Pastor James MacDonald gives a sermon in 2013 at the Harvest Bible Chapel campus in Elgin.
Pastor James MacDonald gives a sermon in 2013 at the Harvest Bible Chapel campus in Elgin.

Rolling Meadows-based Harvest Bible Chapel and the founding pastor it fired – James MacDonald – have resolved their differences about severance pay, expenses and publishing and TV royalties.

But the details are being kept private. The two sides agreed to keep the terms confidential, according to a document MacDonald’s lawyer sent to lawyers for the defendants in a defamation lawsuit MacDonald is pursuing.

The document contains written answers to questions posed by Cumulus Media, which owns WLS-AM 890, the radio station that airs Mancow Muller’s radio show. Both WLS-AM and Muller also are defendants.

According to the lawsuit, Muller’s broadcasts that were critical of MacDonald were defamatory and cost him his job. Muller and MacDonald had been friends when Muller attended the church, but Muller has said he became disillusioned by MacDonald and left the fold.

Cumulus’ attorney said he could not comment about the document. Muller’s attorney confirmed its authenticity Wednesday.

MacDonald and his attorney declined to comment on the contents of the document. When asked whether congregation members had been told of the settlement, Harvest’s spokesman, Sherri Smith, only would say that anything related to the arbitration is posted on the church’s website. A check of the website showed the last reference came in a church update posted in June that said the COVID-19 pandemic had slowed progress, but that a resolution was expected “by the end of the summer.”

Smith declined to comment otherwise on the agreement.

Harvest Bible Chapel has six locations, including in Crystal Lake, Elgin and Highland Park.

What it says

Cumulus asked for information about any defamation lawsuits filed by MacDonald or the church. MacDonald listed a 2018 defamation suit against journalist Julie Roys and two bloggers. But he also listed the private arbitration demand he made of the church.

MacDonald and the church agreed to resolve their dispute using the Institute for Christian Conciliation. That happened Aug. 14, and both sides agreed to keep details confidential, according to the document.

The lawsuit

MacDonald’s 18-count lawsuit claims that Muller said untrue and defamatory things about him on the air and in podcasts. According to the lawsuit, on Feb. 12, 2019, Muller discussed whether a criminal racketeering case could be made against MacDonald, that there were “secret books and black ops,” that MacDonald planned to put child pornography on Muller’s computer to get him to shut up, and that MacDonald was a con man.

The suit also accuses Muller of illegally eavesdropping on MacDonald after airing the contents of a phone call that someone else recorded without MacDonald’s permission at a Harvest campus. In that call, MacDonald made derogatory comments about Roys and the editors of Christianity Today and wondered whether child pornography could be put on the computer of a Christianity Today editor.

Church leaders announced in a Feb. 13, 2019, website post that they already had decided to fire MacDonald before the Feb. 12 broadcast, but that the release and publication of the recording “accelerated” their timeline. So they made the firing official as of Feb. 12, 2019.

MacDonald alleged that what Muller said about him contributed to the church firing him in February 2019; has prevented him from obtaining a church job; and caused him to lose $1.9 million in salary and deferred compensation, $300,000 in intellectual property royalties and speaking engagements, and $500,000 in publishing opportunities.

Arbitration

The church and MacDonald approved a separation agreement in April 2019, contingent upon the approval of a credit union to which the church owed about $40 million.

But in June 2019, the church announced the lender had refused to approve the agreement, saying the church could not give away any of its assets, including cash, physical property and intellectual property.

The intellectual property included the “Walk In the Word” radio, TV and digital ministry MacDonald led. The two sides disagreed over who owned it.

Since Harvest

In February, MacDonald announced on his James MacDonald Ministries website that he was starting the Home Church Network. HCN would train people to host church services in their homes. That training has been put on hold until at least November because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the website.

MacDonald has been publishing devotionals via the site, Facebook and email. The website also sells nine of the Bible study books he wrote.

Lake County