Church Suspends Employee for Posting Article Critical of James MacDonald. Employee Cries Foul.

By Julie Roys

On February 25, Alex George shared an article on Facebook critical of disgraced former Harvest Bible Chapel pastor, James MacDonald, who had just announced his return to public ministry.

The article, which had been published on The Roys Report, was written by Alex’s father, Dan George, a former elder at Harvest. And it strongly warned people not to follow MacDonald, whom Dan described as “unrepentant and unchanged” since being fired by Harvest a year earlier.

For sharing his dad’s article, Alex George was suspended from his job as a producer of weekend services at The Bridge, a large, multisite church in the Chicago area with average attendance around 1,800.

George then resigned. And recently, he posted his reasons on Facebook, sparking debate about the influence MacDonald still wields in the faith community, and the alleged controlling and secretive culture that dominates some churches.

“The world is seeing the need for accountability more and more with the #MeToo movement, corporate fraud, and police brutality,” George wrote. “The church of Jesus Christ should be leading the way with accountability and transparency. Congregants should be able to ask their pastor questions. Pastors should be eager to be held accountable. . . .”

Alex George’s post about leaving The Bridge:

Avoid sides on a “polarizing issue”

According to The Bridge Senior Pastor Scott Ziegler and Executive Pastor Brian Nelson, The Bridge suspended George because he violated church policy, prohibiting leaders from using social media “to take a side on a polarizing issue.”

They say George had been warned about this policy once before. And the pastors were disappointed that George violated the policy after being fully informed of what the boundaries were.

But George says he’s never seen a copy of this policy, despite requesting it numerous times since his employment began in 2019. He also said that previously he had been told simply to not be “unkind,” but the church didn’t mention anything about “polarizing issues.”

He also said that Nelson told him in a phone conversation on February 29 that the church’s objection was specific to MacDonald. “I was told I could talk about other issues, like the Catholic Church,” George said, “but not James MacDonald.”

George also said the church’s position is ironic, since Pastor Ziegler engaged on George’s February 25th Facebook post about MacDonald, liking some of the comments and even posting one himself.

George’s Feb. 25 post about his dad’s article:

Ziegler posted, “I agree,” in response to a comment on George’s post, stating: “I don’t understand the desire to keep talking bad about (MacDonald). . . . Why the need to hold him down and talk bad about him online to everyone.”

Ziegler also liked a comment that confronted George for using social media to “talk smack.”

George responded to Ziegler’s comment with one word: “Why?”

When Ziegler did not respond for two days*, George reached out again, asking Ziegler for clarification about his position.

“It is important not just to me personally but to also clear up your stance for the other Bridge attenders and staff who have commented and reacted to this thread,” George wrote.

Ziegler did not respond.

When George and Nelson texted days later about the issue, George suggested he would speak to Ziegler the following Sunday at church.

Nelson replied, “You and I will speak next week. Sundays are the worst day to talk with Scott about a serious thing.”

George says even now, months after the interaction, he has not heard from Ziegler.

Ziegler says he’s been swamped with calls since quarantine and talking with George “was just not on my radar.”

When I asked Ziegler why he engaged online about a “polarizing issue,” which seemingly violates the church policy, he responded that the church’s policy makes an exception for the senior pastor, who is the spokesman for the church.

I asked for a copy of the policy, which Ziegler sent (see below). However, Ziegler included a note, saying that he was wrong that the policy stated that the senior pastor would act as a spokesman.

Ziegler said he spoke with the elder chairman at The Bridge, who confirmed that the elders had decided that the pastor would be a spokesman on social media but the elders decided not to include this information in the social media policy.

However, Ziegler said he wished the church had been better at distributing the social media policy. He said the policy was distributed to deacons when it was first written in 2016 but has since been communicated to staff verbally.

“Secretive” & Controlling Culture

George said his decision to resign from The Bridge and post his experience online was a matter of conscience. After witnessing the “secretive” and controlling culture at Harvest Bible Chapel, as both a church member and employee, George said he couldn’t submit to a policy that silenced him.

