Hi and welcome back! For a long time now, I’ve talked about a network of cronies operating within evangelical leadership. Disgraced ex-megapastor James MacDonald was once a member of that network in good standing. But as he’s fallen further and further into radioactive behavior, he’s alienated even his former friends. Today, let me show you what the evangelical crony network is saying (or rather, not saying) about the recent behavior of James MacDonald.
(Related posts about James MacDonald and misogyny: James MacDonald Keeps Gatekeeping Christianity; James MacDonald’s Breathtaking Misogyny; Harvest Bible Chapel Infighting; Cherchez La Femme; The Great Evangelical Husband Hunt; The Curious Case of the Undesirable Virgin; Why Evangelicals Keep Arguing About Women Pastors; First, Assume Women Aren’t People. Also: I use the term “crony” only in the colloquial sense based upon what I have personally seen of the interactions of evangelical leaders. This term is not used in any kind of legal sense. I have no idea if the network I describe in this post actually rises to such a definition and would never make that contention.)
Cronyism: They’re Just Some Good Ol’ Boys.
I’ve called it the good ol’ boy network. I began noticing it when I realized that evangelical leaders all seem hopelessly tangled up with each other’s business ventures — but none of them ever disclose any special and/or competing interests.
A bunch of big-name evangelical leaders protect their fellow big-name evangelical leaders from scandals and reputation harm. They also advance each other’s careers and talk each other up at every opportunity.
I don’t know if they’ve ever formally recognized this network for what it is, but it operates all the same in the top levels of evangelicalism. And you can see exactly who’s in this network — and who wants to be in it — by tracking what its current members say and do to benefit other evangelical leaders.
See, they don’t lift a finger unless it helps them somehow. So if they’re endorsing someone’s book, inviting someone to speak at their church-sponsored conference, vocally defending someone in the midst of a scandal, or doing anything that benefits someone else, it’s because this action ultimately helps them as well, somewhere down the line.
In turn, of course, they damned well expect the receiver of their generosity to be grateful. Gratefulness looks like receivers-of-favors giving reacharounds back to their benefactors at every possible opportunity.
As you might guess, it takes a lot for any especially-high-ranking member of the crony network to fall from grace.
But once it happens, you can detect that fall immediately. The other members agree — implicitly or explicitly — that this member is now radioactive. Further support will only tarnish all of them, perhaps permanently. Consequently, they withdraw en masse.
How to Tell When a Crony Becomes Radioactive.
Thanks to the many types of help network members give each other, it’s easy to tell when someone in it falls into radioactive status. It’s like they’re all rats fleeing a sinking ship.
Last year, we tracked that exact trajectory when we checked out the evangelical leaders endorsing the books published by disgraced ex-megapastor Mark Driscoll. When he was still riding high, he got endorsements from the biggest names in evangelicalism. By contrast, when Driscoll finally fell from grace, his post-disgrace books only got endorsements from tryhards and hopefuls.
In that same post, we saw how endorsements tracked the rise of inept apologist Lee Strobel — and they went along similar lines. I don’t think he would even have a career in apologetics in the first place if his first master, Bill Hybels, hadn’t obviously solicited his fellow network members to endorse his protege’s awful 1993 book Unchurched. And I think much the same about Sean McDowell, the inept-apologist spawn of big-name evangelical leader Josh McDowell.
However, book endorsements represent only one way to tell when an evangelical leader enters or falls out of the crony network’s good graces. You can also tell by the deafening silence of their onetime peers in the network toward their former bestie-forever-in-Christ.
When they eject someone, they stop inviting (or they disinvite) the radioactive ex-member to preach for their conferences and special church services. They stop hyping up that guy’s superior Jesus-ing.
The Deafening Silence of the Network.
That’s why Paige Patterson was so pathetically grateful to that one evangelical church that awarded him a “Defender of the Faith” plaque right after his own fall from the network’s graces.
Patterson was trying to PROVE YES PROVE that he was totally cool still. But the only people who believed him were the most toxic people in his denomination. The people he actually wanted to accept this loudspeaker message? Oh, they either ignored him or (rightly, justifiably) criticized the church involved.
