Through recent conversations with those that are in support of our efforts as well as those who are in opposition to it, several critiques of this web site have been brought to our attention. This update seeks to address four of the most significant concerns.
Over the past few days, several well-meaning individuals have argued that this site has not included all of the relevant “facts” pertaining to the debt. While we do not believe this to be an accurate assessment of the situation, we offer the following information as means of a explaining why we parsed the data in the way that we did.
As we presently understand it, HBC is estimated to have nearly $150 million in material assets, including real estate and other goods. If one subtracts the debt of roughly $65 million (2010 levels), HBC still has a positive balance sheet of approximately $85 million dollars. On these grounds, some have argued that HBC is not technically in debt. Here is why this discussion was not included in the original publication.
First, these material assets are what we call “hard” assets. In other words, they are not “liquid,” which means Harvest is not sitting on a large cash reserve from which it can service its debt. The debt, however, must be immediately serviced, and it must be paid off in due course.
Secondly, the value of Harvest’s material assets is entirely theoretical. It only becomes actualized when the church sells the property. So, in theory, if they sold enough of their real estate, Harvest could pay off the existing debt. But this move would most likely require the church to close more than one of its existing campuses, which in turn would most likely lead to a downward turn in weekly attendance, and thus, weekly giving.
Thirdly, there is no present guarantee that the asset value can be realized because the value of a property is only worth what an actual buyer will pay. At present, Harvest’s balance sheet only reflects an account’s fair market value estimate. In other words, the balance sheet represents what the bank believes to be fair market value, but in this economy, there is no guarantee that Harvest would be able to find a buyer willing to pay that price. Moreover, the most valuable assets owned by Harvest are the TV station in Aurora and the two massively retrofitted properties that serve as the main campuses of the church. To sell any of these properties in this economy would be extremely difficult, as there are not many suitable buyers looking for a TV station, a heavily modified warehouse or a custom configured office complex, complete with a massive sanctuary.
Finally, and most significantly, several of these assets, including the TV studio, were obtained well after MacDonald had accumulated the original debt. So to suggest that our argument is flawed based upon the current, theoretical value of these unsold properties is somewhat foolish. When MacDonald was making these decisions, he had no way of knowing what the future would hold. So to say that all is now well and good because the numbers “turned out okay” is to unreasonably remove the moral responsibility from the man who, in our opinion, was making reckless financial decisions.
Other people have opined that even if MacDonald made over $1 million in compensation from HBC, they would have no problem with it because CEOs and other mega-church pastors make more. Sadly, this is just another painful example of how capitalistic, American values have uncritically become Evangelical values.
Pastors are not CEOs. They produce no wealth. They live off the sacrificial tithes and offerings of the people. This is not to say that the people should not support their pastors in a reasonable fashion. As MacDonald himself has put it, “A pastor should not be paid so little that he has to worry about money; and a pastor should not be so well paid that he has to worry about money.”
The fact that other mega-church pastors have ignored this sage advice, becoming rich through the offerings of the people, is no excuse to go and do likewise. Moreover, to pursue such levels of wealth through the church, the tithe, and the gospel during a time of extraordinary debt reveals, we believe, something about the character of the man.
THE PUBLIC NATURE OF BLOGGING
Whereas only a few people have mentioned the issues discussed in the previous two sections, far more have questioned the wisdom of having this discussion in a public forum. In all fairness, many of the individuals who raised these questions seem to be genuinely concerned about protecting the name of Christ; and on that account, we could not agree with them more.
But what these concerns fail to take into consideration is the precedent that has been set by the authors of Scripture, who themselves were inspired by God. Consider the Apostle Paul. In his letters to Timothy and to the Galatians, Paul publicly rebukes such individuals as the following: the Apostle Peter, Alexander the Coppersmith, Demas, Hymenaeus, and Philetus. Likewise, the Apostle John rebukes Diotrephes. And as for Peter and Jude, they join with no less a figure than Moses, himself, when they publicly denounce Balaam. So as you can see, Scripture itself is full of examples where men have been held publicly accountable for their actions and decisions. Thus, any carte blanche dismissal of this site on the grounds of believing a public rebuke to be improper simply does not line up with the testimony of Scripture. Moreover, in 1 Timothy 5:19-20, believers are actually instructed to follow Paul’s lead. “Do not accept an accusation against an elder unless it can be confirmed by two or three witnesses. Those guilty of sin must be rebuked before all, as a warning to the rest.”
THE JUSTIFICATION OF EFFECTIVE MINISTRY
Finally, more than anything else, people have questioned our critique in light of the numbers of people being saved and/or baptized. In short, they have opted for a pragmatic argument in which they dismiss the concerns of this website on the grounds that much good is being done. We do not doubt for a moment that thousands of small group leaders, hundreds of flock leaders, and dozens of pastors are effectively caring for people and leading them toward Christ. However, as it relates to the qualifications of elders, we cannot allow American values of pragmatism to trump Scripture’s demand for elders to be “above reproach.” And arguing that no man is perfect entirely misses the point. This argument merely engages a point we have not made, for we never claimed that a man must be without fault. The central question raised by this site is what ought to be done when private confrontation and elder confrontation has gone unheeded? Perfect is not the standard. Repentant, humble, and accountable is the standard. And that is true whether only one person is being saved or thousands are being saved.