Alex George

Having a social media policy is not unusual for churches. However, according to David Middlebrook, an attorney who focuses on church and nonprofit issues, the policy should be written in a handbook that is signed by all employees. The policy should focus on staff posting content that’s consistent with living a committed Christian lifestyle and the Church’s teachings.

George said he didn’t have any problem with the policy when he understood the restrictions to be limited to engaging on social media in a Christlike manner. It was avoiding any “polarizing issues” that he found objectionable.

Plus, George said he was disturbed by a text he had received from Nelson while George was on leave, which he felt encouraged him to be dishonest. In the text conversation, George says to Nelson: “I have had people asking what is going on/why I am not service this month. How would you like me to respond?”

Nelson texted back: “(I)f it were me, I would probably tell them I just needed a few weeks to work some stuff out . . . I would be thinking about how to protect the church and myself. Less words the better in these situations, at least when I’ve been in them. That’s what I’ve learned. People don’t need to know anything imo. That’s how I live overall.”

George’s objection to the way The Bridge has handled the situation is shared by his father and dozens of others who have commented on social media.

 “This secretive, controlling, lying culture in churches has to change,” Dan George (@CaptScrub) tweeted in response.

Similarly, Diana (@NotInOurChurch1) tweeted, “. . . When did the church become like the mafia? Since when did Christians believe we have to stay silent or lie about wolves?”

And @Farmchicksuz tweeted: “Glad (Alex) posted. It was necessary. The Church is being shifted, beginning with leadership. . .” 

Some, however, posted in favor of the church, noting that there are many former Harvest members attending the church who don’t need to be reminded of their former hurts.

Joe Bolz commented on Facebook: “I don’t think it’s fair to publicly blast the church like that. This is a matter of opinion, not fact. . . . The church wants them to heal, not remind them of what they used to be part of. It’s their choice if they want to avoid talking about that specific issue.”

 

Some on social media have claimed that Abby MacDonald, James MacDonald’s daughter, and Abby’s husband were on staff at The Bridge, and that this influenced The Bridge’s actions toward Alex George.

Ziegler said neither Abby nor her husband have ever served on staff at The Bridge.  However, Ziegler confirmed reports that Abby and her husband attended The Bridge when it was holding in-person services.

Despite the criticism, Ziegler maintains he and The Bridge are nothing like James MacDonald and Harvest. He said his church is simply “laser focused on the gospel” and doesn’t want church employees detracting from that focus by engaging in online debates.

But Alex George says he believes The Bridge and many other churches are infected with the same toxic culture that Harvest had under MacDonald.

“It just feels like, ‘Hey, we’re going to do what we’re going to do. And if you’re going to talk about it, we’re going to treat you like the Scientologists treat the people who leave.’. . . There are so many parallels. It’s just another Chicago church that has this secret culture.”

The Bridge’s Social Media Policy:

As Leaders at The Bridge, our social media activity represents not only our personal views and behavior, but we also represent our Lord, the Christian faith, and The Bridge Community Church with our posts and other activity. Because of this, it’s important for us to follow these social media guidelines:

• Use social media as a mechanism to encourage, uplift, and point people to Jesus.
• Pray and look for God’s approval before each post.
• Seek feedback from an elder or a pastor if any post might be in question.
• Never post when in the throes of emotion.
• Not use social media to persuade others to an opinion or political viewpoint.
• Not use social media to take a side on a polarizing issue.
*An earlier version of this article said Alex George reached out to Ziegler after nine hours, instead of two days.
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38 thoughts on “Church Suspends Employee for Posting Article Critical of James MacDonald. Employee Cries Foul.”

  1. Well, the youngster was warned once before. And he clearly took a side and a polarizing issue. He got exactly what he deserved.

