Many have asked me to release videos I have of James MacDonald berating students at Harvest Christian Academy (HCA) during his ill-fated and short-lived time as a guest Bible teacher there in January and February of 2017. I have been reluctant to do so, not because I’m trying to protect MacDonald, but because I do not have video of the incident described in my WORLD exposé of Harvest, which several people have told me was the most shocking. And I didn’t want to give the impression that the videos I have represent the worst of MacDonald’s behavior when the truth is, they may be tame in comparison.
However, the behavior in the videos below do give a glimpse into the character of the man who founded and pastored Harvest for 31 years. Both videos show MacDonald confronting students in a harsh manner, and in one, he mocks a student. One also shows MacDonald disparaging a neighboring school, saying, “Like, why do they even have a school?”
I think Harvest parents, church members, and anyone who’s supported the ministry of Harvest Bible Chapel or MacDonald’s broadcast ministry, Walk in the Word, have a right to see what’s depicted in the videos below. Also, it’s notable that Talbott Behnken, HCA superintendent now and at the time of these incidents, also serves on Harvest’s new Church Leadership Team. Also serving on that team is Todd Rukes, who received videographer Luke Helmer’s stunning resignation letter.
But again, the videos below do not represent the worst incident. The video of the worst incident reportedly has been erased, but there are several descriptions of it.
Here’s how I described the incident in WORLD:
In 2017, videographer Luke Helmer resigned from Harvest one day after witnessing MacDonald teach a Bible class to a roomful of teenage students at Harvest Christian Academy. Citing what he called MacDonald’s “pattern of uncontrolled anger,” Helmer in his Feb. 16, 2017, resignation letter (posted below) said MacDonald had singled out two students, “berated them for minutes in front of the entire high school student body, mocked them, called them ‘morons,’ ‘fools,’ ‘stupid,’ and he threatened one of them physically.” The incident also upset several parents who later heard about it.
Asked about the incident, MacDonald told WORLD he had been responding to a student who yelled something “very coarse and troubling” aloud in class. “I for sure was too intense and did locate the student and did move them up to the front and did let them know what I thought of the behavior. … At the end of class, though, I did feel grieved in my heart that it was too intense.” MacDonald said he apologized to the student and his classmate the same day, recorded an apology video shown to the class, and talked to the offended parents.
Also, here’s what Dallas Jenkins, former executive director of Vertical Church Films and a parent of HCA students, wrote about the incident in a recent letter submitted to Harvest leaders:
Some of us have children who came home from school in February of 2017 shocked and saddened by one of the worst outbursts of anger they’d ever witnessed–a berating by James of two students in front of the entire high school. Several students were in tears watching it, a student described spit hitting her in the front row. There was a videotaped apology, and a year later, an in-person apology. But the public promise by James to teach the class for the semester was never kept, the schedule that had been completely upended to accommodate his teaching never fixed, and an apology for breaking that promise was never given.
To be fair, a few elders and staff have told me they did not believe the incident was a big deal, that their children did not report it as a problem. And one of the top leaders of the church told me he wishes James wouldn’t have apologized for the incident at all. However, that same person had the video of the incident erased immediately, ensuring those not in the classroom that day would never see it.
Below are two videos, which were sent to me from an anonymous source. They appear to be videos of a video playing on a computer monitor. It’s my understanding that all the videos below were at one time posted online at Harvest’s Vimeo site.
MacDonald Grabs and Confronts Student
In this first video from January 25, 2017, MacDonald confronts a student for falling asleep in class. He walks up an aisle, grabs the sweatshirt of a student by the shoulder, and pulls his arm off the top of the seat adjacent to him, saying, “Sit right up. Get your hands off the chair. . . . Don’t let me see you sleeping again, or I’ll throw you right out of here. I’m not even joking.”
Then MacDonald adds, “Pay attention in class. Stop wasting my time, you hear me? You hear me? (boy responds inaudibly) ‘Yes sir’ is your answer. Say, ‘Yes sir.’ (boy responds inaudibly) All right. Don’t make that mistake again.”
MacDonald Mocks Student & Disparages Neighboring School
In the second clip from February 8, 2017, MacDonald mocks a student in the front row because he failed to bring his book, notebook, and pen to class. He also disparages a neighboring school.
“Magic guy. You’re like in the front row two weeks in a row. Is that a trick? Is that a trick you pulled? . . .” MacDonald asks. “Nice play. Where’s your book?”
The student responds, “I left it at home today.”
“You left it at home today,” MacDonald says. “That’s super awesome. Can’t you just like – pfugh – make it appear or something?” Then MacDonald asks if anyone wants to “bless” the student with a pen and a paper. A student apparently brings him one and MacDonald responds sarcastically, “Hey, glad I could do this for you (name).”
“Thank you,” the student responds.
“Ya, no, no problem,” MacDonald says. Then he discovers the student is a freshman and adds, “You’re a freshman! Oh my gosh, you’ve got four years to learn how to bring your stuff to class!” Then he instructs the boy to respond, “Thanks Pastor James.”
“Thanks Pastor James,” the boy says.
“Nice. I’m even giving you your lines now. Wow!” MacDonald says.
MacDonald also insults a nearby private school, Westminster Christian School, which HCA had apparently crushed in a girls’ basketball game the night before class.
“Like, why do they even have a school?” MacDonald jeers. “Like they should just – they should, they should come over here and we should have them in a different hallway. It’s like the B school. And, and uh, that’s what I’m going to be recommending. And um, I’m, I’m loyal to our church so, so that’s allowed.”
MacDonald Gets Physical With Students: “Teachers aren’t allowed to touch students, but pastors are.”
I downloaded this last video from Harvest’s Vimeo site last fall. (The link I used to access the video is no longer active.) This is the full class on February 8 from which the previous video excerpt was grabbed. The previous video shows the beginning of the class, which clearly has been edited out of the video below. (You’ll see the beginning of the video below is the same as the end of the video above.)
The most telling part of the video below occurs between 36:25-38:39. Here, MacDonald gets physical with students as a way of driving his points home. Then, as he’s doing so, he says, “Teachers aren’t allowed to touch students, but pastors are.”
He also again makes fun of the student he confronted at the beginning of class. While urging the class to work hard intellectually, he says, “What I’m concerned about is that you’ll be a little bit lazy intellectually.” Then referencing the student who forgot to bring his supplies to class, MacDonald says, “Like showing up at class with no pen or paper—like stuff like that. But you’re just a freshman so everything’s good. Plus, you’ve been working on your magic tricks. So that takes a lot of time.”
Luke Helmer’s Resignation Letter: