Why Rick Donald Cannot Return to HBC as a Pastor or Elder

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.

RD on Sabbatical

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.

HBC Debt copy

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 [edit] 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.

I will not be posting any comments to this piece that identify the woman that was the subject of this video MacDonald created, nor will I post any comment that adds additional details which sufficiently make her identity known. She is yet another victim of James MacDonald and Rick Donald, and her identity should not be made known unless she chooses to do so.

34 thoughts on “Why Rick Donald Cannot Return to HBC as a Pastor or Elder

  1. He went as far as to make a video about it? Seriously? This one hits hard. As we bring our daughters and sons there because the world makes a mockery of being pure. Not to mention that’s our tithes at work folks. I’ve been one to pray for him and love him despite all but it’s God who used him and it’s God who I love. Truly disgusted. The ship needs to sink. I’m sorry.

  2. Former Attendee March 6, 2019 — 8:35 am

    I still vividly recall sitting in the Harvest congregation many years ago when Rick announced that James had moved to the Palatine area. Rick’s use of the word “area” bothered me. I thought it odd. Palatine is a large suburb. If James moved to Palatine why not just say so. A short time later I discovered he moved to Inverness which for those that don’t know is an extremely upscale area. Technically it is right next door to Palatine. I later learned that Rick gave the “ok” for James to move into this house. Ever since that time I suspected Rick was nothing more than a “yes” man to James and knew who buttered his bread.

  3. Curiosity question, did James Mac Donald ever farm out parishioners for political campaigns?

  4. What about Jeff Donaldson? He’s like a Mini James Macdonald….

  5. I am sure that Harvest is reading your posts, maybe the comments also. Back in 2000 my husband and I received Biblical training under Rick and Lynn Donald. It was Christ centered and helped us grow after coming to Christ at Harvest. But I am afraid greed and or fear entered. Being “charismatic “ is not enough. I also am a sinner who has had her sins covered by Christ. But to continue, or even sin more deeply? These men have no fear of God. I want the books opened and the flocks money put to work in the building of Gods church. Vengeance is mine declared the LORD.

  6. How could Rick Donald have not known of the debt? Did the church not publish their financials on the website back then? When I look at the website, I see financials going back several years.

    1. I think he is Slick Rick. What a great cover! The soft spoken, mild mannered, easy going gentle guy. NO ONE suspects him. That’s the problem.
      He is not as obvious as his loud mouth out spoken abusive associate. The churches version of Good pastor, Bad Pastor.

  7. We are not helpless HBC-file a complaint w IRS 13909 -allows complaints against any person working for tax exempt organization who is suspected of misuse of funds. They do the ivestigation and this is a national case for them. Let’s let the IRS investigate. Google IRS Complaint 13909, fill and file against all who devoured widows houses and took from the poor against all who were on the XLT living large. Fix the Chevron steeple logo w vertical “brand” by attaching a $$sign atop it. After all, PT MacDonald and his two talentless sons and cup bearer Donald never served in the military, and the only God they know is money and that there’s a sucker born every minute. By his own admission his “act” (according to him)”can bring in 100k in under a minute” so he can easily pay taxes on money misused. Yup that’s the repulsive creepy arrogant leader and troglodyte group that’s been living large and devouring widows house at HBC for all these years and playing us all for fools. Not worried though…something about God not being mocked…form is one page and send onr of the numerous articles. I am sure they will be very interested and the pitiful rubber stamp ECFA paid accreditation won’t mean a thing.

  8. The continued testimonies of behavior of James Macdonald and accomplices absolutely horrify me. Is there any Godly qualities of these people? He obviously does not qualify as a pastor. The REAL question one must ask, is James even saved or a Christian at all? Judging by the lack of fruit and decades of evil behavior, I draw my conclusions to a “NO”. I am sure this is the tip of the iceberg his Titanic Harvest just hit.

  9. Wow: “I am a sinner, a worse sinner than Rick Donald.” You are off to a good start according to Matthew 5:3, “poor in spirit.” LOVE THIS.

  10. Long, Long Gone March 5, 2019 — 5:05 pm

    Can we please not flatter anyone by talking about “the highest echelons of power in the HBC world”? Truth is that in most instances no one from Harvest could ever get their way by saying, “Listen, pal, do you know who I am?” Because, no, outside of some sliver of conservative evangelical church world, no one knows or cares who they are.

    1. +100

      Most in the Protestant church have never heard of HBC or any of these people. Their reign of terror was confined to their own parishioners. But they did real damage, even if they thought themselves much more important than they are.

  11. George Schultz March 5, 2019 — 4:37 pm

    Rick should have resigned when Luke & Brandon did. What’s this about pensions? I bet many from Trinity could rebuild what Harvest leadership has torn down. A clean break should happen. I should have left at the ex-communications, but now i see i was in the James cult.

  12. HBC is like a chicken with it’s head cut off. Running around like crazy without knowing it is already dead. Once the giving units quit enabling, reality will set in.

    1. Agreed. A chicken with its head cut off. Good analogy.

    2. Chicken with its head cut off is 100% accurate.

      So SAD because it’s so true. I feel so bad for all the people of harvest who are actually innocent and have to deal with the terrible outcome.

  13. Ryan,

    Thanks for your continued commentary on this situation. I completely agree with you. After a certain point, the problem is no longer “his” problem alone, if I hide it. It becomes “my” problem as well.

    Sadly, those who have been in leadership for years do need to step down. I feel for them because there’s no place to go to earn what they’ve been earning (probably), and having 15-20 years of leadership at HBC on your resume is sure to be a boat anchor in the employment search.

    Robb Hansen

    President

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  14. Funny Lunch Lady March 5, 2019 — 3:54 pm

    I know the woman he mocked, and now I — a bonafide JMac radio groupie (I would sit in my car during lunch to listen to WITW, I went to see him several times when he came to my state) — am SICKENED. I heard the disparaging remarks he made about CT and Julie Roy’s, etc… but this is UNCONSCIONABLE. How, how, HOW could I (we) all have been so fooled!? And because there are SO MANY that are fooling others with JMac, I guess we can believe the enemy is behind this. This is sickening. I really can’t even believe it.

    1. Right there with you Funny Lunch Lady. Searching myself to see how I could have been so blind, praying for discernment in the future.

  15. Thanks Ryan – I agree with you – as you put it was always – “james MacDonald AND Rick Donald”

    From 1993-95, I confronted Rick for covering up for, lying for, and colluding with James.  He consistently told me that he needed to protect James, James’ image to not feed James’ critics back then.   Yes, it is James and Rick.

    Thanks for your work,

    Don

    1. Don – I’m not the least bit surprised to hear this – Thank you for sharing.

  16. Thank you Ryan, for continuing to expose all the darkness that th “few left” in Harvest want to desperately hide! If all the cancer is not eradicated out Harvest, the church will not stand a chance. In order for this church to be restored and thrive—- they need to make drastic decisions—-all those who covered or enabled JMAC need to leave!! This disaster unfortunately is far from over. JMAC and his entourage will be back with a vengeance if his co-conspirators don’t leave. I just read in a thread that JMAC bought his female senior administrator a home recently!!! Screen shots were posted to prove it … do both him and her have a business together that is not even on the radar?!? I mean is this possibly money laundering, hush money, etc…. who knows….. why aren’t police involved in this, if this could potentially be an illegal business?? Why is he able to still receive a pension when the church is in millions of dollars in debt. We are far from being out of the woods. I applaud you for taking a stand and continuing with this story. JMAC and his followers are just waiting for all the drama to die down and in the meantime make some under the table moves to get it all back (not the church but the $$$). They don’t care if Harvest has close down because of unpaid debt… they just want to make sure they leave with equitable amount to restart their spiritual schemes somewhere else just like Driscoll….

    1. Carlito's Way out of Harvest March 5, 2019 — 6:14 pm

      The JMAC tentacles spread far and wide. When our family left Harvest in 2013 I never thought the corruption was so bad. Rick Donald definitely reminds me of the “Tom Hagen” character in the Godfather.

      1. Carlito’s way out of Harvest—- you’re so spot on about Rick being JMAC’s hatchetman! I hope people will wake up and stop supporting/ defending this family and their actions. I also hope a criminal investigation will open up on their misspending of public funds from their church attendees

  17. Like many story that comes out, as details emerge it just seem to get worse and worse. How horrific for this woman, I’m praying she doesn’t know about this video.

