Speaking Truth to Power: A Letter by Dave Jennings

Update Button 15 Feb 2019Yesterday afternoon, in the wilds of the Twitter-verse, someone took the time to dig out an old blog post by James MacDonald.  In it, he spent several paragraphs doing nothing less than mocking a woman who had dared to challenge his use of the word “stupid” in a sermon.

So I got this stupid anonymous letter from this stupid lady that said she didn’t like me using the word stupid in my messages. I don’t normally read or respond to anonymous letters because I think they are stupid but I happened to see this and picked it up. Wow am I ever stupid. The good thing is I don’t have to worry about creating any stupid offenses because I don’t even know who this lady is.

Anyway, I’m not sure the criticism is fair cause I don’t say stupid very often–maybe once a quarter in a message when talking about something really stupid. I don’t use the word to describe any living people*, and usually it invovles a hypothetical person being stupid in a hypothetical way, so no harm done right?

Wrong! Apparently her kids are not allowed to use the word stupid and as parents they are too stupid to explain that everyone does not have the same standards for what is stupid to say and what isn’t. I always taught my kids that it was stupid to judge others by stupid rules that aren’t even in the Bible and that different believers with different personalities could all love and follow Jesus without having to impose stupid stuff on each other.

Anyway, I’m sure glad I have this stupid blog to get my feelings out and laugh a little, ( I assure you I am laughing.) 

I think I’m gonna try to stop saying stupid in my messages, at least I’m gonna try, but it might be hard cause I’m kinda stupid. How about idiotic, is that an OK word? 
* (anonymous = not living in my mind) 

Over the years, many critics of The Elephant’s Debt and other online sources have challenged us by arguing that we should have discussed these matters internally with MacDonald himself.  Earlier today, a friend of TED found an old letter he had penned to MacDonald after MacDonald has published his infamous “stupid blog.”  Dave Jennings’ words go a long way to demonstrating just how many significant and insignificant people tried to speak truth into MacDonald’s life over these many, many years.

Over the past few weeks, lots of folks have rightly wondered how so many people could have attended Harvest for so long without ever calling James on the carpet for his nonsensical behavior. Yesterday, these questions centered specifically around a recently unearthed older blog post James once wrote entitled “Stupid” that -in the years since I left Harvest- I had all but forgotten about.

The reality is that LOADS of us did try, and were then either shown the door, rotated out of ministry, or -in my own case- simply gave up after years of sending emails like this one and consistently getting replies that chastised me for their length in lieu of engaging their content.

Showing Mr. MacDonald the door was a real and meaningful step in the right direction this week, both for the church and, I hope, for the man personally. But the future health and viability of Harvest Bible Chapel will necessitate still bolder moves as yet unmade. And until they are, I’ll continue to pray fervently for all of my friends who cannot yet conceive of a life or a faith beyond the church.

Editor’s Note: This following letter was submitted by Dave Jennings to MacDonald in Febuary 2007 as a response to MacDonald’s “Stupid” blog post.

February 20, 2007

James,

Soon after Christie and I began attending Harvest in the fall of 1999, I had my first face-to-face interaction with you.  For most folks, this happens during Party with the Pastors.  Not so in my case.  I had the dubious duty of tackling you during a pick-up game of football at the Junior High group’s fall festival.  It was me stopping you or your team scoring seven, so I went for it.  And I’ll never forget what you said to me afterward because it cracked me up.  “You tackle your Senior Pastor?” you said, incredulously.  “I’ve got a special message for you, buddy.”  I laughed about it for weeks.  Writing you this letter, I feel a little bit like I did just before tackling you that day, only without any assurance that you’ll feel like cracking a joke with me once you’re done reading.

I recently stumbled upon your blog: [Matthew Westerholm] refers his readers to it in a recent post.  I was curious to see what it would look like.

And now, here I am, writing you a letter.  I have to say that –as someone with a growing family that weekly sits under your teaching– it concerned me.  Now, please don’t preemptively dismiss me as someone who isn’t capable of conceiving of his Senior Pastor as an actual human being; I’ve too often seen the consequence of being a “Pastor on the Pedestal” kind of guy and have purposefully attempted to avoid the temptation to the best of my ability – even if it means tackling my leaders, etc.  (My very first Pastor made this a difficult mistake for me to make by admitting to me that he’d forgotten to bring his swim trunks to the service in which I’d been baptized and had instead been sporting little more than his tighties underneath his robe: scarring, but in a good way.)

