The Harvest Lawsuit against the Elephant's Debt Website (March 7, 2019)

The new house

Update: Much has happened since December 21. Harvest Bible Chapel-Elgin is in turmoil, and it is not clear what is going to happen in the end. I am not updating this webpage much. See, for example, the February 2019 HBC statements by Ron Duitsman and Rick Korte.

On October 17, 2018, Pastor James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel filed a defamation complaint and motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO) in Illinois state court against Scott Bryant and Ryan Mahoney, the authors of the website, The Elephant's Debt, against their wives, and against freelance journalist Julie Roys. This webpage collects links related to that. The suit has been overshadowed by the revelations in Mrs. Roys's December 13 World magazine article, "Hard Times at Harvest," which she had been working on for some eight months.

See too the December 14 defense of MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel Disputes World Investigation of James MacDonald: Former staff and elders criticize shuffling of funds and 50-mile noncompete clauses for former pastors, in Christianity Today, and my December 17 response, Why is Christianity Today Running Interference for Pastor James MacDonald?.

The 2018 complaint and motion for a TRO

Elephant's Debt summary of events from 2004 to 2017

12.21.2018. Important documents obtained under subpoena, Former Elder and Staff Member Submits His Resignation Letter for Publication , Julie Roys blog.

December 18: Harvest Elder Accuses Church Leaders of �Deceitfulness and Manipulation� and Attempting to �Run a Cult� , original material obtained via a subpoena in the defamation suit, extraordinarily blunt texts between elder Randy Williams and three pastors.

December 10: My Warhorn web essay, CHRISTIANS SUING CHRISTIANS? EXAMINING JAMES MACDONALD�S REASONING, on lawsuits, James Macdonald, Wayne Grudem, and the ESV Study Bible notes on I Corinthians 6. Also, the comments on it.

2017 financial statements for HBC


Illinois does not allow easy public access to court records, unlike the federal courts and the New York courts. You need to show up at the courthouse.

February 2019. Motions for sanctions for improper litigation filed against James MacDonald and HBC by defendants Mahoney and Roys.

December 2018 motions on discovery. Emails from plaintiff's lawyer to defendants asking for voluntary postponement and the motion to stay discovery . (Less interesting, except to show the plaintiff's confusion, are First plaintiff motion on discovery and notice of Jan. 7 hearing and one big document of all this and more exhibits such as the World article and blog posts and amended notice of motion and the notice of motion to stay discovery)

December 10. Litigation Update: 5 December 2018 Hearing , the ELephant's debt.

December 7. The Bryants' motion to dismiss and the Nov. 26 Mahoneys' Motion to Dismiss in one file with a copy of the Complaint as an appendix. Problems with the complaint: no writings attached; the church's product is not disparaged (indeed, HBC-Elgin has a church "product" (=theology, programs) much better than average, I and the defendants probably agree, which makes Pastor M's conduct all the more sad); the statute doesn't allow money damages; much of the supposed defamation is "opinion" and so not actionable; no mention of the "public figure" status of plaintiff; no pleading of "special damages" (specific, objective damage to the plaintiffs). Also, Defendant Roys's Motion to Dismiss

November 14. Defendant Julie Roys's Requests for Productions to Plaintiffs.� Court filing.

The Complaint and the motion for a TRO

HBC-Elgin and James Macdonald's Side of the Story:

For various HNC defense documents. Note that they don't answer specifics; they mainly questoin the motives of critics and make general denials over and over again.

Nov. 27:Scott-Milholland-Resignation Letter

Nov 30. ANSWERS TO TWO MEDIA QUESTIONS HBC OCTOBER 2018 ELDER UPDATE from Harvest discussing the lawsuit.

October 19: Enough is Enough: Why We Can and Must Take Bloggers to Court, James MacDonald web essay.


Novmeber 2 James MacDonald: Why Suing Is Sometimes the Biblical Choice: 1 Corinthians 6:1-9 does not apply to every situation , James Macdonald op-ed in Christianity today.

Dec. 1: December 2018 Elders' Update


December 21. The plot thickens at Harvest Bible Chapel, what to look for next, and the question of �unconditional support�

Decmeber 21. �I Won�t Slander the Bride of Christ� Addressing Evangelical Cultural Issues on Speaking Up and Challenging James MacDonald. Will Garrett Higbee, Dan Plantz, Kent Shaw, Dean Butters or Fred Adams Have the Courage to Speak Up?

