The Elephant’s Debt

Two days ago, on the 14th of June 2017, a letter purportedly written by James MacDonald was sent to the approximately 150 senior pastors that comprise the Harvest Bible Fellowship (HBF).  In that letter, James announced two significant events.  First, the local Harvest Bible Chapel of which he is the Senior Pastor would be pulling out of the Harvest Bible Fellowship.  Secondly, he, himself, would be “resigning” his role as the President of HBF.  Control of the HBF church-planting organization would be given to Interim Executive Director, Brian White and his “governance leaders,” including: Ron Zappia, Bill Borinstein, and Robbie Symons.  Sources indicate that in the immediate aftermath of James’ “resignation,” most (possibly all) of the HBF staff were subsequently terminated.

As surprising as this may be to some readers, the language used in the letter distributed to the former HBF churches suggests that this may not be a voluntary “resignation.”  In the third paragraph on the letter, James offers an awkward, rambling reminiscience of his relationship with Ron Zappia, the first and highly successful HBF church planter.  What is revealing about this non sequitur is that he begins by informing the reader of how difficult Ron Zappia became to manage as his time to plant drew near.  He also notes how difficult it was to release Ron from the “nest.”

Observation/Question: Why, amidst a purported resignation letter, is James MacDonald preoccupied with regurgitating his somewhat problematic history of Ron Zappia?

It bears noting, at this point in the discussion, that after more than a decade of identifying his church as Harvest Bible Chapel – Naperville, Mr. Zappia (and presumably his elders) recently made the decision to inexplicably re-brand their church as “Highpoint Church.”

Observation/Question:  What would compel a man to feel the need to rename his church if all was well?  Could it be that, as early as this past Easter, Mr. Zappia was beginning to lay the foundation of his break with Harvest?

One could, at this point, reasonably suggest that perhaps we are reading too much into the Zappia material.  But, various statements made throughout the rest of the letter strongly suggest that this was less than a voluntary separation.

“If desired, our church would be willing to consider membership in a reorganized entity, but that possibility might be best considered by us, after an extended time of healing.”

Observation/Question:  If this was a voluntary separation, why would the flagship of the Harvest Bible Chapel Fellowship ever not be “desired?”

Observation/Question:  Likewise, why would there ever be a need for “an extended time of healing?”

“Some of you will be looking for an inside scoop.  You will not get that from me.”

Observation/Question:  So is James implying that there is an “inside scoop?”

“I have been under the weight of intolerable oppression in seeking to gain support for the needed reorganization.”

Observation/Question: Who has the power to “intolerably oppress” the President of  this long standing organization?  What sole individual, in a college of 150 men, could possibly wield such power? 

“As I have often taught you, ‘To make you feel better about our decision, I would need to make you feel worse about others involved, and I am not willing to do that.’”

Observation/Question:  This unequivocally reveals that James has, in his own mind, an “inside scoop” on multiple people who he believes have acted “intolerably.”  Does this not reasonably suggest that there was a sufficient numbers within the fellowship that wanted James to leave?  Sufficient numbers perhaps spearheaded by Mr. Ronald Zappia?

“My prayer is that by releasing you to be led by capable men in your church planting movement, I can in time be welcomed back.”

Observation/Question: The use of the words “welcomed back” in a future context, obviously suggests that James is not welcome at present.  Hence, any attempt to spin this as a fully voluntary resignation only serves to obfuscate the matter.

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Summary Argument

If we are to take James MacDonald, Senior Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, at his word, we must believe two mutually exclusive realities to be true.  First, a sufficient number of leaders at HBF “intolerably oppressed” James MacDonald to the point where he grew “weary of doing good,” sought counseling, and voluntarily resigned from a multi-million dollar organization that he founded.  Two, we must believe, at the same time, that these men are “good men,” worthy of “your full financial, prayer and personal support.”  This is, to put it bluntly, an illogical, incoherent narrative.

So, given this, isn’t it far more likely that the “intolerably oppressive” (yet oddly “good”) men of HBF gave James MacDonald the chance to save face and “resign” from the organization he founded? 

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