have been downright silly such as the notion that she is being paid big bucks for her blog. But attacking the messenger is not particularly new or original.

    3. Hey Brian , if you really believe what you’ve said in your blog post , why are you saying anything about Julie Roys heart…. why dont you just let it go… remember Julie Roy’s is a sinner in need of forgivness Just like you, according to your logic no one should ever call out anyone for any sin ever, because after all “we’re all sinners aren’t we….sounds rather foolish dosen’t it?

    4. Good evening Brian,

      A serious question: What is the difference between an attack and reporting the news?

      I understand that this is an extremely uncomfortable and disappointing situation for some. Please read the ‘Translations’ entry in Julie’s blog. Your response starts ringing the same bells for me when you start using words like continued attack, depraved nature, falsely accused and sin. I can’t see where you make any arguments about the facts that Julie is presenting or how they are presented. I have not seen Julie accuse anyone. Since you don’t/can’t refuted what Julie reports, then you tacitly agree with her. Why are you saying ‘mean and judgement’ things about someone you agree with?

      Have a good weekend,

    5. Brian there is something seriously wrong with you. Questioning Julie and suggesting she is wrestling with her sudden fame. Sudden fame that’s laughable, yeah she’s really important now. How do you even know this, your just like all the other nut jobs on here who complain that Julie or anyone else shouldn’t criticize James or Harvest, and should just forgive and move on. If you can’t be helpful don’t bother commenting.

    6. Julie is performing a service and for you to suggest she is getting some kind of happiness or something from this exposure is really petty! We are learning the truth from her and I used to love pastor James but finding out the truth is more important than blind faith in a person who now sickens me!

  4. One look at Julie’s blog and you know she isn’t about money. She doesn’t solicit for donations and she doesn’t have paid advertisers on her website (some blogs and websites make money with ads). The only promotion is her own book which you would expect. She spent money on lawyers to deal with a lawsuit. Christian magazines don’t pay major money for articles… even for feature articles. My guess is Julie is in the hole financially if you look at what she was paid vs. cost of lawyer (if her lawyer didn’t represent her for free). Chicago lawyers aren’t cheap. Complaining about Julie is diverting attention away from the real issue.

  5. “….though the machine is comprised of professing Christians, there’s nothing Christian about the way it operates…”

    And there is only one logical conclusion here and that is that most of these people are not Christians at all.

  6. Whether irony, or prophesy, one of James’ proclaimed favorite poems seems to describe the state of affairs:
    Crumbling is not an instant’s Act
    by Emily Dickinson
    “Crumbling is not an instant’s Act
    A fundamental pause
    Dilapidation’s processes
    Are organized Decays.
    ‘Tis first a Cobweb on the Soul
    A Cuticle of Dust
    A Borer in the Axis
    An Elemental Rust
    — Ruin is formal –
    Devil’s work Consecutive and slow
    — Fail in an instant, no man did
    Slipping — is Crash’s law.”

  7. Brian,
    I’ll pray for you that God opens your eyes to see truth. Julie Roys really is not the issue here at all. However she is processing MacDonald’s vile personal attack on her is really none of your business nor is it within the realm of your ability (or right) to know or judge. Her forgiveness (or lack thereof as you claim) is between her and God. I’m disappointed that instead of offering support to a sister in Christ who has been maligned, you come here to judge her and level false (you have no proof to support your comments so you are bearing false witness) accusations yourself. You should thank Julie, and the others, who have been courageous enough to take on this story. Big Corrupt Evangelicalism (or the Evangelical Industrial Complex) as Julie called it needs to be exposed and ultimately dismantled. I’ve been a Christian all of my life. It is becoming more and more difficult to witness to unbelievers because of corrupted institutions and individuals who brand themselves falsely with the name of Christ. The world is watching us. Unbelievers can’t see Jesus yet. They don’t know him but they know those of us who publicly claim to be Christians and to be acting in the name of Christ. We are supposed to point the way. Every time one of these false teachers are exposed the non-Christian world sees it. They read the stories and they say, “See! They’re worst than we are.” Sadly, a lot of the time they are right. Those of us out here trying to introduce unbelievers to Jesus have to deal with the fallout of a James MacDonald. And it’s hard. And the need is great. So many young people especially are walking away from Christianity and embracing new age religions, atheism, and satanism. I see it and deal with it every single day. They are choosing darkness over light. We are supposed to stand in the gap. It’s hard to do when you have so-called Christian leaders lying, cheating, stealing and doing the same or worse than non-believers. Judgement begins in the church, Brian. God is moving. May he cast down every false leader, every mocker, and all those who are a stumbling block to the lost. I pray that James MacDonald leave public life, earnestly repent, and receive God’s forgiveness.