December 15. Harvest Bible Chapel, Julie Roys� report, and how to tell if you are in a church or an empire

December 2. And the Number Shall Be Five , Elephant's Debt, on how HBC seems embarassed about suing the wives as well as the two bloggers.

Nov. 30. Litigation Update: 29 November 2018 Hearing Two motions to dismiss and a motion for extra time to respond, by the Bryants.

November 30. A closer look at the controversies at Harvest Bible Chapel

Nov. 30. Amy Moore comments, list of HBC staff who have resigned Nov. 30. More Turnover at Harvest Bible Chapel? Throckmorton blog.

GoFundMe campaign

October 18: Cook County Record story.

October 24: Harvest Bible Chapel Sues Former Members, Julie Roys for Defamation , Christian Post.

Novmeber 8 Harvest Bible Chapel sues bloggers for spreading �false information� in Religion News

October 30: James MacDonald Sues Harvest Bible Chapel Critics for Libel , in Christianity Today.

November 19. Walk in the Word, a Black Budget at Harvest Bible Chapel and Finances that Resemble a Criminal Syndicate More Than a Ministry." Sensationalist, with specific claims about salaries. Dubious, but worth listing.

Nov. 21. "James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel: On an Alleged NDA , On MacDonald Family Salaries and a Call for MacDonald to Step Down by a Former Member," Wartburg Watch. Not an altogether trustworthy source.

October 26. "statement from James MacDonald regarding the defamation suit-1 Cor 6 wasn't referring to churches but to individual believers so a church can file a defamation suit," wenatcheethehatchet.


Elephant's Debt summary of events from 2004 to 2017

Decmeber 21. Harvest Bible Chapel: Mars Hill Church 2.0? With links to Mars Hill docuemnts.

October 24. There Are Reasons Why Defamation Lawsuits Rarely Succeed, Wartburg Watch.

November 13: Harvest Bible Chapel's Chief Information Officer Allegedly Stole $270K, Christian Post.

Rowell Page on events at Willow Creek church in 2018

Beaverton Grace Bible Church v. Smith archive, nice site with documents from a 2012 case where a church sued a blogger, lost, and had to pay attorney fees of about $60,000. See the Memo in Support of Special Motions to Strike under Oregon's anti-SLAPP statute nad the Court Dates and Documents, and Analysis of Allegations , including the problems in collecting the fees owed (not big problems).

The Elephant's Debt website

Documents from The Elephant's Debt relevant to the finances of the Elgin Harvest Bible Chapel

The 2013 Constitution of Harvest Bible Chapel--Elgin. It's unclear who has authority over money matters. Neither a pastor nor an elder can be dismissed except by "consensus decision", which would seem to mean unanimity of at least the other elders.

Julie Roys on Twitter.


The nondisclosure agreement that WW posted Nov. 21, 2018

Non-Disparagement Agreements And Truth-Telling In The Church: Willow Creek Patheos (about Willow Creek, not Harvest)

Mars Hill nondisclosure agreement


In summer 2018, Harvest sued its bank, a Christian credit union, for refusing to modify its loans. The theory of the suit is that a credit union executive said they'd modify the agreement, so they didn't pursue competing offers, and the the Credit Union decided not to go ahead with the closing. Seems dubious to me--- isn't that what a closing is, the signing of the only legally binding contract? --- but it involves the Illinois law of promissory estoppel and reliance, so maybe it has some basis. It raises the interesting question: should a Christian sue a Christian corporation? If not, to what authority should he go for arbitration?

The Evngelical Credit Union complaint


There has been a lot in the press about this, but I haven't gotten the weblinks together yet, except for one:

Novmeber 21. Coverup video about the sexual advances case, by a church security man.

October 23. "Sugar Grove Man Facing Charges for Alleged Sexual Conduct Committed While Employed at Aurora Church"

October 23. HARVEST BIBLE CHAPEL STATEMENT REGARDING PAXTON SINGER . A very cold statement from the church on their youth pastor, saying they don't know anything about his whereabouts or his family's and are not doing anything to restore him and aren't going to say anything more about it.

October 23. . Chicago Tribune. Best news report on this. "A DCFS official said the charges filed against Singer this week did not result from the January report but from a second report made months later.
�In June of 2018, DCFS received a hotline report and began an investigation involving Paxton Singer for the allegation of sexual exploitation,� Bret Angelos, an attorney for the agency, wrote in an email response to questions from the Tribune. �The DCFS child protection investigation was completed in October 2018, and Paxton Singer was indicated for sexual exploitation.�
Church officials said they made three separate reports in January related to alleged inappropriate actions between Singer and three individuals."