A statement posted by church elders cited “conduct that the Elders believe is contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church” as the reason for MacDonald’s immediate termination, effective Tuesday.
The decision to remove MacDonald as senior pastor of one of the Chicago area’s most prominent Evangelical Christian churches “accelerated” on Tuesday, elders said, when “highly inappropriate recorded comments made by Pastor MacDonald were given to the media and reported.” They also cited “other conduct under consideration.”
The move was made with “heavy hearts,” the statement said.
MacDonald’s conduct has been the subject of numerous online reports since the fall. Since the pastor stepped away from his everyday church duties on Jan. 16, a series of text messages and audio recordings have been released, including those broadcast on Eric “Mancow” Muller’s morning radio show on WLS-AM 890. Muller joined Harvest and once was friends with MacDonald, but their relationship had soured in recent years.
Audio recordings released to Muller and aired on his show Tuesday morning appear to be the last straw for church leadership, who in recent weeks had been determining the best path forward for Harvest and attempting to determine MacDonald’s role in its future.
In the January message to church members announcing that MacDonald was temporarily stepping aside, the pastor himself described actions that “can only be called sin” as the primary reason why he was taking leave. The church was embroiled in a lawsuit during the autumn, when they sued two former church members, their wives and a journalist, alleging defamation and deceptive trade practices.
The church decided to drop the lawsuit after a judge ruled that church documents and messages were subject to discovery and could not be sealed from the public, according to a Jan. 7 post on Harvest’s website from the Executive Committee of Elders. MacDonald could not be reached for comment.
Two former members of Harvest who were sued, Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant, have been some of the most vocal critics of MacDonald, publishing a series of online critiques of MacDonald and church management in a blog they started in 2012. They detailed what they assert are questionable financial dealings, infighting among elders and a general toxic administrative culture.
Mahoney and his wife, Melinda, Bryant and his wife, Sarah, as well as writer and radio contributor Julie Roys all were sued in the fall by Harvest leadership over the online postings and comments about the church. According to the suit, Melinda Mahoney and Sarah Bryant were named as defendants because they provide “material support” and “funds for computer(s) that are used to create, edit, host and maintain” the bloggers’ website, The Elephant’s Debt.
After learning of MacDonald’s termination, Mahoney and Bryant released a statement to the Tribune saying, “We recognize that many people at Harvest Bible Chapel are hurting today. We are hoping and praying for better days ahead for your community.”