Harvest Bible Chapel sues critics

The Harvest Bible Chapel was founded in 1988 in Rolling Meadows and has since expanded. There are now several locations including Aurora, Elgin and Chicago. The church was founded by James MacDonald, who is now suing Julie Roys, Ryan and Melinda Mahoney and Sarah and Scott Bryant, who have criticized his church, for defamation.

Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant have been publishing their opinions of the church on a website called The Elephant’s Debt. The website has criticized “the church’s finances and borrowing; changes to the governing structure of the church, including how much authority rests with MacDonald; and the excommunication of three elders, among other topics,” says the Daily Herald.

According to the complaint issued to Cook County by the Harvest Bible Chapel, Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant met at the church after Mahoney had spoken against the church for denying him a “teaching opportunity.” It states that the pair left the church and originally “began publishing negative and defamatory information,” about the Harvest Bible Chapel on a personal website called Blood Stained Ink, which has now been made private, before The Elephant’s Debt was launched in 2012.

MacDonald is also suing Melinda Mahoney and Sarah Bryant, wives of Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant respectively, who are not contributors to the website. The Harvest Bible Chapel justifies this action on the grounds that the women help fund the site. According to The Elephant’s Debt, however, the Harvest Bible Chapel has continually referred to suing three defendants, leaving their wives out of the discussion, which they believe could be an indicator that the church is “embarrassed by the fact that they are suing the wives of the authors who wrote The Elephant’s Debt.”.

James MacDonald is suing through the Illinois Deceptive Trade Practices Act which “prohibits false and fraudulent advertisements,” and allows “a private person” to“bring an action for damages caused by the deceptive trade practice(s) of another.” According to the Daily Herald, MacDonald claims that The Elephant’s Debt is harassing the church and painting the chapel in a “false light.”

In response to the accusations, Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant wrote, “we are confident that the legal process will ultimately uphold the values of the first amendment right to freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of the press, all of which are essential to safeguarding the values of the Protestant Reformation and our common life.”

Julie Roys is an independent evangelical journalist who runs a blog and free-lances for Christian magazines. In response to criticism stating that the lawsuit was enacted in order to suppress a story that Roys was intending to publish, a document on the Harvest Bible website claimed that the issue is “her lack of objectivity.” It continued on to say that “her attempts to stir up gossip, sow discord, inflame old animosities, and confront sensitive matters with specific church families in order to discredit the church led [Harvest Bible] to include her in the lawsuit.”

According to the Cook County record of the Harvest Bible Chapel’s complaint, the church claimed that Roys “works extensively and in mutual partnership” with Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant. In the past, Roys allegedly attempted to get MacDonald’s “Walk in the Word” radio program taken off the air. In response, the church canceled her planned appearance at a women’s event in 2017.

Roys is requesting that the prosecution provide adequate documentation of their concerns, along with other items such as their tax returns, so she can defend herself in court.  

The court denied a temporary restraining order requested by the church in October. They returned to court on Thursday, Dec. 1. The case has not moved forward and is projected to continue into January.