    Still praying for those at HBC who have been hurt by all of this. Praying James MacDonald and all who covered for him will confess and repent. But I don’t think any of them should be in a pulpit ever again.

  18. Thank you, Ryan, for graciously shielding the woman’s identity. With that choice, you’ve done more to honor Christian women and the virtue of chastity than James MacDonald ever has.

    Sadly, this is yet another example of a devastating reality: James MacDonald was the architect & senior leader of a system and culture that empowered him do & say whatever he pleased, without fear of consequences. What does it say that he COULD create and show a such a filthy, morally reprehensible video–one that pastors Rick Donald delighted in and bystanders did nothing to stop?

    Remember, HBC Elders read about this incident weeks ago (before Mancow Muller played the despicable audio of James & others) and were STILL reluctant to terminate him. How is that possible? And Rick Donald is on now leave (paid, most likely)? What is the rationale for his employment? He must be fired for cause immediately.

    HBC Elders should release the statements of the six men that they received in February ASAP. Congregants have to right to know what they knew, so that those who are still giving their time and money to the church can determine whether the actions that Elders have taken (and have failed to take) were commensurate with the facts that were divulged.

    1. Deceived no more March 5, 2019 — 6:27 pm

      You are absolutely correct. There is a new culture of wooing happening at Harvest now, similar to “grooming” and good people are falling for it. They are being manipulated for their money and if they want to test the theory, try logging in and reducing your tithe. (Give to another established Cheiatian charity for a month)
      A: You might have trouble doing it and will be told it must be a glitch in the system and someone will contact you and/or
      B: It won’t go unnoticed and you will feel love and attention like you’re the only woman in a room full of prisioners (for a while)
      Praying for wisdom to prevail over the strongholds of “love of position, recognition and comfort”

      1. Deceived no more March 5, 2019 — 6:29 pm

        Sorry. Give to another Christian charity/ministry

      2. I had no problem pausing the automatic payment on the site. We are sending our tithing to a small Church that we periodically attend near our neighborhood.
        The glitch could be from too many people using the site it is overwhelming the server 😉

  19. Can you, Mancow, or Wartburg Watch publish this?

  20. I do not believe there is any credible way for an Elder to say that they did not know who MacDonald was or that any of this was going on. To claim one was ignorant of the kind of person the senior pastor was shows either that the elder in question was unqualified for the office to which they were appointed or that they were guilty of such a severe dereliction of duty to shepherd the flock that they should be removed immediately.

    There are 30 shepherds here, standing around saying “It’s not our fault the sheep keep were all eaten! Some of us were alseep, and some of us never saw the wolf because he is so crafty.”

    First, it was your job to watch and protect the flock. Don’t tell me you didn’t see it, it was your JOB to see it. Second, it’s simply not credible any longer to say you never saw anything.

    No one believes this is a surprise to you. No one.

    That is why they ALL need to go and be replaced NOW. The congregation can have no confidence that they can be led by people who flatly refused to do their duty the first time. They have no credibility and thus are useless in the position.

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more, MarcAnon6. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  21. Keep encouraging the Priesthood of All Believers to rise up and speak up and do what’s right…

    also, porn has never been mentioned as part of the problem… but i have to wonder how big a problem it is in leadership, as the sexual objectification of women seems to me to be a part of the problem here… porn warps the mind/attitudes and beliefs (brain & soul) and those who are compromised can no longer make healthy, biblical decisions, as the porn lens increasingly becomes the filter that everything gets processed through… sexual objectification is grievous to God, as we are all created in His Image, and sexual objectification demeans, devalues, dehumanizes, etc… human beings… His Imago Dei

    to me, that’s what makes sense for these decisions that have been made by the leaders over the last number of years…

  22. I appreciate your decency to keep her identity private, although I know who it is and it was so upsetting to find out how James disrespected her.

    I agree, Rick should’ve been let go of long ago and I don’t believe he will return. I believe he is taking his final PTO and then will resign. We’ll see how this plays out. Praying he doesn’t make this difficult by thinking he should continue in his role.

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