For the past three months, I have wanted to respond to the allegations Harvest Bible Chapel and James MacDonald made in their baseless lawsuit against me and the authors of The Elephant’s Debt and their wives. I have refrained from doing so because judges don’t take kindly to defendants litigating their cases publicly. Yet now that MacDonald and Harvest are dropping their lawsuit, I think it’s appropriate to set the record straight.
Like anyone who’s had lies told about them, I have a desire to defend my character, and I don’t deny that. But there’s a much more important reason I’m telling my story now.
Thousands of people still attend Harvest and collectively pledged $29 million dollars to the church as part of its recent Closer Campaign. Some Harvest attenders and supporters don’t want to hear the truth and will support MacDonald and his elder board regardless of the evil they’ve committed. But some honestly want to know the truth. And it’s for these honest truth-seekers that I write.
The Allegations in the Lawsuit are Objectively False
Harvest levels more than 100 allegations in its lawsuit, so I would need to write a book to address them all. Most of them are leveled against Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant, authors of The Elephant’s Debt. I will not comment on those allegations extensively since they don’t involve me.
However, what’s stunning about many of the allegations against Mahoney and Bryant is not only that they are false, but that James MacDonald—and presumably his elders and top staff—knew they were false. In other words, the allegations in this lawsuit are not only untrue, but filed with actual malice. This is unconscionable, especially considering that the plaintiffs are a pastor, his church, two elders (Ronald Duitsman and William Sperling), and former Harvest COO Scott Milholland.
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As I reported in my exposé on Harvest in WORLD Magazine, the document that MacDonald’s own attorney filed in August, 2017, with the Rutland Township tax assessor’s office states that MacDonald’s current home has 6,891 square feet of gross living area. So, by his own admission, MacDonald’s new home is nearly 200 square feet larger than the home he vacated in 2013, which had 6,700 square feet of living space. The allegation in point #114 is clearly false, and certainly MacDonald knew this. As for his elders, they either were grossly negligent and didn’t know this fact—or like MacDonald, they knew this fact and approved publishing a lie.
Similarly, point #61 of the lawsuit claims that ED “falsely and negligently states that Harvest Bible Chapel ‘by 2010 had $70 million in debt and barely survived a bankruptcy in 2006.’” Yet in MacDonald’s book, “Vertical Church,” MacDonald himself states that Harvest’s “church-building program caused bankruptcy to loom large and seemed certain for many months.” Also according to Harvest’s 2008 Financial Statement, the church’s total liabilities for 2008 totaled $70,775,028.
It’s absolutely stunning that MacDonald and Harvest elders and a senior staff member would sign on to a lawsuit asserting such blatant lies.
However, as I stated, these allegations relate to things published on The Elephant’s Debt website, for which I had no responsibility. Yet, one of the 12 allegations that Harvest’s lawsuit levels against me is that I worked “extensively and in mutual partnership with the authors of ED.” The lawsuit also claimed that my husband “is a former work associate of Defendant R. Mahoney.” These assertions are entirely false and without any basis.
When I first read the lawsuit, I was shocked and asked my husband, “Do you know Ryan Mahoney?” He responded, “Ryan who?” I then showed him a picture of Mahoney on the internet and asked if he recognized him. He was puzzled and said no. Then I contacted Mahoney and asked him if he’s ever worked for any of my husband’s employers. Again, no.
Furthermore, my first contact with the authors of The Elephant’s Debt was via email in April 2018. Their first response to me was, “Due to life circumstances, getting together to discuss TED would be difficult. Perhaps you would like to converse through email? Your call.” That’s hardly the response of extensive work partners.
Given that I had no contact with The Elephant’s Debt prior to April 2018, and the last post by ED prior to the lawsuit was in December of 2017, this claim of partnership is absurd.[pullquote]”Not only does the lawsuit fail to establish that I published anything false about MacDonald, it doesn’t offer a single exhibit showing that I published anything at all!”[/pullquote]The lawsuit also alleges in point #123 that I “intentionally made false statements in an effort to defame James S. MacDonald in (my) blog posting.” As I have said before, there’s nothing even remotely negative about James MacDonald published anywhere on my blog before October 17, 2018, when the lawsuit was filed.
The lawsuit further alleges that I made false statements in “an effort to harm the reputation of James S. MacDonald in other digital and written media.” This is another complete fabrication. Not only does the lawsuit fail to establish that I published anything false about MacDonald, it doesn’t offer a single exhibit showing that I published anything at all!
Similarly, in point #122 of the lawsuit, Harvest alleges that in March 2017, I contacted “multiple Moody board members in an effort to pressure them to remove James S. MacDonald and his program ‘Walk in the Word’ from the Moody program schedule . . .” I didn’t contact any Moody board members in March 2017.
