When disc jockeys and pastors clash, usually it is the radio personality who gets the worst of it, facing outraged listeners, fleeing advertisers and summary firings from nervous station management.
But after the self-described “wild man of Chicago radio” Mancow Muller — since last month, on WLS-AM (890) — took issue with his former spiritual guide James MacDonald, founder of the Harvest Bible Chapel, it was the senior pastor of the mega-church who lost his job, officials of the 12,000-member church with seven locations in the Chicago area announced “with great sadness” Wednesday.
MacDonald had said he was taking an “indefinite sabbatical from all preaching and leadership” in mid-January.
“I am grieved that people I love have been hurt by me in ways they felt they could not express to me directly and have not been able to resolve,” he said in a statement.
“I’m upset that I was duped by a con man,” said Muller, who wrote a 2,200 word condemnation in the Daily Herald at the end of January against the man who baptized him in the River Jordan. He said how once MacDonald “taught me forgiveness, trust, being authentic and taking a stand for what’s right,” but that Muller later came to see “an environment of thievery, and a smarmy actor out front, a guy who … was brutal to everyone he thought was subservient.”
On Tuesday, Muller referred to the largely conservative, largely Republican church as “the cult that’s called Harvest” on his radio show, demanding it refund money to the faithful, and encouraged listeners to join a class-action lawsuit he said he was starting.
What has MacDonald actually done to cause him to be let go?
Harvest Bible was vague in explaining why MacDonald was terminated, saying only that he was fired “for engaging in conduct that the Elders believe is contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church.” It did, however, invite any curious to hear “a more detailed communication regarding next steps” to attend services Sunday, and of course to continue to generously “uphold” the church.
The cracks in MacDonald’s foundation began due to the efforts of a blog called “The Elephant’s Debt,” begun by former church members Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant, who questioned the financial stability of the church and accused MacDonald of putting Harvest Bible $44 million in debt.
The Elephant’s Debt released a statement on the firing:
“Seven years ago, we began to publicly air just a few of the stories that former elders and pastors had begun to share with us in private,” it begins. “We published accounts and documents about finances, power and control as a means of pointing to the much deeper issues that were swirling around MacDonald and Harvest. As of the end of 2017, we felt that we had said all that we could to warn the people of Harvest about this toxic scenario.”
A defamation lawsuit by the church against the website, and Julie Roys, a reporter for the bi-weekly Christian World magazine, who investigated Harvest, was dropped last month. The Elephant’s Debt praised Muller, saying he had, “displayed a courage that is often profoundly lacking in the evangelical community,’ noting that he “took a risk by playing a toxic, hot-mic audio of James MacDonald.”
That refers to a tape that Muller played on-air Tuesday, noting it is “a guy who sounds like James MacDonald,” and suggesting it was made in the studio of MacDonald’s own radio program, supposedly capturing the pastor responding angrily to a Christianity Today podcast asking if it were Biblical for Christians to sue other Christians and deciding it probably isn’t. The man identified as perhaps MacDonald is heard calling one editor “a certifiable p—k” and hinting that former CEO Harold Smith be brought down by uploading child pornography to his computer.
After MacDonald was fired, Muller tweeted that the truth about MacDonald is “much uglier than anyone will thankfully ever know,” to his 44,000 followers.
The blog’s organizers credit the radio host with prompting Harvest Bible to action.
“We got the ball rolling and then Mancow was instrumental in the process,” said Mahoney, who was a teacher at Harvest Bible. “Without him I don’t think the elders had the courage to terminate James MacDonald. He brought MacDonald down.”