The multi-campus Harvest Bible Chapel in greater Chicago along with founder James MacDonald, has slapped several former workers and independent journalist Julie Roys with a defamation lawsuit alleging the publication of false information about the church, its finances and governance that resulted in the loss of 2,000 members.
“Two weeks ago, after six years of ‘taking it too personally,’ our church’s Board of Elders decided to take legal action against those who have harmed our ministry through their careless campaign to discredit,” MacDonald revealed in an extended statement on the lawsuit that was filed a week ago in the Cook County Circuit Court.
“It isn’t that some of the criticism wasn’t fair. I believe in the marketplace of ideas and of regular, vibrant discussion inside a local church. It’s just that their words were often untrue, their information was incomplete, and over time their tone of reasonableness disintegrated, exposing their obvious goal of ending our ministry. Over a three–year period, their materially harmful untruths drove more than 2000 members out of our church — a church we founded with a handful of people more than 30 years ago and have given our lives to,” MacDonald explained in the statement in which he said he was “devastated.”
Along with the 13,000-member church, which is a cooperating member of the Southern Baptist Convention and MacDonald, a recent report from the Cook County Record also names Senior Executive Pastor/Chief Operating Officer James Scott Milholland, Elder Board Chairman Ronald Duitsman and Elder Board member William Sperling among the plaintiffs against the former members and Roys.
Defendants Ryan M. Mahoney, Melinda Mahoney, Scott W. Bryant and Sarah Bryant are accused of funding and operating a blog called The Elephant’s Debt, which the church alleges defrauds and defames. Roys is accused of defaming the church through her role as host of a show on Moody Radio in Chicago, as well as on her personal website.
Harvest Bible Chapel notes in the lawsuit that since the church’s founding in 1988, it grew into an organization that included more than 100 churches by 2014. The organization also developed schools and broadcasting facilities that led to the accumulation of assets worth more than $100 million and some 400 employees.
The complaint alleges that Ryan Mahoney was a Harvest Christian Academy teacher until 2010 when the church didn’t renew his contract for allegedly negating MacDonald’s sermons in his classroom, and offering a cynical view of the church and its culture.
Mahoney allegedly met Scott Bryant at the church, who also became “equally divisive after being declined a teaching opportunity that he repeatedly pursued.” Both men allegedly stopped attending the church at the same time, and “began publishing negative and defamatory information about Harvest” on Bryant’s personal website called Blood Stained Ink, which would eventually become The Elephant’s Debt, which was launched in October 2012.
The website alleged that the church was $70 million in debt in 2010 “and barely survived a bankruptcy in 2006,” information which the lawsuit disputes. It also alleged that MacDonald has problems with gambling, is financially unstable, and leads the church with an authoritarian style – all disputed by the church.
Roys is accused of working “extensively and in mutual partnership” with The Elephant’s Debt authors in the lawsuit, which notes that her husband previously worked with Mahoney.
The church is alleged to have canceled Roys’ appearance as a keynote speaker for a February 2017 women’s event after she allegedly tried to get Moody Bible Institute board members to remove MacDonald’s “Walk in the Word” radio program from its network, the Cook County Record noted. Roys is alleged to have declined to meet with church leadership for a story on Harvest she is currently reporting for World Magazine.
Roys denied writing anything for The Elephant’s Debt when contacted by The Christian Post for commenton Wednesday. Bryant and Mahoney also sought donations in a statement on their website to help with the legal fight ahead on Tuesday.
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Source: Christian Post