Three Harvest Staff Do Not Confirm Sexual Abuse Claim Against James MacDonald, but Others Indicate Alleged Incident Was Well-Known

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UPDATE: Sandy Song has written a response to this article, which is posted with permission at the bottom of this page.

Three staff at Harvest Bible Chapel are not confirming an account by a former Harvest worship leader that founding Pastor James MacDonald, who was fired from the church last week, touched her inappropriately while on a private jet in 2005. However, former staff who served on the worship ministry at the time of the alleged incident, say the story was well known among worship leaders, and expressed surprise that their former colleagues are denying it.

On Monday morning, former worship leader, Anne Green, appeared on Mancow Muller’s Chicago radio show and accused MacDonald of snuggling up to her on a jet that MacDonald shared with Bill Hybels. (Hybels is the founder of Willow Creek Community Church and recently resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment.) Green said that mid-flight, MacDonald put his hand on her upper thigh near her crotch. She said she then exclaimed, “You can’t touch me there!” And MacDonald reportedly laughed and joked about Green taking down his ministry.

“(A)ll of them stated that ‘they did not recall seeing or hearing anything suspicious or inappropriate.'”

Monday evening, Harvest posted a response to the allegation on the church’s website, saying that the church had first heard about the alleged incident in September 2018. Harvest said it then interviewed three other passengers who were on the flight with Green and MacDonald. And all of them stated that “they did not recall seeing or hearing anything suspicious or inappropriate.”

This is what I expected Harvest to say because that’s how the church responded to me months ago when I alerted them to Green’s story. In late September, I interviewed Green, and soon after, sent an email to Sandy Song—a staff member at Harvest whom Green said was on the plane with her and James in 2005. Also on that flight was Harvest Executive Pastor Trei Tatum, as well as Harvest worship leader Andi Rozier.

At the time, Song declined to interview with me, but after a few days sent me an email with written statements from herself, Tatum, and Rozier. In her email, she urged me to “consider these statements and not publish.”

Song also asked if we could meet in person to discuss. This was mentioned in a lawsuit Harvest filed against me about two weeks after our email exchange. I replied that I thought the statements were sufficient and didn’t see a need to meet. This was then characterized in the lawsuit as I “refused to meet” with Song.

In their statements, Song and Rozier confirmed that three people were sitting on a bench seat at the back of the plane during the flight. MacDonald was sitting in the middle of the bench with Green on one side. According to Rozier, either Tatum or Song were sitting on the other side of MacDonald. Song said she believes she was sitting in a single seat facing the back bench. Rozier said he was sitting in a single seat facing the back bench, as well.

“Green said she felt very confused by what had happened. ‘I was like a deer in headlights. I was like, ‘What in the world?’”

According to Green, the team was on its way back from a day-trip to California when the alleged incident happened. She said it was dark on the plane and MacDonald leaned against her and put his head on her shoulder. Then, she said he reached his arm across his body and placed his hand on her upper thigh near her crotch with his fingers extending to the inside of her leg. She then protested loudly, and MacDonald reportedly pulled back his hand.

Green said she felt very confused by what had happened. “I was like a deer in headlights,” she said. “I was like, ‘What in the world?’”

Green said the ride was “very quiet,” so she’s quite sure others on the plane heard the interaction. She added that she could hear people giggling when it happened too.

However, according to Song, the flight was loud and they experienced some turbulence. She added that she didn’t witness “any inappropriate behavior,” but recently added, “It’s possible for it to have happened and me not to have witnessed it.”

Similarly, Tatum wrote, “I have no memory of anything inappropriate happening nor was I aware of anything happening during the flight.” Likewise Rozier wrote, “James fell asleep pretty quickly. He was next to Anne but I have no memory of any incident of any kind.”

Green said she was very surprised that all three claimed to have no memory of the incident. She said the day after the plane trip, she had to lead worship at church. Green said as she stood on stage before worship, Rozier approached her and asked her if she was okay. She said she responded by shaking her head and saying, “I don’t really know,” and Rozier told her that she could do this.