  2. I’m having some trouble being sympathetic with this guy. I work for a private school that has a social media policy. Anything that reflects negatively on the school, staff or families can not be posted on social media. If we get a request for information from someone outside of the school, it goes through our media spokesperson. If you violate the policy, you’re usually a former employee. I can fault the church for not being more clear with the policy (it should be in the employee handbook), but George probably needs to find another format where he can comment about things that offend him anonymously. Online debates do tend to polarize (which is why I personally shy away from posting things that are political on Facebook-my church has had some blowups over the Reds vs. the Blues, and it caused a lot of heartache in the congregation). We unfortunately live in a culture that has lost the gift of dialog, and we are only the worse for it.

    1. If it hadn’t been for people posting about James MacDonald on social media, he’d still be pastor at Harvest. I hope churches and Christian institutions consider prayerfully not just protecting their own interests, but the interests of the Kingdom. For many churches, especially independent ones, and parachurch organizations, there is no other watchdog other than social media and independent journalists. If we muzzle all employees of these organizations, we seriously restrict the ability of the Body to hold leaders and institutions accountable and to warn sheep of potential wolves.

      1. Julie, I certainly understand what you’re saying. But, I think if you have that many issues with something, you might also need to be wiling to pay the price if you choose to go public. I quit a Christian organization many years ago because some of their practices were loopy, but I made sure I had another job lined up before I spilled the beans. We unfortunately now live in a cancel culture, and sometimes people are canceled, although they are correct in what they post. Businesses can have their positions, and if you decide to work for one, you need to know what actions you feel you are willing to take.Unfortunately, the First Amendment doesn’t always pass muster if their is a company (in this case church) policy in place. So, it’s a true case of counting the cost.

        1. The Church is not a company. George posted an article. We might as well not talk about anything as everything nowadays is “polarizing”. The word used to have meaning. You better not talk about wolves in sheep’s clothing, or church leaders who abuse their position. You also better not talk about sexual abusers who are fired and then go on to serve in other churches. Definitely do not say anything about a local celebrity pastor. The lead pastor can go on social media and respond, but the church worker gets suspended for posting a well-written article by his dad?

          I am being tongue in cheek but sometimes outsiders can smell hypocrisy when they see it. There is this endemic problem of secrecy and control in our largest churches. It is troubling and sad.

        2. I agree with Linn, and also like the Facebook response of Joe Bolz to Alan George. It’s true that wolves should be exposed, but it’s risky to use a public forum which includes many unbelievers who seize with glee upon discord within the Church. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a good alternative (besides Julie Roys, who probably doesn’t yet reach all believers or churchgoers) which Alan could/should have used. Our main concern must be to glorify Christ in our words, attitudes and actions.

          1. “Our main concern must be to glorify Christ in our words, attitudes and actions.” I agree. Thus, the pastors at The Bridge didn’t need to suspend a staff member simply for expressing his opinion on social media, especially if there was no vulgarity or incitement to violence.

            You also stated: “I can’t think of a good alternative…which Alan could/should have used.” Why do you think he needs an alternative platform to express his opinions? And who gets to decide what that alternative platform should be? This sounds a bit controlling to me.

            Here’s a better idea: let Alex George express his own opinions on social media in the manner he chooses, as long as he’s not being vulgar, or predatory, or inciting violence. The pastors at The Bridge don’t need to waste their time monitoring Alex’s opinions on social media, whether it’s about James MacDonald or anyone else for that matter.

            The pastors should have let this one go. And if anyone in the congregation was upset by Alex’s opinions about MacDonald, they can approach Alex directly like an adult.

