Harvest Bible Chapel James MacDonald Michael Vanlaningham
Dr. Michael Vanlaningham preaches at Harvest Bible Chapel on April 4, 2019.

Opinion: Harvest Leader Needs to Repent for Maligning Truth-tellers

By Julie Roys

It’s been more than two years since Harvest Bible Chapel fired James MacDonald for “engaging in conduct . . . harmful to the best interests of the church” and replaced its entire elder board. Yet comments this week by Harvest Director of Biblical Research Dr. Michael Vanlanigham indicate Harvest’s culture of vilifying truth-tellers continues.

On Moody Radio’s Chris Fabry Live last week, Vanlaningham attacked Christians who report on wrongdoing within the church in response to a question about controversies within the Southern Baptist Convention:

“I really believe that that we need to not be airing our proverbial dirty laundry in public, as best we can,” Vanlaningham said. “And I think when you’re talking about the Southern Baptist Convention, which is so huge, I think that some of that’s going to get out. . . . But I really believe that when Christians take steps to do these exposés that end up slandering and bad-mouthing other believers, I have such problem with that. I really think that that’s a sin.”

Vanlaningham added that Christians should simply trust that “the Lord will sort things out.” And he seemingly compared Christian journalists and whistleblowers to Babylon, noting that “God used Babylon to judge Israel. And then God judged Babylon for doing it.  And I’m afraid that when believers are forever exposing sin in others or in other organizations, that they might face the chastisement of God for having done that.”

Vanlaningham’s full audio clip is below:

Vanlaningham’s statements are breathtaking. For one, exposing sin is not slander. Slander, by definition, is a false statement. So, if an accusation is true, reporting it is not slander.

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But, Vanlaningham’s statements are especially galling in light of what happened at Harvest Bible Chapel. As MacDonald himself notes in a series of vile blog posts and tweets, if it weren’t for whistleblowers and reporters like myself, MacDonald would likely still be senior pastor of Harvest. And he’d likely still be abusing the sheep and misusing church money.

But apparently to Vanlaningham, it’s better to sacrifice the sheep and God’s reputation than expose the fraudulent shepherds. God will “sort things out”—eventually.

There seems to be no room in Vanlaningham’s theology for God to raise up godly people to clean a filthy house. Yes, God sometimes resorted to using pagan nations, like Babylon, for judgment. But God also raised up prophets, like Jeremiah, to publicly confront Israel’s sin.  

Plus, Jesus himself publicly confronted the moneychangers in the temple and openly called the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs.” And the apostle Paul publicly confronted Peter when Peter refused to eat with gentiles.

Especially clear is 1 Timothy 5:20, which clearly instructs that “those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that others may take warning.”

Vanlaningham is doing exactly what author Rebecca Davis brilliantly exposed in our recent podcast together. He’s twisting Scripture to tie up believers, gag them, and tangle their mind. And sadly, he did so on a platform that reaches millions.

Davis and I discussed Vanlaningham’s comments on the podcast. And Davis was the first to suggest that Vanlaningham was likening me to Babylon, but I wasn’t so sure. I thought perhaps he was just referring to secular reporters as Babylon. But I’ve since listened to the clip again and I agree with her initial analysis.

I’ve also reached out to Vanlaningham for clarification, but he hasn’t responded.

This idea that Christians should do nothing when they witness injustice or misconduct contradicts Scripture.

Proverbs 31:8-9 states: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

Similarly, Ephesians 5:11 states: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”

It’s stunning that Vanlaningham, who has an M.Div. in systematic theology and a Ph.D. in New Testament, would promote such an errant view. Yet, it’s one he’s apparently followed over the years.

When privy to issues at the Moody Bible Institute in 2018, Vanlaningham said nothing, though I repeatedly urged him to go on the record.

And when Vanlaningham went to Harvest Bible Chapel, he likewise remained silent—at least publicly—in the fall of 2018, when Harvest sued me and the authors of The Elephant’s Debt, Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant, and their wives.

