Disgraced celebrity pastor, James MacDonald, created a “culture of fear” at Harvest Bible Chapel where “loyalty” was “prioritized over righteousness.” MacDonald also viewed “humiliating and belittling people as a normal way of reprimanding their mistakes” and reduced grown men “to tears because of stress and anxiety.”
That’s according to a letter by former Harvest staff member, Sandy Song—one of six important letters delivered to the elder board in February 2019. According to former Harvest Elder Dan George, these letters by former staff were key to MacDonald’s termination from Harvest on February 13, 2019. The other six letters were published more than a year ago. Song’s letter is being published here for the first time.
Song, who worked at Harvest from 2002—September 2019, tells of toxic culture at the church where MacDonald regularly raged on employees. But she says employees were pressured into silence and urged to believe “James to be the ultimate authority over us.” She writes:
We have learned that talking to our supervisors or even the elders is not only discouraged, but it could cost us our jobs because we are unwilling to go with the flow and are seen as disloyal. James has instilled a culture in his employees that what he wants must happen at that very moment no matter the cost. Failure to do so means being humiliated or reprimanded in front of others – being belittled in a way that no person, especially at a church, should ever feel. . . .
I have seen multiple occasions where James has lost his temper and has screamed and even cursed at employees because he did not get what he wanted. . . . (D)ue to his status as the senior pastor of this megachurch, I believe that he views humiliating and belittling people as a normal way of reprimanding their mistakes. This is why he never cycles around to apologize for his words/actions.
Song gives specific examples of MacDonald’s “explosive anger” and outrageous demands on staff. Several of these occurred during Harvest’s Risen for the Nations World Tour in 2015, which had stops in Haiti, Kenya, Nepal, Malaysia, and Israel:
James was perpetually late almost every day for meetings and even church services. Even though he was informed the night before and the morning of what the schedule was, he chose to follow his own program. This caused us to have to change plans, transportation and even delay church services with people already present because he was not around. We were consistently having to figure out a Plan B because he would not show up in the lobby dressed on time. And he would often be upset at the new plan because it did not meet his expectations. I traveled with 4 men daily and I saw the stress they were under because of being yelled at regularly and made to feel incompetent. They hardly slept more than just a few hours almost every night of that 4-week tour due to having to work around the clock and re-adjust to what James wanted. . . .
One example of James’ irrational behavior was when we were in Kenya. It was the inaugural service for their new building. . . . James showed up an hour late for the first service with hundreds of people in attendance. Prior to the second service, he decided that he wanted to have a baptism service. The church did not have a baptismal. The pastor had called around and found a church down the street that had a baptismal and would allow us to use their building. James insisted that the baptisms must happen on site and grew very irate. So during the second service, several of us were scrambling around trying to find a solution. They ended up cutting down a neighbor’s water tank from their house. It was drought season in Kenya and it was unclear how soon he would be able to replace it to have running water in his house. . . .
Another example is when James was flying from Israel to Malaysia. I do not know the specific circumstances, but James caused a scene on the airplane and got himself kicked off the flight. Upon arrival in Malaysia, rather than simply take the blame or even say nothing, he blamed HBF staff for booking him on a bad flight and claimed it was a missed layover. He consistently called HBF staff at all hours of the night demanding flight itineraries be changed because there was a layover longer than 2 hours or because he simply did not want to stay any longer.
Song also talks about MacDonald’s sudden disbanding of Harvest Bible Fellowship (HBF) in 2017. According to several inside sources, MacDonald disbanded HBF when HBF pastors discovered that Harvest had inappropriately used fellowship funds for its own purposes. At the time, MacDonald also abruptly fired the entire HBF staff.
Give a gift of $25 or more to The Roys Report this month, and you will receive a copy of “Is it Me? Making Sense of Your Confusing Marriage” To donate,.
“The impact of how that was handled and the ongoing harassment of ex-HBF employees caused several of them to have medical issues due to stress and it destroyed them emotionally,” Song wrote.
Song also documented several instances of “financial carelessness” by MacDonald. One of these involved HBF. Song said that when she was living in Romania, “I kept hearing about how funds that were designated specifically for missions had been used for HBC purposes.” Song said Harvest diverted $500,000 that had been raised for international church planting and spent it instead on a tech upgrade at Harvest.
Song also said that during the 2015 World Tour, MacDonald lavishly spent church money. This was at a time when Harvest’s debt totaled more than $48 million. She writes:
James traveled first class or with private planes to every destination and always had at least one person travel with him in first class. He would go on lavish excursions and eat at fancy restaurants and we paid a lot of money in change fees on flights because he was not happy with the itinerary even though it was presented to him prior to leaving for approval. At the end of the tour, he wanted to leave Haiti on Sunday night after service to go home, but his flight was scheduled on Monday. He was told that planes would not fly out of Jacmel because the runway was too short. He had HBF staff call the Haitian government to offer money to build a longer runway so that the plane would leave from there. When this request was refused numerous times, he had them call Missionary Aviation Fellowship which flies small private planes. Because they are a Christian organization, they do not fly on Sundays. However, enough money was offered to them to break their long-standing rule to fly James from Jacmel to Port-au-Prince so that he did not have to wait another day to fly home. I do not know the total sum of money that was spent on that tour, but I do believe all of the monies came from HBF funds.
In a recent video posted online, MacDonald and former elder Ron Duitsman refer to the account in Song’s letter about the return flight from Haiti. Duitsman states that the letter claimed that MacDonald had demanded to be flown home from Haiti in a private jet, which it does not.
Duitsman adds, however, that he flew down in his own, private jet to get MacDonald and bring him back from Haiti. Duitsman claims he paid for the flight, not Harvest.
Song concludes her letter by expressing hope that her letter will lead to “radical changes” and “greener pastures” at Harvest. For the past year, Song has worked for CityLine Bible Church—a former campus of Harvest Bible Chapel, which in 2019, became an independent church. According to an Instagram post by the church on November 16, Song is leaving staff and getting married.
UPDATE: The Roys Report reached out to Mission Aviation Fellowship to confirm Song’s account about the flights in Haiti. MAF confirmed through flight records that MAF’s Cessna Caravan flew from Jacmel to Port-a-Prince on Sunday, April 26, 2015, and the “cost sharing” amount paid by Harvest was less than $500. MAF said it doesn’t normally schedule flights on Sunday, but will do so for “national evangelists or other church speakers for something that might be out of the ordinary.” MAF also confirmed that the Jacmel airport could not accommodate larger aircraft due to the length of the runway and the weight of larger aircraft, which would damage the runway. MAF added that it “is confident the flight conducted for the group was well in line with typical practices that we use in our service to others all around the world.”
UPDATE: This article was updated to include Sandy Song’s recent employment transition.
Sandy Song’s Complete Letter:Sandy Song
To view the other letters submitted by former Harvest staff, click links below:
- Dean Butters (former HBC executive director of business operations)
- Jacob Ross (former bodyguard of James MacDonald)
- Dallas Jenkins (former HBC executive director of Vertical Church Films)
- Dan Sumpter (former executive director of Walk in the Word)
- Garrett Higbee (former HBC executive director of Biblical Soul Care