  3. Thankful the George men are willing to call out a warning to the people in church to watch out for a wolf among them. Critical thinking and putting out the facts …questions and opinions shouldn’t bring heavy handed responses unless your hiding something 🧐

  4. Church leaders benefit from the power and control they wield in their hierarchical systems by defining the narrative about allegations made by victims against them and/or their church re emotional, spiritual, financial, and sexual abuse. That’s what bullies do. When someone who’s been mistreated speaks up, they are inevitably mischaracterized as gossiping, being in rebellion, or otherwise besmirching the good character and reputation of said leader(s). Even if the church has an established reporting system in place for “resolving” conflict in a “biblical” manner, the deck is stacked to give the benefit of the doubt to those with the most influence. There is an inherent power differential in these systems, and to our shame as Christians, we’ve only ourselves to blame for straying so far from holding our leaders accountable. I’ll spare you the details of the agonizing experience my husband and I endured at our former church of 40 years, where we served and ministered faithfully until we began to confront the senior pastor and church board members about abusive patterns we saw toward congregants that resulted in many sheep being wounded emotionally and spiritually by their so-called shepherd (who preferred to refer to himself as the CEO…yes, really).

  5. The Bible is chock full of ‘social media’ telling about the often heinous sins of both saints and sinners. Christians are to reveal truth and warn others of wolves so that they won’t be harmed. It appears that the leadership at The Bridge is about ” Hear no evil, See no evil, Speak no evil” and closing ranks for their leadership peers like MacDonald.
    When a little heat is applied, people show what they really believe. Thank God you did not spend much time at The Bridge Organization.

  6. From what I read about this story, if I was a member of The Bridge Community Church, I’d be pretty upset with how the pastors handled this situation. As Julie stated, The Bridge suspended George because he violated church policy, prohibiting leaders from using social media “to take a side on a polarizing issue.” I must admit, this policy seems extreme to me.

    First of all, who at The Bridge gets to decide what a “polarizing” issue is? Second, why did Alex George need to relinquish his First Amendment rights in order to be employed by The Bridge? And third, why is it out of bounds to write about, or even criticize, someone like James MacDonald, who has yet to repent and is continuing to pursue ministry leadership? Sorry, MacDonald is fair game.

    It would appear that the leadership at The Bridge is demonstrating some “controlling” tactics that are unnecessary in this situation. If I was a member there, this would be a red flag to me. I don’t think a pastor should be telling his staff what they can (and can’t) write about via social media, unless it is vulgar, or predatory, or it incites violence.

    Lastly, one of the items in The Bridge’s social media guidelines states, “Not use social media to persuade others to an opinion or political viewpoint.” Really? Again, this seems extreme to me. In other words, a “Leader” at The Bridge can use social media, as long as they don’t espouse any opinions or express themselves too strongly.

    Here’s a better idea: the leadership at The Bridge should relinquish such controlling mandates. Such a policy will not end well. Being controlling (or secretive) never ends well.

    1. Exactly, Dan. How is the MacDonald situation polarizing? You mean there are people who think he’s a good guy who got railroaded? And what’s with the Lead Pastor initially claiming to be exempt from the policy? That’s kinda weird…

    2. The Bridge, which I attend, seeks to avoid reminding Harvest refugees of Harvest. Ok. So please be more different than like. Saying ‘we’re different’ while acting like is more like than different.

      I see many scarlet flags on this. Profoundly disappointing. Hard to consider myself at home where the Georges are not considered exemplary.

  7. The Bridge’s policy of muzzling its own staff (who apparently can’t be trusted even amongst themselves) is just another form of enforced legalism. No thank you please. Not to mention my guess is MacDonald probably never completed any real accountability/disciplinary restoration with his former church. Typical of talented speaker disgraced senior pastors who just get “picked up” elsewhere while ignoring any meaningful examinations of what was actually done to determine how they/MacDonald could now be qualified “above reproach”.

  8. Thanks Julie for being a voice in the darkness and confusion for so many. Thank you Alex.for following in your father’s footsteps in warning the flock. You are a courageous man! I realize there are organizational guidelines, however Gods word is the ultimate authority in ALL circumstances. He does not have criteria on when to speak the truth, except that it is done for love of him and others.. The way of truth is not easy nor popular. However it absolutely is the way to freedom and the heart of God.
    Praying for you Alex as you move forward ‘- to have an unwavering trust in God for the future and a heart to pray for those who desire to have control over truth for their flock. Not a shepherd.