The lawsuit also alleges in point #128 that I called Jerry Jenkins, former chair of Moody’s board. And, in an “effort to have (my) previous radio program reinstated on Moody Radio,” I threatened to further publicize Jenkins’ poker playing. The lawsuit also alleges that I told Jenkins that MacDonald was “only kept on Moody radio . . . because (Jenkins and MacDonald) were poker buddies.”
Though it’s true that I once talked to Jenkins on the phone, that call occurred before I was fired from Moody. Also, Jenkins and I didn’t discuss MacDonald at all. I simply told Jenkins that many alumni with whom I had spoken had expressed objections to Jenkins’ gambling history.
The lawsuit also alleges that I contacted former staff members of Harvest and “began asserting false allegations involving the Plaintiffs.” The truth is, former staff members contacted me and begged me to hear their stories and consider investigating Harvest. After hearing their stories, and discerning that they were credible, I began following up on leads and seeing if I could verify their stories. That’s what reporters do.
Harvest Filed the Lawsuit Without Warning
In addition to the false accusations in the lawsuit, MacDonald and Harvest have consistently forwarded a false narrative about what prompted the lawsuit. According to a statement Harvest posted online, the elders decided to sue the other defendants and me “very reluctantly” after “multiple appeals” had been made to each defendant. Harvest also posted an email it sent to me prior to the lawsuit, requesting a private meeting to divulge “information that we cannot make public.” Harvest said my response was “disappointing,” suggesting I had done something wrong.
When Harvest sent me the email, I was simply pursuing my investigation on the church for an article in WORLD Magazine. There were no issues between Harvest and me to resolve. I responded, “I am working on an investigative story about Harvest as you know. As is my professional practice, I will be reaching out to those named in my piece so they can offer their side of the story. Any conversations, though, will be recorded and will be on-the-record.”[pullquote]”What I do know is that I responded appropriately to Harvest. Harvest, on the other hand, reacted unconscionably by filing a lawsuit and then misrepresented what had transpired.”[/pullquote]When Harvest didn’t respond, I called Sharon Kostal, Harvest senior administrator, and left a voicemail message with my phone number. Kostal responded with a text message the same day, asking me whom I’d like to interview. I texted her back on Saturday, thanking her for her quick reply and asking for her email, which she sent the following Monday, October 15.
I then sent an email to Kostal, requesting interviews with 10 Harvest staff and submitting six questions. I never received a response from Kostal, but two days later, on October 17, Harvest surprised me with a lawsuit.
That same day, I was working with Matt Walberg, former investigative reporter with the Chicago Tribune, on a story concerning a Harvest youth ministries pastor, Paxton Singer, who was charged with sexual exploitation of a minor. Harvest was aware of my activities because Walberg and I had contacted church leaders for comment after Singer was formally charged.
I don’t know whether the timing of the lawsuit was a coincidence or not. What I do know is that I responded appropriately to Harvest. Harvest, on the other hand, reacted unconscionably by filing a lawsuit and then misrepresented what had transpired.
Protecting the Innocent or the Guilty?
Harvest and James MacDonald have consistently maintained that they have nothing to hide. Yet yesterday, when a judge denied their motions to keep court documents private, Harvest dropped the lawsuit.[pullquote]”Is it, as they allege, to protect ‘innocent people’? Or, as MacDonald and his elders have consistently done, did they drop the lawsuit to protect the guilty?”[/pullquote]As the Daily Herald reported yesterday, some of the documents I obtained through subpoena included items from former staff and elders concerning how the church handled reports that Singer had sent sexually explicit photos and requests to minors. Also obtained through subpoena was a text from James MacDonald concerning the validity of claims that Harvest Bible Chapel knowingly misspent funds from Harvest Bible Fellowship, the church’s former church planting network that MacDonald dissolved in 2017. (I’ll be publishing more on that soon.) I had also requested 28 sets of documents from MacDonald and Harvest, including MacDonald’s tax returns and detailed financial statements for Walk in the Word, MacDonald’s broadcast ministry, which they failed to produce.
Supporters and members of Harvest need to ask themselves why Harvest would drop its lawsuit in order to keep these documents private? Is it, as they allege, to protect “innocent people”? Or, as MacDonald and his elders have consistently done, did they drop the lawsuit to protect the guilty?
Beyond that, people need to consider the documented lies MacDonald and Harvest’s leaders have consistently forwarded. How can a pastor and leaders who consistently lie be trusted to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, the one who is the truth?
I don’t ask these things gleefully, but with great sadness. MacDonald and Harvest leaders had so much potential to reach people for Christ and to expand the kingdom, yet they squandered it. Now, they need to confess, repent, and resign.