The Harvest Lawsuit against the Elephant's Debt Website (December 8, 2018)

The new house

On October 17, 2018, Pastor James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel filed a defamation complaint and motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO) in Illinois state court against Scott Bryant and Ryan Mahoney, the authors of the website, The Elephant's Debt, against their wives, and against freelance journalist Julie Roys.

"Formal allegations include violations of the Illinois Deceptive Trade Practices Act, defamation and false light. In addition to a jury trial, the plaintiffs want the court to issue restraining orders keeping Roys and The Elephant’s Debt from publishing false information and to award damages."

The complaint and motion for a TRO

Elephant's Debt summary of events from 2004 to 2017

Illinois does not allow public access to court records, unlike the federal courts and the New York courts.


Nov. 26. Mahoneys' Motion to Dismiss in one file with a copy of the Complaint as an appendix. Problems with the complaint: no writings attached; the church's product is not disparaged (indeed, HBC-Elgin has a church "product" (=theology, programs) much better than average, I and the defendants probably agree, which makes Pastor M's conduct all the more sad); the statute doesn't allow money damages; much of the supposed defamation is "opinion" and so not actionable; no mention of the "public figure" status of plaintiff; no pleading of "special damages" (specific, objective damage to the plaintiffs).

Defendant Roys's Motion to Dismiss

November 14. Defendant Julie Roys's Requests for Productions to Plaintiffs.” Court filing.

The Complaint and the motion for a TRO

HBC-Elgin and James Macdonald's Side of the Story:

Nov. 27:Scott-Milholland-Resignation Letter

Nov 30. ANSWERS TO TWO MEDIA QUESTIONS HBC OCTOBER 2018 ELDER UPDATE from Harvest discussing the lawsuit.

October 19: Enough is Enough: Why We Can and Must Take Bloggers to Court, James MacDonald web essay.


Novmeber 2 James MacDonald: Why Suing Is Sometimes the Biblical Choice: 1 Corinthians 6:1-9 does not apply to every situation , James Macdonald op-ed in Christianity today.

Dec. 1: December 2018 Elders' Update


Nov. 30. Litigation Update: 29 November 2018 Hearing Two motions to dismiss and a motion for extra time to respond, by the Bryants.

And the Number Shall Be Five , Elephant's Debt, on how HBC seems embarassed about suing the wives as well as the two bloggers.

Nov. 30. Amy Moore comments, list of HBC staff who have resigned Nov. 30. More Turnover at Harvest Bible Chapel? Throckmorton blog.

GoFundMe campaign

October 18: Cook County Record story.

October 24: Harvest Bible Chapel Sues Former Members, Julie Roys for Defamation , Christian Post.

Novmeber 8 Harvest Bible Chapel sues bloggers for spreading ‘false information’ in Religion News

October 30: James MacDonald Sues Harvest Bible Chapel Critics for Libel , in Christianity Today.

November 19. Walk in the Word, a Black Budget at Harvest Bible Chapel and Finances that Resemble a Criminal Syndicate More Than a Ministry." Sensationalist, with specific claims about salaries. Dubious, but worth listing.

Nov. 21. "James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel: On an Alleged NDA , On MacDonald Family Salaries and a Call for MacDonald to Step Down by a Former Member," Wartburg Watch. Not an altogether trustworthy source.


Elephant's Debt summary of events from 2004 to 2017

November 13: Harvest Bible Chapel's Chief Information Officer Allegedly Stole $270K, Christian Post.

Rowell Page on events at Willow Creek church in 2018

Beaverton Grace Bible Church v. Smith archive, nice site with documents from a 2012 case where a church sued a blogger, lost, and had to pay attorney fees of about $60,000. See the Memo in Support of Special Motions to Strike under Oregon's anti-SLAPP statute nad the Court Dates and Documents, and Analysis of Allegations , including the problems in collecting the fees owed (not big problems).

The Elephant's Debt website

Documents from The Elephant's Debt relevant to the finances of the Elgin Harvest Bible Chapel

The 2013 Constitution of Harvest Bible Chapel--Elgin. It's unclear who has authority over money matters. Neither a pastor nor an elder can be dismissed except by "consensus decision", which would seem to mean unanimity of at least the other elders.

Julie Roys on Twitter.


The nondisclosure agreement that WW posted Nov. 21, 2018

Non-Disparagement Agreements And Truth-Telling In The Church: Willow Creek Patheos (about Willow Creek, not Harvest)

Mars Hill nondisclosure agreement


In summer 2018, Harvest sued its bank, a Christian credit union, for refusing to modify its loans. The theory of the suit is that a credit union executive said they'd modify the agreement, so they didn't pursue competing offers, and the the Credit Union decided not to go ahead with the closing. Seems dubious to me--- isn't that what a closing is, the signing of the only legally binding contract? --- but it involves the Illinois law of promissory estoppel and reliance, so maybe it has some basis. It raises the interesting question: should a Christian sue a Christian corporation? If not, to what authority should he go for arbitration?

The Evngelical Credit Union complaint


There has been a lot in the press about this, but I haven't gotten the weblinks together yet, except for one:

Novmeber 21. Coverup video about the sexual advances case, by a church security man.

October 23. "Sugar Grove Man Facing Charges for Alleged Sexual Conduct Committed While Employed at Aurora Church"

October 23. HARVEST BIBLE CHAPEL STATEMENT REGARDING PAXTON SINGER . A very cold statement from the church on their youth pastor, saying they don't know anything about his whereabouts or his family's and are not doing anything to restore him and aren't going to say anything more about it.

October 23. . Chicago Tribune. Best news report on this. "A DCFS official said the charges filed against Singer this week did not result from the January report but from a second report made months later.
“In June of 2018, DCFS received a hotline report and began an investigation involving Paxton Singer for the allegation of sexual exploitation,” Bret Angelos, an attorney for the agency, wrote in an email response to questions from the Tribune. “The DCFS child protection investigation was completed in October 2018, and Paxton Singer was indicated for sexual exploitation.”
Church officials said they made three separate reports in January related to alleged inappropriate actions between Singer and three individuals."