  9. Trying to imagine our Lord’s reaction to ” Not use social media to take a side on a polarizing issue”, especially in this context. Our Lord who unflinchingly condemned the religious leaders of His day (Matt. 23:27). The Spirit of God who inspired the Apostle Paul to write the words of 1 Tim. 5:20, “But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. ”

    These leaders at the Bridge seriously need to rethink their policies, at a bare minimum. Most, if not all of them, probably just need to leave the ministry altogether.

  10. “Ziegler maintains he and The Bridge are nothing like James MacDonald and Harvest.”

    That’s such an interesting thing to claim. His statement is judgmental of Harvest/MacDonald, which is allegedly why this employee got in trouble.

    Also what sort of lame social media policy is this? This is a total infringement of an employee’s rights.

    For example, “Not use social media to persuade others to an opinion or political viewpoint.”

    Almost EVERYTHING someone posts on FB is an opinion which is advocating for something…

  11. Just another Evangelical cult. These people care more about protecting their corporations masquerading as churches than they do truth or Jesus.

  12. I echo comments by Carla, Mike, Anonymous, Roger, Bob, Dan, Lyn, Elise, and Vinnie. I know next to nothing about The Bridge, but based on how Mr. Ziegler and Mr. Nelson reportedly have handled this situation, I too would be very wary and troubled by their behavior and have reason to wonder if these two men are fit for ministry.

  13. I already posted a comment earlier, but I wanted to say that now would be a good time for the lead pastors at The Bridge to: 1) humbly reconsider their rather harsh reaction to Alex George; and 2) issue a formal apology to Alex George and his family before things truly spin out of control at that church.

    This sort of unnecessary divisiveness and unresolved tension can do long-term damage to a church, and for what? Was Alex George being vulgar? Nope. Was he inciting violence? Nope.

    Thus, I think the lead pastors should not dig their heels in on this one, and instead should offer a formal apology and let it go. How they respond at this point will demonstrate their priorities.

    1. Unfortunately, this will never happen as this is NOT a first time occurrence. There is not a humble bone in Scott Ziegler or Brian Nelson’s body. They have been pulling these stunts for close to 10 years now. They feel they are above scrutiny and reproach. Sorry, harsh words but those tend to come out from people who have been scarred by spiritual abuse and this is what this is, plain and simple.

  14. Even when JMac isn’t here, he’s here!! Amazing. Well connected frauds like JMac can hang their hat anywhere in the Evangelical church today and call it ministry. Ok then, he needs a job. Give him a mop and broom!!

    1. I never heard of JMac before all the troubles were exposed. What is it about him? He was not an exceptional orator. He obviously lived a hi -on the- hog lifestyle, which is not an attractive trait for a Pastor. Was it because he was a supposedly cool, mans-man Harley rider who liked to shoot animals? Was in because he had local influence, money and power? These are more traits of a CEO ,or local news personality, again not traits for a pastor. I honestly would like to know what the big deal is about him, besides all the scandalous behavior? Was he once a mighty man of God? I honestly would like someone to explain or point me to an article to help me understand. As a background, I am from the SF East Bay and I never followed the Southern Baptists, but I used to respect Al Mohler. I was once at a retreat with DA Carson and I really liked him. His daughter is a SPED teacher like I was.
      Sincerely,
      Vance

  15. Ironic in today’s Chicago Tribune dated 7/14/20 on page 2, DeSean Jackson star wide receiver of the Philadelphia Eagles (PEs) posted last week on his personal Instagram account anti-Semitic quotes attributed to Adolph Hitler. He has since apologized and the PEs have admonished him for his remarks. As hurtful as those Adolph Hitler’s quotes were; both the NFL and PEs have not fired, dismissed, suspended or forced him to resign. Yet, on the other hand, Alex George in reporting the truth about JMac as a warning to others believers was forced out. It seems The Bridge is taking a page from the Harvest Playbook of playing church as a family and friends enterprise. Scott Ziegler is Lead Pastor while his son Junior is Lead Teaching Pastor. Executive Pastor Brian Nelson was formerly on staff with Harvest Bible Chapel in Jupiter, FL. Slight change to the opening monologue on an old TV show Dragnet, “The names have changed to fool the innocent.” Alex, thank God that you are out before they demand you drink the kool- aid in Scottsville.