Like anyone else God chooses to make use of, you’re a real person who doesn’t deserve the disservice of being elevated to unrealistic or superhuman heights of public perception, even though I’m sure it must happen to you fairly often.  My small-scale correlation comes when I bump into a student at the grocery store.  They all respond so similarly it’s like they’re reading from a script.  At first, they pull back, weirded out to be seeing you anywhere other than a classroom, and in street clothes on top of it all.  It’s irrational and unwarranted, but for some reason people do it and don’t show signs of stopping soon.

At any rate, that’s not why I’m concerned and it isn’t why I’m writing.  I’ll give you leeway to be authentic, because I’d rather you were than attend somewhere where I feel the Senior Pastor is either frighteningly “infallible” or robotic and un-relatable.  My concern instead lies in what I feel is a gross mishandling of criticism on your part, and the potential for damaging public perception for which it allows, especially in the minds of your pedestal-building listening audience.  Specifically, I’m referring to your recent blog post entitled “Stupid,” and your choice of words / tone therein.

Stupid, as a word, is nearly universally considered derogatory, or pejorative in nature.  Using it certainly won’t help you compliment anyone, unless you’re talking to a linguistically creative High School student who has –for whatever reasons– co-opted it into adjective form and made it somehow synonymous with “incredibly” (eg: “Tripping that kid and knocking his Coke out of his hand was stoo-pid [exaggerated pronunciation key] funny, bro.”)  In adult-world, however, it’s typically something you’d only use when speaking negatively of something (eg: “My decision to drive for about a mile on the rim of my parents’ mini-van rather than change the tire during my Senior year of High School was flat-out stupid” [and also, sadly, true – a good story now, not so much then].)  Additionally, or as my High School Pastor used to say, “I’ll throw this one in there for free,” in Hispanic circles the word has an even harsher connotation, to the extent that I have often overheard my Hispanic and Latino students having conversations in their native language in which the F-bomb makes frequent appearances and seen them stop one another for “crossing a line” by calling someone “estupido.”

As a descriptor of persons – and not simply of the choices they make, a key distinction – many people (my Hispanic students, for instance) feel that its extremely condescending quality serves as grounds enough to warrant its removal from the Christian lexicon because it flies in the face of a central Christian tenant.  Namely, if God loves man enough to not only create him in His own image but also personally invest of Himself by constraining Himself in human form to redeem the species, we ought not be bandying about words that might make others assume we don’t share God’s view of man.  This, I can only assume, is what the anonymous woman in question was aiming for when she attempted to address her displeasure with your having used the word in a recent sermon, and, rather than being a “stupid rule that [isn’t] even in the Bible,” it’s an extrapolation of a principle – something you yourself are none too unfamiliar with (your personal stances on alcohol consumption and secular music serve as great examples of this approach to scriptural application).  I guess it therefore surprised me that you’d be critical of someone for having done the same, regardless of her inclination to remain nameless or perhaps not divulge her reasoning at such length.

I can pretty easily understand your decision to not bother with what has been written to you anonymously – in your position I too can imagine myself wanting to deal only with those things that people had been bold enough to put their name behind.  But if that’s your game plan, I’d stick with it, and pretty closely.  The danger lies in doing what you have done; reading the occasional off letter and allowing it to bother (or amuse?) you to the point that you make public your opinions in the form of a disgruntled-sounding blog.  Because –her anonymity regardless– you have received an actual criticism from an actual person, and your caustically humorous dismissal of her and her words makes you seem anything but a humble and loving servant of the cross.

