The Elephant’s Debt is a website dedicated to exposing some of the underlying reasons why many people have both privately and publicly questioned the character of Pastor James MacDonald and his lack of qualifications for being an elder and pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel of Rolling Meadows, Illinois.
By the close of 2010, Harvest’s balance sheet revealed that the church, while under the pastoral leadership of James MacDonald, had amassed approximately $65 million of debt, and in the midst of addressing the issues raised by this website, HBC Elders informed the congregation that the debt had been as high as $70 million. While this number in and of itself is shocking, what makes it worse is that some elders and much of the congregation had no knowledge of the extent of the debt. The rapid expansion of MacDonald’s ministry, for reasons of ego as much as concern for the Kingdom, was the cause for the sudden and surprising accumulation of debt. The point in raising the surprisingly accumulation of debt is not to question the current financial stability of the institution, but it is put forth as an example of the underlying character issues of MacDonald that many people are now expressing publicly.
Even more concerning is the fact that as of 2010, James MacDonald was making more than half a million dollars per year, not including any income potentially derived from sources outside of Harvest Bible Chapel. Also, while in the midst of accumulating $70 million of debt, James MacDonald purchased the $1.9 million Inverness estate formerly owned by U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald, and shockingly, MacDonald insisted upon a 40% raise in his base salary from HBC just after accumulating this massive debt load. This raise increased his base salary to $350,000. This salary figure does not include his large “expense” account, “licensing fees” from Walk In The Word, book advances, honorariums or other sources of HBC income.
Shortly thereafter, in the fall of 2011, James MacDonald and the recently expanded and weakened elder board of Harvest Bible Chapel rolled out the 5G Campaign. Not surprisingly, the relief of the aforementioned debt was not listed as a top priority of the 5G Campaign by the leadership of Harvest Bible Chapel to the congregation, but after the release of this website HBC elders admitted to the congregation that some of the 5G money was marked for debt relief. This points to the larger problem with the debt, namely that not all elders knew the extent of the problem and the congregation was largely kept in the dark.
Additionally, the issue of MacDonald’s hypocrisy on the controversial issue of gambling came to light through this web site. He had previously preached very intensely against the pitfalls of gambling, but only after his hypocrisy on the issue of gambling (or poker playing as some prefer to call it) was exposed he admitted it to his congregation. MacDonald from the pulpit admitted that he had “privately and publicly (casinos) gambled.” He pledged, after his elders asked him several times, to cease from gambling because of his “weaker brothers.” Obviously, the larger concern over his gambling is the fact that he publicly preached a very strong message against such activity and not gambling per se. Christians divide over this issue, and it is only his continued quest for more money and his hypocrisy that made it a matter worthy of publication.
Then in June 2013, three elders of HBC, Dan Marquardt, Scott Phelps and Barry Slabaugh, resigned from the elder board over the very concerns raised by this website. The official HBC elder statement stated that these three elders expressed “dissatisfaction over many months with how compensation is set, how elder authority is shared, and whether Pastor James has truly owned his part in past conflict.”
Soon after the resignation of these three elders, in July 2013, Dan Marquardt made his resignation letter public, along with other correspondence between HBC and himself, which can be found here. He provides rather pointed criticisms of MacDonald and the manner in which decisions are made among the leaders of HBC. This lead Scott Phelps and Barry Slabaugh, on September 15, 2013, to make a public statement of their own in support of Dan Marquardt and his statement.
Harvest then saw fit to chastise Scott Phelps and Barry Slabaugh saying, “that publicizing viewpoints rejected by the elder majority for any reason is Satanic to the core” in a video which was played for all HBC campuses on Sunday, September 15, 2013. This video claimed that when the elders of HBC speak in unity they speak for God, and as such, Phelps and Slabaugh, were to be excommunicated for failing to fall under their direction and publicly supporting Marquardt. HBC pulled the video from their website, but have yet to publicly apologizes to the men they slandered. The grotesque nature of this video, also, provides some insight into the failing character of MacDonald, who remains at odds with some of his own elders regarding this video.
In response to the HBC video, on September 18, 2013, the day of Harvest’s 25th anniversary, Dave Corning spoke publicly about the reasons he and his family left the church. Dave Corning served for approximately 20 years as the Chairman of the HBC Elder Board, and was the original Chairman of the board before Robert Jones took over this position. Corning’s extensive statement can be found here, and to date it remains the most detailed and powerful testimony regarding the issues raised about MacDonald and HBC leadership.