“The general m.o. was protect James at all cost. Protect James. Protect the church.”

Matt Stowell, who was on staff at Harvest as a worship leader from 1998-2008, said he was surprised to hear that Rozier claimed not to know about the incident with Green. He said, “At some point, I think most of the leadership in worship at Harvest had become aware of it.”

Green said the only person she talked to about the alleged incident until her family left Harvest in 2010 was her husband Rob. At the time, Rob was employed as director of assimilation. Both said they’re stunned now that they didn’t report what had happened. But they said at the time, they were caught in a very controlling and spiritually abusive environment that taught them never to question MacDonald’s actions.

Stowell described Green and MacDonald as “polar opposites.” He said Green was “someone who exhibited Christian moral character over a long period of time” but MacDonald was someone who “very rarely showed the same things.” Stowell added that he believes Green “110-percent—as much as you can believe somebody.”

When asked if it’s consistent for employees to cover for MacDonald, Stowell said, “Oh yes—100 percent. The general m.o. was protect James at all cost. Protect James. Protect the church.”

Just this week, Steve Johnson, who worked as the director of sound and audio production at Harvest from 2003-2010, told me a similar account. He said Matthew Westerholm, a worship leader at Harvest from 1998-2008, told him about what had happened to Green sometime before 2008.

Johnson said Westerholm said that James had inappropriately touched Green’s leg when the two were on a small jet. Johnson said Westerholm expressed disappointment that a pastor would do something like that.

I contacted Westerholm this week about Johnson’s account, but he would not talk to me on the record.

This was the second time I had contacted Westerholm about the alleged incident with Green. I initially contacted him in September because Green at first thought Westerholm had been on the plane when the alleged incident occurred. Westerholm said he hadn’t, and Green said she may have remembered that detail incorrectly.

The day after I first emailed Westerholm, Harvest posted an elder update to its website with a response to the #MeToo movement. Westerholm later told me he had discussed my initial email with a friend at Harvest.

Radio host Mancow Muller said he heard about the alleged incident with Green completely independent of the church. He said he had heard about it from Howard Seedorf, owner of the company that leased the jet to MacDonald.

Muller, who attended Harvest the past couple years, said when he asked MacDonald about it, MacDonald laughed and said that he had brushed up against Green because of turbulence. Muller said MacDonald alleged that Green had overreacted because she was a holy-holy type.

A Pattern Of Control and Violated Boundaries

According to Green, the incident on the plane was the culmination of many years of inordinate attention from MacDonald, multiple boundary crossings, and control.

Green said she came to the church in 1997 soon after getting divorced and feeling very broken. And initially, she found healing and biblical direction at the church. After six months, she joined the worship team and then became the first woman to lead worship there.

Green said she also soon became one of MacDonald’s favorites. “He would tell everybody, I was like his sister,” she said. “And he would rub my head, or put his hand on my hair, or pull it – nothing too crazy. . . . But I also felt like he was playing a role almost like my dad sometimes, because he took such an interest in me.”

“At the time, Green said, this attention to personal detail felt normal because she had become accustomed to the fact that ‘James likes to have his hands in everything.’ But looking back, she said it wasn’t normal.”

Green said MacDonald would often compliment her on her makeup or clothes and use her as an example to the rest of the worship team of how they should look on stage. At the time, Green said, this attention to personal detail felt normal because she had become accustomed to the fact that “James likes to have his hands in everything.” But looking back, she said it wasn’t normal.

Green said MacDonald also took an interest in her dating life. When Anne’s husband Rob wanted to date her, she said he went to MacDonald to ask for permission. Anne says MacDonald divulged personal details to Rob about Anne’s past without her permission. He also told Rob that Anne had vowed not to date for six months, and told him that until that period had expired, he was not allowed to even call Anne.