Romans 14:21 talks about our obligation to [others]… encouraging us to not abuse the liberties we’ve been given in Christ: “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.” [NASB]  My understanding of this passage… [explains] why, for years I respected my parents’ edict that no secular music be brought into their home, even though I found a great deal of it a much more enjoyable listen than anything by Psalty or Sandy Patti.  Admittedly, that analogy breaks down, because I was their child and it was my obligation to obey them, but it also serves to illustrate my point in one regard: in my Father’s case, secular music had often provided the soundtrack to some of the greatest mistakes of his life.  Hearing it, as he explained to me, often triggered memories of things he was laboring to leave behind him at the cross, an explanation that made a lot of sense to me.  There wasn’t anything wrong per se with The Beatles’ “White Album,” in other words, but when you’ve done drugs while listening to it during your pre-Christian years it’s understandable that you might not want to let it remind you of your old self when you’re trying to give Christ complete control of your life and heart.  It therefore concerns me that –as someone in the position of leadership God has placed you– you call this anonymous woman judgmental and –even jokingly– suggest that her criticism of your word choice is a “stupid” imposition.  As her Brother, and especially as her Shepherd, deference, not criticism, is your God-given duty.  I know you know that.  But I would encourage you to be wary of the kind of “permanent picture” of yourself a blog post snapshot can provide someone with.

So, I’ve said what I felt compelled to say, and hope that you receive it with as much grace as I have tried to convey it.

Respectfully,

Dave Jennings

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16 thoughts on “Speaking Truth to Power: A Letter by Dave Jennings

  1. “Unfortunately we are not talking about an everyday Christian here, we are talking about a leader, an elder and there are requirements by God for that position.” -Phyl

    You just, perhaps innocently, summed up – in a simple statement – the dangerous dichotomy of our evangelical church as we know it today. That IS the culture. Not accusing everyone who is evangelical. But it is the culture, the cult of personality.

    We gotta change. Looking in the mirror as I say this. Forgive me Lord, a sinner…

  2. Would you guys give it a rest already!? For the love of God, what are you guys trying to get out of continuing on with all this?

    You all have so much hate in your hearts. Quit blaming James and holding on to things in the past. Let it go. Forgive. Stop throwing stones. Enough is enough! He is a human. Quit acting so self righteous.

  3. Wondering, in the comments of another post on this site I learned about the method of grading songs on a scale of 1-5 and playing them increasingly loud to provoke an emotional response. Apparently the increase in volume causes people to raise their hands and respond otherwise emotionally regardless of the song’s content. Teaching this technique is part of the training.

    1. Actually, the 1-5 idea is to identify the level of direct/personal worship in a music selection. Let’s call a 1… might be a song about God or a story/statement. A 5 would be a song direct from YOU, not corporately, to GOD.
      It’s pretty hard to just start an intimate conversation without at least warming up. The overall concept is no trick. This would have absolutely nothing to do with volume or tempo. It’s just a tool to help develope a music plan and help to facilitate worship.
      If there was a change from years ago to include a Hollywood type manipulation, that wouldn’t be the intent of the original concept.

  4. While this letter was well written and the blog post of Pastor James was definitely not, I am confused. Didn’t David commit adultery with Bathsheba, Abraham lie about his wife being his sister, Job bitterly complain to God, Paul part ways with Barnabas and others and Peter deny Jesus? If we want to comb through someone’s life aren’t we destined to see their sins? And why don’t we hate sin in our own lives as much as we do in the lives of other? I have yet to see where those responsible for the Elephant Debt has acknowledged any personal sin of their own. What would be discovered if all of your conversation, your browsing history, your glances and silent thoughts were known? Jesus in John 8 recommended that sinners not throw rocks at another sinner. And yet that is what this is starting to seem like to me. The goal as I perceived it was to hold James accountable, but now that he has been fired that is not enough. Now there are calls demanding the removal of local elders who serve as volunteers. Harvest Bible Chapel has had amazing gospel impact in spite of a flawed leader and if it crumbles there will be no future impact in a world that is increasingly yielding to the power of sin. If it crumbles was it worth it? James has been fired so please look like caring people and stop the blog. Keep your word and stop the offensive. In no way am I defending bad behavior, but this continual, “oh look what we’ve found” is getting old. There is also no way to verify every claim of offense.

    You will probably not approve this comment in the same way you haven’t approved past comments because it isn’t in keeping with the narrative, but I am heartbroken and concerned.

    1. David repented when confronted.

      James MacDonald doubles down.

