James MacDonald was fired as the pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, a megachurch, primarily located around Chicago, which he founded over 30 years ago.
Last month, MacDonald had been placed on an indefinite sabbatical by the Harvest elder board. At the time, the church had said they were going to evaluate “organizational, financial, management, and leadership policies and practices, and making whatever changes are necessary to ensure that every area is being managed according to professional best practices and in a way that honors God.”
This came after years of allegations about domineering leadership and a lack of financial accountability, among other allegations from critics, former members, and former leaders.
At the time, the church was still open to MacDonald preaching during his sabbatical. A pastor of their Naples, FL campus was fired for criticizing this. Many observers (myself included) assumed that this would all blow-over within a few months and that MacDonald would be restored to leadership.
This week, the hand of the church was forced when Chicago radio host Mancow Muller played some explosive clips of MacDonald criticizing investigative reporter Julie Roys, Christianity Today editor Mark Galli (and making implications about an inappropriate relationship between them). He makes reference to putting illegal materials on the computer of the former Christianity Today editor (not suggesting that this event actually happened). He criticizes Ed Stetzer. And Mancow says there’s more audio.
The leadership at Harvest had no choice. They fired MacDonald. In their statement, the elders said:
That timeline accelerated, when on Tuesday morning highly inappropriate recorded comments made by Pastor MacDonald were given to media and reported. Given that and other conduct under consideration, in accordance with the procedures in our Bylaws, Pastor MacDonald was removed as Senior Pastor and as an Elder of the church for engaging in conduct that the Elders believe is contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church.
Muller was a one-time friend of MacDonald, and was baptized by MacDonald in the River Jordan. But Mancow had also called upon MacDonald to resign as further allegations came to light.
Some are critical of Mancow releasing recordings of MacDonald. The first response I would give to that: this is why the Bible says that elders must be above reproach. Sin has a way of coming out. This most certainly forced the hand of the leaders at Harvest. But from reading, it also seems reasonable to suggest that disqualifying conduct had already been engaged in.
Harvest is a huge, influential church. MacDonald built an international radio ministry. I’ve said before that his teachings have benefited me greatly. He was an incredibly gifted Bible teacher. And so the fact that things came to this are unfortunate. And my heart especially goes to the people at Harvest and to those who have been negatively impacted through some of the sins of their organizational leadership.
For people who have been enriched by this ministry, I think we should still appreciate the good things we’ve learned. Truth is always true.
But no man is above sin and above falling. The Bible has a high standard for those who lead within the church. Sin doesn’t erase good teaching. But sin can keep someone from being able to preach and teach going forward.
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Josh Benner has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has served churches in Minnesota and Illinois. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in St. Louis.