Harvest Bible Chapel Announces Plan to Abandon Defamation Suit Against Critics

Harvest Bible Chapel and founding pastor James MacDonald have announced that they plan to drop their lawsuit against The Elephant’s Debt bloggers and Julie Roys after a court today denied the church’s attempt to keep subpoenaed documents private.

“Surely the Lord could have caused the court to rule in our favor, as ‘the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord’ (Proverbs 16:33), and ‘the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes’ (Proverbs 21:9),” the executive committee of elders announced on Harvest’s website. “We receive these outcomes as God’s direction and have instructed our legal counsel to drop the suit entirely.”

In a statement to CT, Roys said Harvest’s decision “appears to be motivated by a desire to suppress the truth, rather than a desire to reconcile with the other defendants and me.”

She called on the church to “apologize publicly for filing this frivolous lawsuit, reimburse all the defendants for our legal fees, and everyone who had a hand in this unbiblical lawsuit needs to resign.”

The Elephant’s Debt, a blog which has criticized Harvest’s leadership and finances over the past seven years, responded with a clip of an elephant dancing and a tweet declaring, “And that my friend is closure.” The bloggers also suggestedthat, if the suit is dismissed, they may also request attorneys’ fees and sanctions.

Roys’s lawyer, Charles Philbrick of Rathje Woodward LLC, told CT he had not heard of Harvest’s decision at the time of the church’s posting on Monday evening. (He said it’s possible that their attorney had not yet filed the dismissal or that the court’s system had not alerted him to the filing.)

Last October, Harvest and MacDonald sued Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant—who run The Elephant’s Debt—and Roys—who was reporting on stories of mismanagement at the Chicagoland megachurch—for defamation.

“We would gladly accept no financial settlement, no resolution of damage done or redaction of existing slander,” wrote elders in a late December update. “All we ask is that they agree to stop attacking our church permanently and entrust the ongoing reforms to the Elders of our church.”

Mahoney and Bryant crowdfunded over $14,000 to fight the suit, and Roys continued her investigation as her lawyer defended against a temporary restraining order requested by Harvest. In her statement today to CT, she referred to the lawsuit as “apparently … an attempt to bully me into silence.”

After her story, “Hard times at Harvest,” ran in World magazine last month, she continued to release church documents as evidence of the tensions among its leadership, including a critical 2013 letter from former church elders and text messages from a current elder decrying “deceitfulness and manipulation” by MacDonald and top leaders.

The latter evidence was obtained through a subpoena during the discovery phase of the legal dispute with Harvest. The church asked the court to seal these documents and halt further subpoenas, but both their Emergency Motion for a Protective Order and Motion to Stay Discovery were denied today by the circuit court in Cook County, Illinois.

The Elephant’s Debt described the “victory” in a blog post, saying that as a result, “the defendants in this case are free to continue to send subpoenas to relevant parties; and they are free to publish legally appropriate materials.”

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Source: Christianity Today