      Would he have tried to smear the prophet with planted, illegal material?

    2. Unfortunately we are not talking about an everyday Christian here, we are talking about a leader, an elder and there are requirements by God for that position. I would encourage you to go to The Village Church of Bartlett’s website, an excellent church, go to Media, and listen to today’s Q and A podcast, # 650, What Should I Look for in a Senior Pastor? The answer is taken straight from scripture.

    3. We are all sinners. The point of TED is not to suggest that James MacDonald is a greater sinner than anyone else. That would be unrighteous judgement. However, for you to suggest that the sin of another cannot be confronted because those doing the confronting are also sinners would invalidate the teaching of Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Timothy 5:19-21, among other scriptures. Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7 mandate that pastors and elders are held to a high standard. Leaders who do not meet those standards should be removed.

  5. In Former Member response, you state “Reading about the formula that HBC worship leaders employ to manipulate attendees’ emotions is sickening and reminds me of the tactics of cult leaders.” Will you please explain what the formula is or where you read about the formula.

  6. This caused me to look up the email I sent to Dave Learned March 8, 2012 saying I was leaving the church. I attended for 7-ish years and was very involved with different ministries and knew a lot of the head leadership. Including the MacDonald’s.
    It was a long, VERY kind, and direct email. There were very personal reasons I left that all the MacDonlad’s knew about. I didn’t even bring a hint of it up. Instead I cited these 3, still relevant, reasons:

    1) “After meeting with an elder, finding out more, and searching scripture, I have found I do not agree with the top down version of leadership Harvest uses.”
    2) “I have grown in the opinion that Harvest is a church which operates under an atmosphere of fear.”
    3) “…it seems to me that Harvest has been increasingly numbers driven.”
    Conclusion: “If I were to tie my major concerns together, I am not sure Harvest’s method of church governance does much, if anything, to keep the leadership accountable to the flock.”

    I know for a fact this email was passed around. Even went as far as James. “Someone” (Either James or 1 other person I won’t name, or both) then attempted to upset my career. I knew him to vindictive, so thankfully, I was prepared and was able to recover.

    In James’ eyes- I am but a lowly woman. And not even a rich one. Sigh. But I share my story because I am one of hundreds (thousands?) of people who, throughout the YEARS, has witnessed and pointed out bad behavior to multiple people with zero change or a whiff of anyone being sorry.

    1. This is posting from an old blog I had- but I’m happy to sign it openly.

      Mandy Duncan Sove

  7. It’s like someone asking why didn’t people stop a given addict before drugs or drink killed him. You can deliver a message but it maybe not be received or acted on.

  8. STEWARDSHIP UPDATE
    “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts!” —Psalm 96:8
    GENERAL FUND
    Need for February $1,920,000
    Received in February $756,900

    Need YTD (as of Jan 31) $1,920,000
    Received YTD (as of Jan 31) $1,307,800

    CLOSER CAMPAIGN
    Pledged $29,467,800
    Received to date $3,186,600

    Updated 2/15/2019

    Sources:https://www.harvestbiblechapel.org/financial-integrity/

    1. Harvest rents the Aurora and Deerfield property that are owned by LLCs. Who are the LLC owners? Any other properties that Harvest rents from LLCs? What LLCs is MacDonald involved in?

  9. Many people have tried to speak their truth to James over the years. That much has been obvious looking at the number of dissenters who were catapulted from the church or chose to leave quietly.
    My lingering questions after this whole debacle are as follow: Does James care about the truth of God? Was he a young pastor who was corrupted by money and power? Or did James, Kathy, Rick, and Lynn all set out to build their own kingdom from the beginning?

    After all I have read, I am leaning toward the lattermost conclusion. Many witnesses have pointed out that James is actually a better man than he once was, which is not reassuring. Reading about the formula that the HBC worship leaders employ to manipulate attendees’ emotions is sickening and reminds me of the tactics of cult leaders. It seems to me that the strongest possibility is that Harvest was a lie from the beginning.

    If the MacDonald inner circle is really made up of good people who want to know God, then I hope they can have the courage to speak truth to James and flee from him once and for all.

    1. FM -Can you point me to a link or expand on how the worship leaders manipulate attendees?

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