When Rob and Anne announced their intent to get married, Anne said MacDonald dictated the pre-marital class the two were to attend and told the couple what month they would get married. Anne’s husband, Rob, said that at the time, both he and Anne were “drinking the Kool-Aid” so they did precisely as MacDonald directed.

Anne said that after she was married, MacDonald still tried to be the person with primary influence in her life and would undermine her husband’s authority. For example, during this time, she said MacDonald gave her a $500 Ann Taylor gift card and instructed her not to let Rob tell her how to spend it.

However, Anne said the biggest boundary crossing came in 2005 when MacDonald touched her on the plane. After the alleged incident with MacDonald, Anne said she pulled back from the worship ministry, and from MacDonald.

“By that time, I was filled with too much shame to even push James away . . That was one of the last moments I spent with him.”

She said she felt deep shame over what had happened. The shame was so profound that she said she didn’t even protest when on another occasion, MacDonald gushed about her in front of two pastors and ran his finger up and down her leg and side. “By that time, I was filled with too much shame to even push James away,” she said. “That was one of the last moments I spent with him.”

Rob Green said these two pastors reached out to him this week after hearing Anne’s story. I then reached out to these pastors, who said they’re in the process of drafting a response but didn’t want to speak on the record at this time.

Anne said she and Rob saw many incidents over the years that made them question MacDonald’s character. But she said it wasn’t until Rob was fired in 2009, soon after asking MacDonald why so many good people had left the church, that the two really began to see the church’s dysfunction. Anne said she began to wonder, “Who are we following—James or Jesus?”

The couple left the church in 2009 and now live in Colorado. Anne said she decided to speak up now because God gave her the courage “to fight for my freedom and the freedom of others who were abused.”

On February 23, Sandy Song posted the following to her Facebook Page and gave me permission to repost here:

I have largely stayed off of social media in the past few years.  I wish I could post today about a vacation that I was on or some good food I was enjoying.  However, recent events have forced me to have to speak publicly about what has been happening at Harvest Bible Chapel.  First of all, I need to say that I love Anne Green and am heartbroken over the fact that she has suffered in silence for all these years.  Inappropriate behavior like this is awful and should be dealt with swiftly and seriously.  In 2005, we were a small worship staff and a very tight-knit group.  I sincerely wish that Rob or Anne would have talked to me about what happened at some point in time.  I pray that if there are others who have been abused by James, that this will open the door for them to step forward and tell their truth and find healing.  We are not trying to negate Anne’s story in any way, but just as people accuse us of lying to cover up for James, we also cannot compromise our integrity and lie for Anne and claim to have seen or heard things that we simply didn’t.  

Given that this incident took place in 2005, I am perfectly willing to admit that I don’t remember things clearly.  I barely remember the plane ride or the event that we sang at.  I know that this was a late-night flight after a long day of ministry.  I can’t say this for certain, but it is very possible I got on the plane, put in headphones and fell asleep as I routinely do on almost every flight I take. The first that I had heard about this incident was in September 2018 when I was first contacted by Julie Roys.  The accusation took me by surprise because I had never heard this story before.  Julie contacted me a few times via email and I did not want to speak to her over the phone because I knew I had nothing to say about this incident.  In her email, she asked me questions about what I had seen and I simply told her I didn’t recall anything.  Trei, Andi and I wrote separate statements about our recollections of that plane ride and then sent them to Julie.  Given the fact that my memories are unclear, I have asked around to other people to see if they ever heard me talk about this story or if anyone had suspected at that period of time that Anne had been abused by James.  Again, I want to make clear that I am not trying to say it didn’t happen, but at that time, no one was aware of any type of abuse taking place.  I moved to China in 2006 which could explain why I never even knew about the story at all.  I have since found out that some people had heard of this incident after the fact, but in a way that led them to believe it was an awkward accident, not sexual abuse. Maybe they were manipulated because this was how the story was presented to them, but those people don’t remember who they heard the story from or when, so it is impossible to know. 

