By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service
For six years, two bloggers at a website called The Elephant’s Debt have raised questions about an influential evangelical pastor and his Chicago-area megachurch, criticizing his leadership style and the church’s finances.
Now, claiming that reputation-harming “false information” published by the bloggers caused 2,000 people to leave the congregation, pastor James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel are fighting back — with a defamation lawsuit.
The suit names the bloggers, their wives and a freelance reporter writing about the church for a major evangelical magazine.
“We are indeed living in an age of rage, fueled by ‘fake news’ where the presumption of innocence has almost universally given way to the presumption of guilt,” MacDonald wrote recently in explaining the lawsuit to the church’s friends, including its 12,000 attendees at seven locations in Illinois.
“No more sitting by doing nothing while digital attackers ravage the body of Christ,” the pastor added later in the online statement. Through a public relations firm, MacDonald declined an interview request from Religion News Service.
In a number of posts over the years, bloggers Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant have cited what they characterize as the “low character,” “greed” and “love of money and power” of MacDonald, founding and senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, which is based in Rolling Meadows, Ill. Mahoney is a former teacher at the church-affiliated Harvest Christian Academy. Bryant is a former Harvest Bible Chapel member.
The church disputes the way the bloggers have characterized MacDonald and their allegations about the church’s finances. The lawsuit claims Mahoney left the church after his Harvest Christian Academy contract was not renewed because of his criticism of MacDonald’s sermons. Bryant, the lawsuit claims, left “after being declined a teaching opportunity he repeatedly pursued.”
Mahoney and Bryant declined an interview request from RNS, citing the advice of counsel. They have defended their blogging on their site.
Religion News Service is a national wire service whose media partners include The Associated Press, USA Today and the Washington Post.