James MacDonald and the senior leaders of the Chicago-area megachurch, Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC), operate with “deceitfulness and manipulation,” and are attempting “to run a cult and control the masses.”
That’s according to Randy Williams, a current Harvest elder and former chairman of the executive committee (EC)—a group consisting of MacDonald and four to five elders, which make the financial and legal decisions for the church.
Williams makes these statements in a November 10, 2017, text I obtained through a subpoena in defense of the lawsuit Harvest brought against me. Williams tells Brian White, lead pastor of an independent Harvest Bible Chapel in Indianapolis, IN:
I am fully recusing myself of any involvement with the EC (executive committee) and James (MacDonald) and XLT (executive leadership team). I’ve had it with the deceitfulness and manipulation.
Williams also expresses dismay about an Elder Update published the previous day, saying:
This update and all that it represents is beyond my comprehension of anything but an attempt to run a cult and control the masses.
The November elder update addressed allegations that Harvest had inappropriately taken nearly $2 million from Harvest Bible Fellowship (HBF)—the church’s former church planting network of about 150 independent churches—and used the money for its own purposes. The allegations came from the Great Commission Collective (GCC), a new, independent church planting network formed by churches that used to belong to HBF. The update said Harvest elders rejected the allegations by GCC, claiming that “GCC opinions were fundamentally flawed from the start.”
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However, in another text sent three months earlier, Williams, who was acting as a liaison between the church and GCC pastors, affirmed GCC opinions. Addressing White and two other GCC pastors who participated in a financial review of HBF, Williams writes:
We (EC) see what you see. We honestly were not aware of all that has come out about the magnitude of the financial mismanagement. We/I will take responsibility for that governance failure. We have no debate over the facts as you have concluded.
The other two pastors in that text thread are David Wisen, teaching pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel Spring Lake, and Bill Borinstein, former pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel North Phoenix and now at Hope Bible Church in Scottsdale. Also included was Earl Seals, an elder at Harvest who resigned in the midst of the HBF/GCC debacle. It’s clear from Wisen, Borinstein, and White’s texts that the pastors saw MacDonald as the major impediment to GCC and Harvest reaching an equitable settlement. Brian White writes:
The problem is James. His control, his manipulation, his anger, his torching of others to protect his reputation, the wake of his irresponsible financial stewardship and direction of his organization. The continued manipulation of people and narratives. The problem is James.
Similarly, Bill Borinstein writes:
No church would ever allow their Sr Pastor and leadership team to act over a long period of time with such a blatant lack of transparency or in a culture of fear. . . . We were told by James in a meeting that HBC paid for the systems upgrade and they were giving it to us for free (yet we were charge(d) $500K), we were never told that 10% of our funds were given to WITW (Walk in the Word), we were never told that the bylaws of our organization were changed in 2014 . . . we were never told about a 100 year lease the HBF was signatory to or that the HBF would be paying operating expenses for the training center in Croton (including staff), we were never told that designated funds for Harvest Gives were being held and not paid out… do I need to go on. . . .
I know not one pastor who cares that James lives in a $4-$5 million* dollar house, what they care about is his publicly lying about it and the lengths he went to hide it (all while he was president of our organization). Where is the integrity in that? . . .
There are too many people in our fellowship who know too much, who have seen too much of James. They have seen how employees have been treated, they have been in rooms where they have been berated or seen others berated, they have heard about his blow up at HCA (Harvest Christian Academy), the blowup at the Sr pastors retreat, the blowup at our leadership meeting in downtown Chicago, they have sat in restaurants when he has dressed down servers, they have heard the stories from the many ex-employees scattered around the country, from the ex-elders who have left because they could not in good conscience stay in that culture anymore. 1 Tim 3:2 says, “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach…” You are dealing with 100+ pastors who know that passage. We are not perfect, we do not expect James to be perfect. What we have seen and experienced is not above reproach . . .”
At the end of his text, Borinstein askes, “At what point do we, do you say . . . enough! Aren’t we there?” Williams responds, “Yes, Bill we are there.”
Yet according to a leaked letter by Wisen, GCC pastors never reached an agreement with Harvest because Harvest leaders, at MacDonald’s insistence, made payments to GCC contingent on a “hush clause”—an agreement by GCC members not to publicly attack Harvest. (For more, see my exposé on Harvest in WORLD Magazine.)
At the end of Wisen’s letter, which was published in October, Wisen says he doubts Harvest will ever pay the churches what it owes them, but encourages pastors not to retaliate. However, when White saw the elder update in November, which he called “problematic . . . for its continued dishonesty,” he texted Williams, complaining that the elders had not upheld the truth, and warning Williams that he might speak publicly.
For the record I have had no involvement with the November 9 elder update and have had no interaction with James or XLT since September.
This contradicts the elder update, which is signed “The Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel,” and claims that “the Elders and Executive Committee are alert and fully engaged,” The update also asserts that elders “are not in any respect unhappy or frustrated with the submission of our senior leadership to Board authority.” Yet Williams also says in his text:
I am truly sorry that despite my best efforts to lead biblically it’s become increasingly clear that James is unwilling to yield to at least my view of elder authority. He has his own view and it does not reconcile with mine.
White then asks Williams, “Is there any group of elders on the elder board that are willing to stand for truth?” Williams responds:
I know of one guy trying hard but feeling isolated and attacked. There may be others but I think the vast majority are deer in headlights. The EC seems neutered without my involvement and the spin campaign is in full force.
Williams then concludes:
I don’t see anything short of a public media exposé getting James on his knees.
Sometime between November 2017 and now, Williams was replaced by Steve Huston as chairman of the executive committee. Yet Williams apparently has remained on the elder board, despite his strong misgivings. Williams appears in the photo of Harvest’s elders at the top of this page, which was posted to Harvest’s website at the end of February, 2018. (He’s the one in the blue sweater and blue collared shirt in the front row.) Harvest’s website also lists Williams as “former chairman,” which according to Harvest’s bylaws automatically makes him a member of the executive committee. I reached out to Williams for comment, but he did not respond. (Ken Mariotti, pictured in the front row in the purple shirt, resigned from Harvest’s elder board in April 2018.)
*There are conflicting reports about the true value of MacDonald’s house. MacDonald told WORLD that his home appraised at $1.4 million. However, a 2017 Kane Co. tax bill listed the fair market value of the home at $2.1 million. Some who have seen the luxury appointments in the house estimate the value is much higher.
Below is the actual text conversation between Williams and White sent in November 2017:
Below is the complete text thread between Williams, White, Wisen, Borinstein, and Seals sent in late July 2017:
*In response to this article, Harvest posted an update stating that Randy Williams “has not been available to us by text or phone.” Yet the church surmised that Williams “must have read what Julie Roys published and felt devastated.” Harvest added that it is a “wonderfully harmonious church, both among the staff and at the board level.”
*Three days later, Harvest published a statement signed by Williams in which he apologized for his words “carelessly communicated from a place of hurt and
in the toughest of times.”