Vanlaningham also stood by quietly as Harvest launched a public campaign to smear my reputation and those of Mahoney and Bryant. Apparently, Vanlaningham’s conviction about not airing “dirty laundry” applies only to inconvenient truths about churches and church leaders. But publishing falsehoods about reporters and bloggers is fair game.

Harvest repeatedly called Mahoney, Bryant, and me “divisive,” “attack bloggers,” and “wrongdoers.”

In November 2018, Harvest published a statement specifically about me, claiming I lacked “objectivity,” and was engaged in “attempts to stir up gossip, sow discord, inflame old animosities, and confront sensitive matters with specific church families.” Harvest further characterized my work as a “time wasting” and “an injurious assault.” (A compilation of Harvest’s statements about me were compiled by former Harvest member, Jessica Hockett, and are published here.)

Eventually, Harvest apologized for the lawsuit and paid my legal fees, plus an additional $15,000 to compensate me for the defamatory comments MacDonald had made about me on the infamous “hot mic” recording.

But the church has never apologized for the false things it said about Mahoney, Bryant, or me. Vanlanigham has never addressed these defamatory statements either.

Instead, in April 2019, just two months after MacDonald was fired, Vanlaningham had the gall to preach a sermon maligning critics of Harvest.

“Blogging has become flogging. Tweeting has become beating,” Vanlaningham decried. “I’m here to tell you, it has no place in the Christian life, period.”

He further stated in the sermon that people outside Harvest’s congregation were somehow abusing them with blogs and social media.

You can listen to an exerpt* of Vanlanigham’s comments here:

At the time of that sermon, I reached out to Vanlaningham, asking him to clarify what he meant by his comments, but he declined to do so.

But now, he’s maligned reporters and whistleblowers again—not just to a congregation but to millions of Moody Radio listeners. What’s worse, he’s likely convinced many listeners that if they witness wrongdoing in their church or Christian organization, they should keep silent.

Vanlaningham needs to repent for what he’s done and continues to do. Calling out wrongdoing among Christian leaders is not sin; it’s biblical.

But maligning truth-tellers and guilting would-be whistleblowers into silence is beyond the pale. To use Vanlaningham’s own words: It is sin. And if he doesn’t repent, it is he, not reporters and whistleblowers, who will face the “chastisement of God.”

*The YouTube video of Vanlaningham’s full sermon is now private.

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23 thoughts on “Opinion: Harvest Leader Needs to Repent for Maligning Truth-tellers”

  1. John Carpenter

    Vanlaningham, for shame!
    Perhaps he has some dirty laundry he is afraid will be aired.

    God’s reputation needs no defense, and the best defense of Christianity would be do it’s leaders to act in Christlike ways, instead of acting like the hypocritical pigs so many of them appear to be.

    It is precisely because Christianity fails to hold its leaders accountable that we need crusading, Christian journalists to shine the spotlight of truth into the shadows of ministries where evil lurks.

    1. Tony Nazarowski

      If he truly believes that Christians should trust God to sort things out, he , Vanlaningham, isn’t leading by example as his commentary shows that he is compelled to take matters into his own hands. In other words, he isn’t doing what he thinks OTHER believers should do. It’s hard to see how Harvest isn’t a cult. If it’s not an all-out cult, the same manipulation and control techniques are being used.

  2. Stay the course, Julie. Don’t back down and don’t give up. You are a shining light in world of darkness (including those who twist the Scriptures). Thank you and God bless you!

