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Mancow: Speaking My Truth to Harvest Bible Chapel’s Pastor James

Cherie Vandermillen

Daily Herald Editor’s Note:

WLS radio personality Mancow Muller of Wilmette has attended Harvest Bible Chapel since 2014 and been friends since 2016 with founding pastor James MacDonald, a nationally known church leader and preacher. Muller has been outspoken in recent weeks about the controversy at the suburban network of megachurches that led to MacDonald suing critics for defamation and then withdrawing the suit when it became clear he would have to reveal internal documents about the church. The episode led to MacDonald taking what he calls a “sabbatical” to reflect in Naples, Florida, where Harvest has a church. The quotations pulled out within Muller’s essay below were selected by Muller himself.

[Daily Herald]”Do you worship Jesus Christ or James MacDonald?” I asked someone yelling at me over the phone this past Sunday after I dared go to Harvest church again.

Dumbstruck to silence. Nothing. “Exactly,” I said, “you can’t answer me.” The phone went dead.

Last time I checked, the Bible says Jesus is the “author and finisher of our faith” and that should be our focus — not Pastor James MacDonald.

“For it is time for Judgment to begin with God’s household …”

1 Peter 4:17

MacDonald’s books line my shelves. His CDs are scattered about my car. I have only one Bible, but so much James MacDonald.

Two of my recent vacations have been with him, including one halcyon day where he baptized me in the Jordan River in the Holy Land of Israel.

At Harvest Bible Chapel, with its network of seven Chicago-area campuses run by MacDonald, I was but one of the many thousands seeking Christ. I wanted my twin daughters and my formerly Catholic wife to have a real, living and current relationship with Jesus Christ just as I have.

Dressed in a weathered black leather jacket covering his hulking frame, snow-white Van Dyke beard and gleaming bald dome, MacDonald makes for a striking figure at the pulpit. His Bible-based sermons are some of the most entertaining you’ll hear. You leave one of his services on a Sunday jazzed and revved up for the week ahead.

His preaching is good for the soul and good for the community.

Big questions are asked and answered at Harvest. Is there a God? Do I matter? What happens after we die? Everyone says the same thing when they witness his command of the altar. “What a gift he has!” But gifts are easy to abuse, easy to take for granted.

It’s taxing to be a pastor, I’d imagine. Everybody watching your every move, your private life always on view. But that’s just the way it is when you accept the yoke of ministry. It’s why I’ve never pursued my lifelong dream of Bible thumping live.

Let me be clear: Wanting to do something isn’t the same as having “the calling” from God. I believe Pastor James had a calling. It’s also why he was fascinated with me. I’m able to talk about anything and everything, and my performances don’t come from one source. It must be a challenge and frustrating to him to be giving basically the same message endlessly. And maybe that’s why he’s just playing videotapes of his sermons more and more rather than preaching live these days.

But while I traffic in trivia and kitsch, he is answering the most important question on earth: Why are we here?

As a man with a reputation dating back to the 1990s as the wild man of Chicago radio, I expect people to be weary of the spirit-filled side of me. I get it. I also don’t care. Jesus of Nazareth hung with an assortment of fringe characters, so why couldn’t Pastor James MacDonald be my friend? We had many wonderful times. I love the guy. He’s got a brilliant mind and a sense of humor that is world-caliber. He remembers everything.

His advice put me “on the sunny side” and kept me on the right path more than once.

But he also created THIS: a culture of authoritarianism, secrecy, intimidation, outlandish fundraising expectations, poor financial controls and debt.

He taught me forgiveness, trust, being authentic and taking a stand for what’s right. Some of those around him remind me of Wormtongue in the Tolkien novels — telling him whatever sweet half-truths he wishes to hear.

“Iron sharpens iron,” as it says in Proverbs 27:17. Real men tell their Christian brethren like it is; we “act like men.” So here goes!

I have prayed and sought higher counsel in writing this. I believe Pastor James MacDonald would urge me to write this.

Sometimes it’s impossible to separate the man from his ministry. Like the two faces of Janus, he is a man of great complexities. Unfortunately, he and his caldron of yes men have lost their way. Nobody can put on the brakes now. Nobody but Pastor himself.

He has it set up so only Pastor James can fire Pastor James. That’s the law of the church! Only he can fire himself. How sick is that?

It was cultlike when Pastor James and elders instructed us to not listen to “outside noise” (meaning no news or blogs criticizing Pastor). And I didn’t.

[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Mancow Muller and originally published at the Daily Herald]