What people are saying about the culture of fear is true.  At the beginning of February, I wrote my own statement to the elders regarding what I had seen over the years in James’ behavior in an effort to validate what so many have been saying.  In 2005, most of us were in our 20s and we did have a fear of making James angry.  However, because we were such a small staff, we often debriefed and supported each other through many difficult moments.  We were not only co-workers, but friends who went through an extremely intense season of ministry together.   We dearly loved and continue to love Anne.  We simply would not have let her suffer alone if we had known the true story of what happened.  I pray that coming forward brings her support and healing.

 

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104 thoughts on “Three Harvest Staff Do Not Confirm Sexual Abuse Claim Against James MacDonald, but Others Indicate Alleged Incident Was Well-Known”

  1. Many who are questioning Julie Roy’s reasons for continuously posting updates about HBC and Anne Green’s accusations are still not bothered by the fact that the JM literally said he was going to plant child porn on someone’s computer? He calls a guy a prick, makes fun of women for staying pure before marriage, calls a worship leader “holy-holy” for not wanting to be molested by a man who calls himself her brother and is also her spiritual leader. If he can say these things cannot one question his actions as well? More people need to speak up bc so many are STILL NOT HEARING. JMac didn’t just make a mistake. He didn’t just have a minute of potty mouth. His misuse of people and power in HBC have hurt his church and The Church. He brought this on himself so stop blaming victims and those who are stating facts.

    1. EXCELLENT points, torn & mended!!!!! I, too, am shocked that there are people actually *complaining* here about the radical surgery needed for the many, many, wounds within and around JMac!!!

  2. I stand with Anne I believe her completely -what courage to tell her story! Well the details are so creepy, but so familiar! We had a pastor who followed no good boundaries but preached that he did-so it was always really confusing like a muddied spring because you don’t know what is in the water…whether it is safe or not…James a true master at using and abusing and confusing people. But our God isn’t confusing He knows and sees and He cares and He will have the final words on the matter of these shortcomings. Vicki Stevenson member 24 years

    1. That staff person works with first-time church visitors and helps them move along the path to full participation in the church body (regular attendance, plugged into a small group, serving, etc.).

  3. Fact: James MacDonald wherever you are and whatever blog/name you are hiding out as, God is there. Neither you or your family will be able to run far enough or fast enough from a Holy God whose church you defiled and whose widow’s houses you devoured. God will not be mocked.

    Fact: the IRS has a formal complaint form that can be filed by anyone to request an investigation of any person who may have been involved w a non-profit tax exempt organization who may have misused funds from same (IRS Complaint Form 13909).

    Fact: there is a difference between those who were just afraid to speak out against the horrific sins and spiritual abuse versus those sycophants who supported and willingly participated in the demonic behavior. Satan has the capability to present as an angel of light, knows the Bible and how to brand and indoctrinate the church better than anyone, and he used MacDonald and those who worshipped him well in those regards. I don’t know when the love of money, greed, and power led them to turn from God to sin after sin and the Prince of Darkness, but God is greater than their sins and spiritual abuse. He can also heal those who repent of putting a mere human in the place only He should have occupied.

    If the Harvest remnant leadership truly humbles themselves and repents God can heal them all and create something new and beautiful out of the ash heap MacDonald and Satan left. Conversely, if the remaining leaders don’t repent, God is fully capable of dealing with that as well and removing our lampstand.

    Either way, rest assured God is not going to let MacDonald or those who helped him harm the church His son died for get away with anything, just trust in this truth and leave MacDonald to Him to deal with (“vengeance is mine (God speaking), I will repay”). He is more than capable of dealing with all involved with this travesty who remain defiant and unrepentant.

    God bless Julie Roys, Mancow, the elders and leaders who did their best to expose the sins, the Elephant’s debt and all those who had the integrity to stand against this evil, and God bless all the faithful at Harvest who are increasingly putting their faith back where it always should have been – in Jesus alone.

