After nearly two weeks of waiting for Harvest Bible Chapel to respond to The Elephant’s Debt, the elders of Harvest Bible Chapel have finally issued a statement, which was subsequently deleted from their website. And then it was put back up on their website on 8/23/13, so you can find it here (for now). In short, this statement does not deny any significant assertions made in The Elephant’s Debt. In light of this statement, we submit the following questions for your consideration.
- What was the total amount of the debt at its height? 70 million? 75 million? 80 million? What was it?
- The original Seize the Opportunity campaign was slated to raised $20 million dollars for the build out of the two campuses. How did $20 million dollars balloon to over $65 million? The cost of faulty steel recounted in the books referenced by HBC statement does not come close to accounting for this massive explosion of debt. Moreover, why did you not specifically document, in writing, how much debt you were accruing beyond what you told the body you would accumulate at the start of the build out in 2003? Vague discussion of “cost overruns” in no way alerts the congregation to the fact that you are on the edge of bankruptcy.
- Will Harvest release all audit reports dating back to 2003? As we have already said in a previous update, the argument regarding $90 million in present assets is irrelevant because these assets were not in hand when this reckless debt was accumulated.
- Most of the properties donated to HBC were “distressed” properties that were purchased by donors specifically for tax favorable donations. How is the “market value” for these properties established by Harvest? Properties do not end up in auction unless the original sellers were unable to sell the property in question. So for instance, Elgin is listed as a $30 million property, but it was purchased at auction for $9 million. What makes this property suddenly worth $30 million in the absence of a buyer willing to purchase it?
- The elders for the first time have publicly admitted that 5G Campaign funds will be directed toward debt relief, but only $5 million of the $30 million they intend to raise will be used for that purpose. Why was this not publicly disclosed at the outset of the campaign?
- Assuming a 4% interest rate on the debt, $2.4 million per year is paid in interest. This amounts to more than an entire month’s tithe going to nothing but interest. Given this, why was debt reduction not a greater priority for the 5G Campaign? Because it appears that the expansion of the HBC brand was prioritized over fiscal responsibility.
- Regarding the 5G campaign, the elders did not address whether MacDonald continues to believe that he speaks for the Lord when talking to his congregation about how much money they should give to these fundraising efforts. Does MacDonald still believe that he speaks for the Lord in these matters?
- In the statement, HBC said that “possibility of Elephant Room 3 remains in doubt, and any plan to proceed would again need advance approval by our elders and additionally, in the future, fellowship pastors.” This assertion appears to be incongruous with MacDonald’s own tweet on August 24 in which he tweeted “ER3 = coming.” Are the elders aware of this public announcement? Are the Fellowship pastors aware of this announcement?
- The statement read: “A potential unintended consequence might be to cast doubt on our church leadership’s long-established conviction against prosperity teaching. Hoping that ER2 would actually clarify our stand on this and other important doctrinal matters, we decided together to proceed with the conference.” In light of this statement, it is shocking to these authors that not a single question was asked of T.D. Jakes regarding prosperity gospel. Why would the man in charge of the conference not be able to ask these clarifying questions that he allegedly wanted to hear? Also, in the aftermath of ER2, rather than address this massive failure, MacDonald choose to infuse the issue of race into the discussion as a means of defending his choices at ER2. Furthermore, neither MacDonald nor the elders have yet to publicly apologize for this failure, “avoiding confusion to members and friends.”
- The statement continues to read: “We agreed that never again could we allow a breadth of association to bring confusion to our own church.” If this true, then why did the elders approve, after all of the public controversy surrounding ER2, of James MacDonald flying down to publicly celebrate T.D. Jakes’ 35 years of ministry? What happened to “not a breadth of association?”
- Regarding compensation, it is important to note that Harvest has not denied any of the compensation discussion raised by The Elephant’s Debt. We have already discussed this issue in our second update from this past Tuesday. The question stands. If MacDonald is not embarrassed by the total compensation he receives from numerous streams of revenue that potentially tie to HBC, then why won’t he make that compensation package public? Furthermore, will MacDonald release his financial statements from 2008 to present to reveal whether he received a massive 40% pay raise in a season of debt? Will he go on record with his entire congregation and acknowledge personally pursuing this raise?
- The elders stated that they will “conduct a thorough review of our church’s history since 2004 in search of any failure or offense in need of repentance and reconciliation, with special emphasis given to former church leaders no longer worshiping with us.” After completing this review, will the elders or MacDonald publicly acknowledge the list of men with whom he seeks reconciliation? Secondly, will he publicly apologize to his congregation for any times he sufficiently identified these former staff and elders in negative sermon illustrations?
- If a church is openly committed to the practice of Matthew 18, why would it need to establish a “whistleblower” policy, promising anonymity and a lack of personal consequences? Does this speak to the culture of fear perpetuated by reprisals that many staff, elders and long-time members readily acknowledge? See for instance, the account of Grace Community Bible Church being removed from the fellowship after privately approaching MacDonald with concerns related to ER2.
- Finally, it has been asserted that the Harvest Elder Board is 100% united behind James MacDonald. In the recent statement that was released, it must be noted that one elder, Paul Gracey, did not sign. It is possible that Mr. Gracey was out of town or otherwise indisposed. It is also possible that Mr. Gracey elected not to sign this document. Would Harvest please clarify Mr. Gracey’s position on this matter and his present standing on the elder board? [Editor’s Note: HBC has posted Gracey’s resignation letter. In it, he affirms HBC and states that he is taking a job “out West.”]
None of the statements or their plans for the future address the root concern raised by The Elephant’s Debt. The problems at HBC are not issues of systems but issues of character. The character qualifications for an elder, according to 1 Timothy 3, are extraordinarily high. We believe that James MacDonald on a number of these points is not qualified to be an elder. The Elephant’s Debt only highlighted two of the issues from 1 Timothy 3: the need to be above reproach and the need to not be a lover of money.
We raised the financial issues not because they were an end in and of themselves, but symptoms of an underlying character problem. Improvement upon communication and financial systems cannot fix the problem.
We continue to hope and pray for MacDonald to exhibit genuine acts of repentance.