Similarly, I’ve seen absolutely nobody in the established evangelical network defending James MacDonald. On his ministry website, I see no endorsements from anybody at all, much less from his former pals. His posts are still up at Christian Post, but the latest is from December 2018. I see no favorable coverage about him there or at Christianity Today. Since he got disinvited from a 2019 conference, I’ve not heard about him guest speaking anywhere else that matters.
Nor have I noticed any big-name evangelicals interacting with him on social media. He rants endlessly about Julie Roys on Twitter, but his likes and retweets all seem to come from people I’ve never even heard of before.
Yeah. Jesus might forgive almost all sins, but the evangelical crony network never does. And it never forgets, either.
Hey, Y’all Remember Ed Stetzer? I Bet James MacDonald Sure Does.
Way, way back when, James MacDonald was one of the big-name evangelical leaders in his network who helped Ed Stetzer become one of their made men.
No, Ed Stetzer did not just spring out of the forehead of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) as a big-name leader. Like them all, he had to start somewhere. Oh yeah, he networked his li’l heart out! He played ball with his superiors!
It might therefore be inevitable that Ed Stetzer’s rise to power tangled up in James MacDonald’s business operation, Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC).
As we learned from Wartburg Watch in April 2019, an HBC church plant named Highpoint Church hired Ed Stetzer as a teaching pastor. There or thereabouts, Stetzer seems to have made fast friends with James MacDonald. MacDonald even gave him an actual whole-ass $13k vintage VW Beetle as a prezzie.
Worse, MacDonald didn’t even use his own money for that car. Instead, he used ministry funds. And apparently Stetzer never asked about it, not till the HBC financial scandals came to light. Then, professing shock and dismay, he fully reimbursed HBC.
So you see, James MacDonald liked to treat his pals in the network. And I am completely sure that James MacDonald expected some (hopefully) metaphorical reacharounds for his efforts.
(BTW: If Ed Stetzer ever wonders why his religion is in decline, he need look no further than these hypocritical, frivolous uses of huge amounts of cash that he and his pals seem to enjoy wasting so much.)
The Crony Underling Rebels.
Once upon a time, Ed Stetzer fully supported James MacDonald to the hilt. As just one example, he and his Highpoint Church employer, Ron Zappia, both contributed glowing blurbs to MacDonald’s 2012 book Vertical Church. So did a Who’s Who of upper-level crony network members (many now disgraced).
At the time, 2012 Ed Stetzer must have been just button-popping proud to be in that list. (See endnote.)
Then, in 2016, Stetzer wrote an impassioned plea in Christianity Today about rejecting Donald Trump and Trumpism. It included generous quotes from a long-gone MacDonald blog post. Those quotes earned Stetzer’s highest praise.
In fact, Stetzer wrote three other highly-positive stories about MacDonald and HBC. These stories involved church-planting (2016), a testimony video HBC made (2016), and another about church planting (2017).
As far as I can tell, Stetzer has always followed the time-honored custom in the crony network not to disclose his exact affiliation with HBC or James MacDonald.
Indeed, you’ll never see anybody in the crony network ever do that. Those attending their conferences or buying and reading their books need to believe that these associations are just magic. Oh yeah, they form out of the sheer power of their coalescing Jesus Auras.
But as we just saw in Beetle-Gate, 2019 Ed Stetzer refused to prop up his onetime master and crony network pal this time.
And the Crony Master Lashes Out.
Did Stetzer refuse because just a couple months previously, James MacDonald had savagely dissed him during an interview with Mancow Muller? In that link, Julie Roys tells us how that went down:
[James] MacDonald also makes vulgar references to Harold Smith and Ed Stetzer, CT contributing editor and the executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. He also allegedly insults CT, calling it a “. . . pipe-organ protecting, musty, mild smell of urine, blue hair Methodist loving, mainline dying, women preacher championing, emerging church adoring, almost good with all gays, and closet Palestine promoting Christianity” magazine.
