The controversy around James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, swirls ever more intensely. I would like to clarify a few things so that in the debate surrounding this topic—especially CT’s coverage—people can have a better notion of how we cover such controversies.
First, we want to address MacDonald’s alleged derogatory remarks about various members of CT’s staff broadcast today on Mancow, a radio show based in Chicago. MacDonald is clearly angry with the way CT has covered his leadership at Harvest, and he’s succumbed to the temptation to slander me, threaten our CEO, and denigrate others. This is unfortunate. But this is part of the life of journalism, because we know that we’re not exactly popular with people about whom we have to report bad news. We also know that people (including me) privately say things in anger that they later regret. So we’re not going to blast back at MacDonald or to demand a public apology. The only things we demand are that he deal fairly with his accusers, that he tell the truth about what’s been going on at Harvest, and that he make amends if and where he has misused his office.
Second, as MacDonald’s reaction demonstrates, it’s common for people on both sides of a dispute to believe that CT is against them. It’s pretty clear by his slanders that MacDonald thinks we have it out for him. That’s ironic, because his accusers, whom he sued, believe we’ve taken his side. They base their accusation on the fact that we gave him space on our Speaking Out forum to explain why he believes it is biblical to sue fellow believers.
In fact, this is a tradition at CT: to allow mainstream, otherwise orthodox evangelicals accused of being unbiblical a chance to defend their views. Recently, we gave Andy Stanley, accused of denigrating the authority of the Old Testament, a chance to explain his views. Sometimes those views are expressed in the context of a news article. Sometimes we host a forum. Sometimes we offer op-eds. Sometimes we offer a variety of coverage, which is what we did in this case.
We’ve published four news articles full of accusations against MacDonald, explaining why his accusers believe MacDonald’s actions are troubling and why his suing fellow believers is unbiblical. We also produced a podcast with a leading expert on reconciliation to talk about ways Christians can resolve disputes without going to court. It didn’t seem unreasonable to let MacDonald have a chance to defend why he thought suing fellow believers in this case was justified. Key staff people joined me in debating whether to give him space to do this or not, but as editor in chief, I made the call to do it.
The main stake we have in this as in every other controversy is (a) that the truth will come out and (b) that aggrieved parties will eventually make their way toward reconciliation. We also make it a habit of praying for the parties involved, as well as our news team as they cover especially controversial issues.
CT hasn’t yet taken “a side” on Harvest. But clearly the church and MacDonald have some serious problems that need to be addressed. Some people have been deeply hurt. Some of Harvest’s actions have been morally questionable. MacDonald clearly has a troubling track record as a pastor.
As we have said in other cases of this nature, we would think an independent investigation could bring out the full truth of what has been going on there in a more healthy atmosphere than what we’re witnessing now on social media and talk radio.
We’ll continue to attempt to report the story as fairly as we can, trusting in our readers to gently, and sometimes not so gently, point out where they think we can do better.
Mark Galli is editor in chief of Christianity Today.