  3. I was appalled by the money solicitation email that James MacDonald recently sent out “to lift your spirit”- but then several paragraphs later he is complaining about how he was “thrown out” of the church by “rogue leaders”. Ah James, I think those are called church Elders- and they are most definitely not like an “envious child” dashing a model plane out of sight onto the rocks. What a ridiculous comparison. Then MacDonald had the gall to state in the very next paragraph that he was not “responding in our flesh”… but blaming it all on actions “all crafted to cover the looting” and “destruction” of “our” ministry as a “pure act of vindictiveness”. Then MacDonald does exactly what Vanlangingham talked about, by blasting the “pseudo-Elders” at Harvest who “continue to deceive the fractional congregation that remains.” So I guess Vanlangingham should have called out James MacDonald by name, as it was he who asked in his email that Harvest “removes the responsible Elders from their current roles.” Is MacDonald even a member at Harvest Pastor Vanlangingham? Is Pastor Vanlangingham going to come to the defense of his own church Elders or even mention it? One can hope for the best and believe Vanlangingham was actually speaking about James MacDonald, and not those who previously exposed how MacDonald was acting. I don’t even live in Illinois, yet I received the email directly from James MacDonald Ministries who accused the leaders at Harvest paying $300,000 “from what they stole to manufacture their lies…”
    If that’s not divisive bad-mouthing of other believers or the airing of dirty laundry, I don’t know what is.

  4. He should be calling out McDonald for the vile, shameful, ungodly, slandering tweets about you recently.

  5. Cheating on your spouse….dirty laundry. Addiction to porn….dirty laundry. However, murder, rape, sexual abuse…that’s a crime. That cannot be kept secret within any organization. That itself is a crime. This man is twice my age…and he doesn’t see that and to me it just shows that they simply do not love people. His foundation is not the word of the Lord. I know atheists that are more righteous that these people. I personally think that people that defend these crimes are guilty of it themselves. Just my opinion. I mean if a teacher sexually abused a child in a school and another teacher would try to cover it up…what would you think of that other teacher? They are in it too. No reason to defend crime other than you are doing it too or you like it as well.

  6. Again, these silly little men think it’s fine for the sheep to be treated poorly for the greater good of God’s Kingdom. They know better, it’s really for the greater good of their own little kingdoms that are all gonna burn in the end anyway. Amazing how they spiritualize their sick ways.

  7. Of coarse one is not supposed to slander anyone but he should not confuse sin with truthful talk (Lev.19:17). We are commanded by Christ in Ephesians 5:11 and 1 Timothy 5:19-21 to publicaly expose those who sin and refuse to repent. The reason is so that the church will remain pure. This is the problem with Harvest where truth is mixed with error.

  8. I am getting tired of these white-washed money grubbing brood of snakes. They are of the same spirit as those who killed Jesus out of jealousy. The final judgment will be more lenient on Sodom and Gomorrah then on these guys making the big bucks. Yet we do not get it. We cannot serve both God and money. We will love, hold to one and detest the other. Narcissists craving the limelight for fame and fortune are the most evil people you will find on this planet. Yet people still go to big churches like this. They want the substitute instead of the real Jesus. I hope some eventually wake up. I know a couple who have walked this out so I know it is possible. But it is so very unfortunately rare.

  9. Modem day MO to kill the prophets… Or at least discredit the prophetic… The American church has a very bad track record with prophets for lots of reasons… True prophets get blasted, false prophets get elevated… We have been so deceived in many ways… Pray for discerning of spirits…

  10. My first thought was, perhaps someone is hiding their own sins. Or maybe someone is getting some extra cash. Hmmmm? Julie is doing the Lords work by exposing jimmymac, and all his lies. If this guy is teaching now at harvest, ooooh boy I’d be outta there in a new York minute.

  11. Darren Gruett

    I am sorry to hear to hear this, but not at all surprised. I grew up listening to Moody radio and used to love MBI, but I gave up on both years ago, and things like this just confirm that I made the right decision. They were in bed with James Macdonald for years and only after much pressure finally severed ties with him.

  12. Christopher Hanley

    The entire Bible consists of God’s people calling out evil words and deeds. Like Jesus Christ, for instance. And Jeremiah. And Isaiah. And Ezekiel. And Moses. And Paul. And Jude. And many many others. Get with the program Harvest!

