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.'”
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?’”
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.”
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 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.”
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.