As many of you know, on 26 February 2019, HBC announced that Rick Donald – longtime HBC Pastor, Elder and personal friend of James MacDonald – took a month-long “leave of absence” at the suggestion of the Elder Board. The sparse statement from HBC is posted below.
This statement with paucity of details leaves
us (sorry old habits die hard) me with several questions. Why did the Elders suggest Rick Donald needed a month-long “leave of absence?” Was this for personal, mental, and/or spiritual health reasons given the stress of recent events? Was the “leave” due to the inevitable questions that arise in the aftermath of a scandal? What did you know, and when did you know it?
It was hard, for a time, to hold two propositions in my mind simultaneously; namely, that Rick Donald is the kind, gentle pastoral figure that most of us have come to know and love, and that he is an intimate friend and trusted ally of the disgraced James MacDonald. In other words, what did Rick know, and when did he know it?
As I have been mulling these questions in my mind, I recalled a conversation, I had years ago with my father. My father was on staff at HBC as a counselor several years back, and at the time of the conversation I had already left my employment at HCA and was beginning to blog with Scott Bryant at Blood Stained Ink (BSI). Because of my public writing and criticisms of MacDonald and HBC, my father was confronted by Rick Donald. During that conversation, my father echoed the now familiar accusation of financial mismanagement (namely, the debt) as but one defense to the validity of BSI’s concerns. My father informed Rick that at that time HBC was over $60M in debt. Rick responded with incredulity. He denied the accusation vociferously and indicated the debt was not that high.
Clearly, Rick Donald was wrong. Now either one of two things is true. He did not know, as the close personal friend of James MacDonald, Senior Assistant Pastor and Elder, that HBC had accumulated crippling levels of debt, or he was covering for James MacDonald’s reckless choices. For years I always assumed, because of my sincere appreciation for his loving pastoral work, that he was ignorant and not complicit with evil. I was wrong.
As it turns out, while MacDonald is a very broken man who made horrific choices, he did not make those choices in a vacuum. Rather it took many people to enable, cover, defend and even participate in his, at times, stomach churning choices. I believe now that Rick Donald is such a man.
Dean Butters worked at HBC for over twelve years, and before resigning his position at HBC in April 2017, he had risen to the highest echelons of power in the HBC world. He last worked as the Executive Director of Business Operations, and he was part of the five member XLT (Executive Leadership Team – which at that time included Scott Milholland, Luke MacDonald, Fred Adams, Jeff Donaldson, and himself). He also was as part of the larger Global XLT which oversaw HBC, HBF, Walk in the Word, Camp Harvest, Harvest Christian Academy, Vertical Church Band and Vertical Church Films.
Recently, Dean Butters prepared a lengthy statement; it is one of several statements people have prepared and shared with the HBC Elders in the run up to MacDonald’s termination. While Mr. Butters highlights numerous concerns in his letter there was one account in particular that was shocking and immediately relevant to the questions: what did Rick know and when did he know it? Here is the relevant portion of Mr. Butter’s statement.
[MacDonald] mocked a well-known Christian woman when she got engaged [TED edit of identifying information] after  being single and chaste. He made a video likening her first sexual experience to the Holy Spirit coming upon her (with very graphic and disturbing audio). This video was circulated to James’ pastor friends and he read us comments about it that he claimed were from [two well-known pastors]. This video was a favorite of Pastor Rick’s and he regularly asked James to play it, often to the groans and chagrin of the others present.
To be clear, I believe we all know what “graphic and disturbing audio” was placed on this recording. It staggers the mind to know that MacDonald would create this recording for his amusement and share it with others on several occasions, drawing others into his sick, sophomoric depravity. But, what sinks my heart to learn is that Rick Donald (Senior Assistant Pastor, Elder and close personal friend of James MacDonald) was not the man I thought him to be all these years, or at least, there was a complexity to him that he hid well.
I am a sinner, a worse sinner than Rick Donald. But, what I am not is an Elder and a Pastor. We can all forgive Rick if he should confess his sins, and our love of Christ causes us to hope for his repentance. However, he is not above reproach. He should confess and resign, or the Elders of HBC should terminate his employment. Rick Donald should not return to HBC after his “leave.”
This also raises another question, to which I will return to soon. If the Elders had this letter and others, how is it they put Rick Donald on “leave” (paid or unpaid)? How did they not fire him or force his resignation immediately? How is this responsible stewardship of their office as Elders? HBC congregation, you have been told for years that HBC is not run by the congregation, but I disagree. You, the congregants, have enormous power; you control whether these Elders see another dime to manage and hand over to Rick Donald and others. If you share these concerns voice them to the Elders, and for a time, withhold your money from their stewardship.