  13. Mark Zimmerman

    From cover to cover, the Bible is filled with God and His followers confronting people with their sin, not sweeping it under the rug, for their personal benefit and that of His kingdom.

    Vanlaningham’s latest hypocrisy in calling out the supposed sin of those telling the truth about sinful church leaders is glaring, but unfortunately not surprising given his and many others’ long track record of doing this, including some at Harvest, where ironically he is now “theologian-in-residence,” illustrating once again letters behind one’s name do not necessarily translate into godly wisdom and living. He would do well to take his own advice, shut his mouth, and let God sort it out, rather than giving appallingly wrong counsel and maligning those who have helped rid the Church of chronic, unrepentant, thoroughly disqualified leaders. Urging his own repentance is well-founded.

  14. One of your better articles. He gave you a lot of material, but you handled it completely biblically.

  15. Julie, I agree with your concerns. I have a few times asked what are your Biblical convictions via email and messaged through your Website. I think Dr James Macdonald needs to move on and as I heard on your podcast. Turn his dirty laundry into clean laundry. I have a few concerns with your ministry. Wondering where you are theologically to inform your perspective. I have noticed that the board members do not seem to have biblical training. My questions are the following:
    1. Where are you theologically with Men and Women in the church ministry. Are you complimentarian or egalitarian in regards to the male and female role in the church?
    2. What biblical sources do you refer to with your aim of restoring the church?
    3. With the Katie Roberts podcast. She makes the statement as she was heading to her teacher’s place or when she found herself at his house. She made statements that she sensed it wasn’t right. As a believer wouldn’t that be the prompting of the Holy Spirit?
    4. Where do you believe the line needs to be drawn with her sin and the line her “spiritual abuser”? In other words. Where does personal responsibility enter the story?
    5. However you answer the prior question. With your conclusion. How does your conclusion relate to reporting the truth and restoring the church?
    6. My concern is theological and for others in the flock (with people in our church who follow your ministry). By what grid do you decide what articles/podcasts are posted on this website?
    7. What are somethings you would do differently looking back at the genes of this Roys’ Report?

    Thanks. I hope you respond.

    1. Elaine Mercer

      KC, as regards your question #1, Julie has already referred people to a book she wrote on it. I can’t remember the title right now, but I know it’s on Amazon at least. Hope that helps a little.

  16. I listened to the entire broadcast, which was about Father’s Day and our Heavenly Father. There were some very moving thoughts shared by both Vanlaningham and Rydelnik. The excerpt that you aired was almost at the end of the broadcast and came during the Q & A section, when a questioner asked about a certain passage of Scripture which says that we shouldn’t take squabbles and disputes that we have with each other to the civil courts.

    It was mentioned in the broadcast that this did not have anything to do about reporting criminal activity. Whistleblowing was not mentioned at all. The SBC was brought out as an example probably because we have seen how the media has tried to put its connotation on the voting results. Ed Litton was identified as a liberal, but he is not a liberal (that was mentioned in the Fabry discussion). There are members of the SBC who have tried to attach the “woke” label on him as people took sides behind their candidates. The media has been trying to discern if the SBC will break up over this. Vanlaningham was bemoaning how this situation of airing our dirty laundry to the world does not work to the glory of God. It could actually be a sin, if people are acting like the rest of the world when they have a conflict with a brother or sister in Christ.

    I think you have misconstrued their conversation.

  17. When we are dealing with brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to expose sin for the purpose of reconciliation and restoration. Mere exposure for the sake of exposure puts us in a judgmental, graceless posture. While I appreciate the work done to bring darkness to light, I really wish the people in the Roy’s organization would abandon the “poke and provoke” approach and instead imitate the heart of Jesus, Paul, and Peter seeking to foster exposure for the purpose of reconciliation- especially when talking about brothers and sisters. This article illustrates a totally one-sided approach to the process of exposing sin. I can’t help but think this leads to a Pharisaical posture that hardens hearts and provokes arguments. Love must guide how and where truth is applied.

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