  16. “Ziegler maintains he and The Bridge are nothing like James MacDonald and Harvest.” HA! No doubt he wanted to squelch any conversation about MacDonald for fear that people would start connecting the dots and realize that he is a clone of MacDonald and The Bridge is a clone of Harvest. He has succeeded in populating the elder board with yes men who won’t stand up to him and employs others (Nelson) to do his dirty work. It shouldn’t be called The Bridge, it should be called Scott’s Church.

  17. While this seems to be an incident that was TERRIBLY handled, it was also rooted in a very “gray area” policy about “not taking sides on a polarizing issue”, when there is nothing said about who or what defines that issue.
    But it is NOT a First Amendment issue. The First Amendment protects us from persecution by the government. So we cannot be jailed, harassed, threatened or fined by the government for our speech. It does NOT protect us from adverse actions being taken by our employers (who have the right to run their businesses as they see fit) or other private citizens (who can shout us down, take their business elsewhere, etc – because it is their right to do so). To do so would be huge government overreach. Just wanted to clarify that issue.
    I wonder if The Bridge will clarify its policy to avoid further incidents, or if they see this George incident as a way to “send a message.”

    1. Unfortunately, I had a very similar interaction with Brian Nelson when I was a member of The Bridge several years ago. This church definitely has a groupthink environment. They say not to comment on polarizing topics, but its clear that its acceptable only when it conforms with what they believe. I remember vividly that Pastor Scott, his son Junior (who is also a pastor there) and other leaders would not only regularly post polarizing comments/articles but then also proceed to engage in social media debate to defend their stance. But then any person who disagreed or post an “unpopular” position would be reprimanded (like this guy and myself). I hate to say this because there were good people that attend The Bridge, but leaving that church was tremendous not only for spiritual growth but also my mental health.

  18. Over and over and over again.
    Protect the institution at all cost.
    Clowns masquerading as clergy.
    I know that there are good churches with good leadership but man, it seems they might be the exception these days.
    We once sought to exhibit the Fruit of the Spirit. Many are replacing that with a new “fruit”. Misrepresent. Control the narrative.
    Exert your authority. Abuse your position.
    Love only when it benefits your kingdom.
    Lie if needed. Meekness?? Ha! You cannot build a thriving, institutional, business minded church corporation by being meek.
    Sadly, CEO big-time preacher men are probably more “successful” if they just ignore Galatians 5:22-24.

  19. Michael Dahlquist

    https://www.nwherald.com/2020/07/17/bank-forecloses-on-harvest-bible-chapel-founders-elgin-area-estate/a8ocnux/

    He’s a good guy we know all you flood wearing My Little Pony socks having pansies. I love all the disgusting progressives that continue to defend him or hide behind some twisted scripture. If your a conservative, Christian, Constitutionalist, your an absolute alien here in IL. These weaklings are doing a grand disservice to the church. The good news is not all of us are asleep and others are coming out of their slumber by reading accounts like this one. The ones that are awake will continue to shine a light on the infiltrators.

  20. Is Scott Ziegler and Brian Nelson in sin and what are they hiding (old saying “i think they doth protest too much)? Be interesting to see if this Church who founded and funded?

  21. Alex has a history of leaving churches on bad terms. He has left 3 other churches in a negative fashion. It can’t be the church’s fault every time.

  22. Warning people about Jimmy Mac is a “controversial issue”?? LOL, Ziegler sounds like a real piece of work. What a clown.

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