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Read this Blistering Open Letter to James MacDonald

News Division

Pulpit & Pen has been threatened to be sued hundreds of times. Greg Locke, Clayton Jennings, Jonathan Cahn, Perry Noble, and many more, have threatened to sue us and, in some cases, sent us cease-and-desist letters, which we ignore (or post them online, because they’re funny).

P&P has ruined careers by doing nothing but basic journalism, finding a niche in religious news reporting in a world where Christian media rarely publish hard-hitting, independent and investigative reporting. This occasionally makes famous Christian celebrites (or institutions) really, really angry.

Why have we never been sued, however? It’s very simple. When you sue someone for libel, then the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to demonstrate that your accusations are false (and for civil litigation, usually that they were intentionally false with intent to harm, an almost impossible hill to climb). Because of this, in order to make a proper defense, the defendant (the journalists in this scenario) have the right to make the discovery of evidence and are given the power to subpoena witnesses.

The power of discovery and subpoena in a libel lawsuit would turn any decent journalist into the absolute worst nightmare for a scoundrel with something to hide. In short, if the scoundrel thought the journalist was bad before, just wait until they can have the subpoena power and start dragging out evidence – on the record – in a court of law.

On certain occasions, Pulpit & Pen has hoped that we would be sued in order to have access to information we didn’t previously have, assured that the court process would allow us unprecedented access to the truth.

However, of all the charlatan careers we have destroyed, not a single person has had an attorney who thought it was a good idea to sue us even though the tangible financial costs have exceeded tens of millions of dollars. In short, there just hasn’t been someone dumb enough to try to sue us for exercising our First Amendment right of truth-telling.

The only time we have seen anyone, perhaps drunk on their own perceived invincibility caused by insulation within their influence bubble, sue anyone for truth-telling speech is Ergun Caner’s lawsuit of two bloggers, which were dismissed with extreme prejudice and he had to pay attorney fees. The judges in those two cases very evidently thought Caner was out-of-his-mind for even thinking his lawsuit could be successful.

The lawsuit from James MacDonald against Julie Roys and a few bloggers (and their wives) caught my attention, then. It is rare – extremely rare – for someone to attempt what MacDonald attempted. It is rare because it is so stupid. What MacDonald and Caner both have in common is within their own little empires, they were unconquerable and unquestionable. The delusion married to that mirage of power apparently left both men with the impression that the secular courts would support their attempt to silence the press. Both men were wrong.

MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel asked that records of discovery be sealed and the judge gave the predictable equivalent of “Lol, no.” Even though they claimed to have nothing to hide, with the prospect of their transgressions becoming public, MacDonald and his church dropped their lawsuit.

So then, the blog that became the legal target of silence and intimidation on the part of MacDonald, The Elephant’s Debt, ran a stinging open letter to MacDonald after he and Harvest Bible Church decided to drop the lawsuit. We wanted to share it as a warning to any other “Christian” leader who thinks they can use the American courts against the press.

From The Elephant’s Debt

Dear James MacDonald and Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel:

Last night, on the 7th of January, you announced to the congregation and to the broader, watching evangelical community that you intended to drop the lawsuit that you have collectively brought against Julie Roys, the authors of this blog and the authors’ wives.   In that statement, you said:

We remain willing to meet with the defendants for a face-to-face resolution of grievances, and we covet [the congregations’] prayers.

Please allow us to begin by stating that we are relieved that you may be returning to a path of wisdom as opposed to pursuing a path of folly by dropping this lawsuit that you filed against the five defendants in this case.  This is a good and necessary first step towards your stated goal of a “face-to-face resolution of grievances.”

However, as you, James, have so often taught in the past, resolution and reconciliation means far more than merely offering words.  It requires concrete acts of repentance that demonstrate the fruit of the spirit and the sincerity of the words beings offered.  To that end, we would like to suggest a small series of public – not private – acts that you could take that would genuinely help move your audience to honestly reassess your character and motivations.

  1. Contact your friends at Christianity Today and secure space in their upcoming publication for at least one more op-ed.  In this op-ed, you will publicly confess to the fact that you consistently lied to your congregation, regularly asserting that you were suing three defendants.  You need to further admit that at every opportunity you had to speak about this lawsuit publicly, you failed to acknowledge that you had sued Sarah Bryant and Melinda Mahoney, our two respective wives.  Setting aside, for a moment, whether you were on “biblical” grounds to sue us for what we had written, you know as well as we do that you had neither the “biblical” nor the legal grounds to sue these women.  Your collective decision as the elders and pastor of this church to include these two women in the lawsuit testifies to only one thing: you sought to bring fear and chaos into our families in the hopes of silencing your critics.  And neither the Bible nor the law allows you to use people in this manner.  So you will apologize for suing them, for lying to your congregation repeatedly and for lying to the broader evangelical community. 
  2. In the same op-ed that we have encouraged you to write above, you will admit that you have lied about three of the defendants in this lawsuit.  Julie Roys has outlined for you her particular concerns which you can read about on her blog.  As for the authors of this blog, you have lied about us in different ways. In the complaint you filed in Cook County court, you have publicly asserted that Scott Bryant became “divisive after being declined a teaching opportunity that he repeatedly pursued.”  As you well know, Scott never pursued an official position at Harvest as he was gainfully employed in a field he loved.  As to Ryan Mahoney, your public statements are even more egregious.  You have stated that Ryan was “disciplined on three separate occasions while he was a teacher at Harvest Christian Academy for negating James S. MacDonald’s sermons.”  Moreover, you stated that in 2010, these disciplinary actions “resulted in the decision not to renew his teaching contract, at which time he immediately ceased church attendance and began circulating false and discrediting information” about MacDonald.   First, Ryan Mahoney was never disciplined for any reason at any time during his four year tenure at Harvest Christian Academy (HCA).  Second, Ryan and his family left HBC in the spring of 2010 very quietly and continued to teach at HCA the following year while attending other local churches in the area.  It was your decision to require that all teachers become members of HBC in order to remain employed by the school that forced the Mahoney family to reject your two separate contract offers in 2011.  So here is what you need to do.  You need to admit that you lied about these matters and apologize to all three defendants; and you need to mail a unadulterated copy of Ryan Mahoney’s employment file from HCA to his attorney’s office by the end of January 2019. 
  3. You need to recognize the fact that you have cost five defendants time, money and consternation.  In addition to that, we have been forced to reach out to a larger audience asking them to help us as we sought to pay our legal bills during this unnecessarily damaging lawsuit.  Therefore, you will need to publicly announce that you are going to pay our legal fees for any and all bills pertaining to this suit (and to the Allstate coverage suit) that we submit to you; and that this payment will be rendered in full within 30 days of receiving each bill that is sent to you.  The funds that you reimburse us will be used to repay our generous donors who stood beside us throughout this affair.

As we said above, this is a reasonable first step in the process of beginning to prove your collective sincerity as you seek to once again reassure your congregation that you desire a “resolution of grievances.”  This should not, however, be read as an exhaustive list.  But barring these public acts of contrition, please understand that your words will not be received as anything other than another cynical ploy to manage your public image.

   Scott Bryant
   Ryan Mahoney

[Editor’s Note: HT The Elephant’s Debt]