    Meanwhile Harvest, let us keep on praying doing our part to support legitimate ministries, and pursuing truth and exposing the darkness until we are functioning as the church He wanted us to be. To the leaders who remain, you still need to repent first so we can “strengthen the things that remain.” Tryng to move to reconciliation without repentance is not scriptural, and just parallels the same behaviors that were modeled by MacDonald’s “sin and spin” machine.

    What does Harvest want and need? No more spin, no more Christianese double-speak – own exactly what happened, repent, and THEN seek reconciliation. For those who were intimidated and fearful and had to go along because you feared for your jobs, God can forgive that, but don’t attempt to continue to manipulate the message or those wronged by circumventing real repentance if you are really serious about restoring Harvest. It won’t end well if you do.

  4. michaelfromchicago

    This blog post is absolutely shameful. Even the title, “Three Harvest Staff Do Not Confirm Sexual Abuse Claim Against James MacDonald…” is awkwardly worded garage, written precisely to convey a biased message. This is an entirely unsubstantiated claim. All the witnesses deny this happened. The rest is rumor. This post is sinful gossip, meant only to slander and to kick a man while he’s down. This is #metoo, guilty by accusation, trash. In many sermons over the years, James has said that he refuses to give counseling to woman alone, he will not give a ride to a woman in his car, he will not meet privately with a woman, etc. He does all of this to ensure insane accusations like this don’t happen, but you gossip loving, den of vipers think that he would touch a woman’s thigh on a small plane in the view by others? I bet you all believe Christine Blasey Ford isn’t a lunatic liar either. Do your wear knit pink “girl part” hats, too, when you revel in the filth of this post? Pathetic.

    1. Michael or whoever you are…James said ALOT of things from the pulpit that sadly he didn’t follow in real life. So yes there are many here that believe Anne. I have no conviction in believing her story. She has nothing to gain by lying. She didn’t sue or try to get money from him or the church. If you want to continue to close your eyes and ears to whats been proven of James character then that is your choice but don’t accuse those of us that are grieving at all that has happened but refuse to hide out head in the sand and pretend it’s not true.

      1. michaelfromchicago

        Tammy. I have no conviction in not believing Anne’s account as told in the blog post. It seems well enough established that James was a bully to some. That lends no credence to him touching Ann inappropriately. Emotions do not trump facts. As to your point that Anne, “didn’t sue or try to get money…” Well, of course not. There’s no case here. This is an unsubstantiated claim. Here’s what we know:

        *Anne attended HBC form ’97 to ’09; 4 of those years, ’05 to ’09 after she was “sexually abused”.
        *Her and her Husband did NOTHING after she was “sexually abused” – (If my wife told me James sexually abused her, he, I or both would be leaving his office in cuffs and/or an ambulance)
        *All present at the time have no knowledge of the claims and saw/heard nothing
        *Anne’s support for this claim is that James mandated that she attend a pre-marriage class (Um, ok)
        *James completed her IN FRONT OF the worship team (Again, um, ok)
        *James touched her hand/hair and she didn’t care
        *James bought her a gift card – She used this as her only example of James “undermining her husband’s authority” Ha. This is actually laughable.

        My head is not in the sand. I am grieving, too, at the implosion of HBC and all that has unfolded, but James is a brother in Christ. Flawed, yes. Guilty by accusation, no. This blog post is gossip. Gossip is sin.

        1. HE IS NOT MY BROTHER, MAT 12:48-50 STATES THAT CLEARLY OUT OF THE MOUTH OF JESUS ……. In a nutshell ….. WHO IS MY BRETHREN ? THEY WHICH DO THE WILL OF MY FATHER WHICH IS IN HEAVEN . DID THAT devil DO THE WILL OF his father? YOU KNOW…… comes not but to STEAL, KILL and DESTROY . Time to WAKE UP EVERYBODY!!!!

  5. Susan Vonder Heide

    How convenient it is to be critical of people who express concerns rather than honestly dealing with concerns. “Move on, nothing to see here” is a poor substitute for “I care about the church and its people to want to understand what is happening and how to help the situation.”

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