  8. Nathan Elledge

    Hi Julie, it seems like everyday I am seeing more and more of this kind of thing coming from the “church”, which tells me that our current model of “church” is very broken. I believe God is doing a kind of renewal movement within the church on a grassroots level, that emphasizes simple gatherings of Christians to worship and pray together in small groups and house church settings, where real discipleship based relationships can grow and flourish the way God intended, just like in the early church days of the Book of Acts. Thank you Julie for standing firm, I really appreciate your articles.
    God bless you!
    Nathan Elledge
    Tyler, TX

    1. Nathan Elledge, you just might be right, I attended Harvest Bible chapel in Elgin for 10 years, I heard rumors about the corrupt leadership there about 4 years ago…so I began to ask questions, I’ve met with pastors, Elders and even with chairman Steve Huston …they all new what was going on and either did nothing or bent over backwards to cover it up…and by the way they did what a few people on this blog do “attack the messenger “… about a year and a half ago I began to meet with about 10 to16 people in my basement and at my friend Paul’s house…it has been wonderful, although I still grieve about the unrepentant leadership at Harvest…….this very small part of the body of Christ is growing strong and Healthy , …..we all must contend for the Faith, which I believe Julie Roy’s is doing. read The book of Jude it is both encouraging and frightening .

      1. Hey there Dan and Nathan, God is indeed moving around the world through simple church gatherings. Where ordinary lay people meet in homes, coffee shops and store fronts. No sound systems needed. No celebrity pastors involved. Just disciples meeting to talk about Jesus, worship with simple songs, read a Bible passage together and hold each other accountable to put something into practice from what was read. Literally millions of people have become Jesus disciples in the past ten years through house church movements like this. We’re living in a day of probably the greatest outpouring of the Holy Spirit ever. Yet because there are no buildings or celebrities involved most people don’t know it’s occurring. But it is! Rock on brothers. And do whatever you can to help others form simple churches which make disciples.

        1. Wow Fisher, if you look for it, you will see this movement everywhere, just like you said. Carry on Christian soldier!

      2. Amen Dan, thank you for the encouraging word, may we continue to “snatch others from the fire” as the Lord leads us.

  9. I have no idea who any of these people are. I’ve never heard of any of them, including the lady named Julie who wrote it. But if any of this is true, and I’m inclined to believe it is, then we are much further along in the process of depravity and the falling away from Christ than I was aware. It pains my heart and my love for Jesus to know such things are so blatantly and openly spoken by supposed Christians and not confessed and repented for. Only God knows their heart, but we are to be discerning.

  10. Susan Vonder Heide

    Things are, indeed, in bad shape in churches across denominations. From the “anything goes as long as it is politically correct and sounds sophisticated” mentality too often seen in Mainline churches to the “just bring your ear plugs if you don’t like our obnoxious amplified guitar noise wrecking your eardrums” mentality too often seen in Evangelical churches to the “just trust Father So and So because he is a priest and you’re not” mentality too often seen in Catholic churches, I think that God is waking people up to the need to focus more on God as revealed in Scripture and less on all of the other stuff.

  11. Hi. I am pleased with the highlighting of celebrity Christianity. For years and years Christian leaders who held to a cessationist point of view would always use the label of the “celebrity” lofty, flashy preachers in describing those who believed in the Gifts of the Spirit for today. Isn’t it interesting to see non Charismatic ministries are just as susceptible to temptation to a kind of celebrity status? Control, legalism, propping up a man is a problem in all portions of the Body of Christ. Not time for stone throwing but grace and love showing!

  12. “I don’t think anybody set out to build an evangelical celebrity machine that’s an affront to the gospel. Instead, this machine slowly took form as Christians’ pursuit of prosperity, prestige, and platform caused them to make one compromise after another.”

    It appears to me that most mega-successful people have a bit of arrogance, caused by the tremendous drive and self confidence that propelled them to the top. Yes there are exceptions, but the few really successful people who I have met have a lot of hybris. In industry, where boards of directors are more likely to be independent, and government oversight is more intense, many high-flying executives get pushed out, and the next generation sees that and takes note. That is not to say that industry has no fraudsters, abusers or egomaniacs, but the tree seems to get pruned regularly. Hollywood and Big Evangelism seem less watched, and thus have produced some shockingly long-lived perpetrators. James MacDonald’s behavior may be exceeded in raw numbers by some industrial fiascos – Enron comes to mind. But the fact that MacDonald’s misdeeds took place in an organization pledged to righteousness makes it more surprising. Likewise Bill Hybels – you could easily find a CEO or a Hollywood director whose sins were more widespread, but that fact that Hybels’ failings were ignored by a church make the situation more repulsive. Common people, you and me, the ones whose names are not in the newspapers, need to cast a skeptical eye at anything “big.” Big success usually is accompanied by big ego. Big success leads to mutual congratulation circles among the in crowd. Big success leads to toleration of unrighteousness when no one wants to upset the feeding trough. Does that megachurch show signs of self-reflective regulation or is the big dog answerable “only to God”, which in the end means, “only to themselves”?

    People like Julie step in when the members in the pews are blind to the realities. We need her.

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