And in turn, did Jame MacDonald talk like that because maybe Ed Stetzer hadn’t supported him earlier, when the financial and legal scandals of HBC blew wide open? Because Christianity Today offered up a whole lot of coverage about those scandals, and I’ve repeatedly heard that MacDonald was absolutely furious about all of it.
Was MacDonald also angry that his onetime network associate, who often contributed to Christianity Today and worked there even then, apparently said and did nothing to stop that coverage?
From where I’m sitting, it sure seems so. I’ve no doubt James MacDonald saw that coverage as the gravest imaginable betrayal — one from a former lackey of his, no less, and someone he’d given considerable career help and expensive presents.
A Onetime Crony Spawns a New Hopeful.
The latest news about James MacDonald indicates that his son, Luke, has just launched his own brand-new evangelical church. He and his brother used to work for HBC.
I don’t think anybody was really impressed with him there. Indeed, he ended up leaving their HBC sinecures under non-ideal terms right after HBC fired his dad (along with his brother).
Last year, by the way, Julie Roys warned that “former Harvest members” had told her that Luke is an absolutely bizarre and predatory weirdo. One guy, Alex George, said that during a job interview with Luke MacDonald, Luke MacDonald started urinating into a cup held under his desk.
“I asked him, ‘Are you peeing in that cup?’ To which he said, ‘Yeah,’ pretty nonchalantly, and moved on as if it wasn’t an issue,” George recounted.
George said MacDonald then put the cup of urine on his desk and commented that he could make George do anything he wanted. George rejected that assertion. As a result, he not only didn’t get the job, but he also soon got fired from his part-time job there!
Nor was this the only time Luke MacDonald has apparently forced other men to listen to him urinating in public. The story gets worse than that, even, running along sadly predictable lines.
All the same, Luke MacDonald has hung out his shingle to start a new church. The circle of evangelical gravy-train riding has begun anew. Indeed, it must, because what else can these celebrity pastors’ kids do?
It’s Tough to Be Alone.
However, Luke MacDonald is starting this venture without the help of his dad’s former crony network. Both men are now out of the club. I mean, I wouldn’t even know he’d started his own church if I hadn’t been searching for current news about his dad.
(One wonders if Luke’s totally jelly of Sean McDowell and the other celebrity preachers’ kids!)
Indeed, I suspect that if James MacDonald writes any more books, he’ll find selling them a little harder without that network. He sure won’t bag any big endorsements from J.D. Greear and Ed Stetzer. Nor will the booksellers that support the evangelical crony network sell his books. When his Mancow Muller hot-mic scandal broke, LifeWay removed all of his books from their website.
He’s been selling his books on his site lately, and of course Amazon still sells them. He’ll be okay. Largely, LifeWay’s slap is more symbolic than anything else. But oh, what a symbol.
What I don’t expect to happen is for the evangelical crony network to embrace James MacDonald ever again. His behavior has been nothing short of reprehensible, and he’s outright attacked other network members.
No, there’ll be no “restoration” farce in James MacDonald’s future. I hope his “online church” business makes him the money he needs, because his former friends have abandoned him.
NEXT UP: The proud evangelical tradition of swiping other pastors’ sermon notes is alive and well, I see. Let’s check out the latest big-name example of it and ask why it keeps happening. See you tomorrow!
I just thought this was funny about those endorsements: As I looked at the names in this star-studded endorsement list, I wondered how James MacDonald had ordered them. See, the first couple of pages go by status. Bill Hybels leads, because of course he does. Then Mark Driscoll, because in 2012 he was still the 600-pound gorilla in evangelical leadership. Then Matt Chandler and Rick Warren, huge names despite their scandals and strange behavior.
Yes, I recognize every name in those first two pages of endorsement blurbs. But then we get to page 3 and suddenly everyone’s in alphabetical order — by their first names. I recognize many of these: Bryan Loritts, Carl Lentz, Ed Stetzer, and of course, J.D. Greear, who was still not a big name at all in 2012. I even recognize the name of Jonathan Falwell, Jerry Falwell Jr.’s pastor brother. But I sure don’t recognize them all.
This very odd way to arrange endorsers’ names really caught my attention. So now I’m presenting my findings to you, so we all know. (Back to the post!)
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