ELGIN, Ill. (WLS) -- James MacDonald, the charismatic leader of Harvest Bible Chapel for the last 30 years, is out.
MacDonald was fired Tuesday by church elders following several months of public revelations, indicating a pattern of abusive behavior towards subordinates, and extensive financial mismanagement. Church officials said they are $42 million in debt.
"Most of the elders did not know the extent of the debt. And you have to ask yourself, why is he looking to so aggressively build this empire if this is not an exercise in ego?" said former church member Ryan Mahoney.
One of five people sued for defamation by the Church's leadership last Fall, Mahoney's family was one of the original members of Harvest Bible Church. In recent years, he's been among those trying to expose MacDonald as unfit. Ironically, it was the lawsuit that led to previously undisclosed information coming to light that prompted the church's elders to take action.
First, they placed MacDonald on what was called an "indefinite sabbatical" last month. Then, they fired him Tuesday following the broadcast of what a statement says were "highly inappropriate recorded comments" on WLS radio's "The Mancow Show."
Eric "Mancow" Muller, himself a former church member, said he'd become disillusioned with MacDonald.
"This is not an easy day. This is not a day of rejoicing and celebration. It's sad. It's sad that it took this long and this much effort to do the right thing," Mahoney said.
Founded in Rolling Meadows in 1988, MacDonald grew the church into a 12,000 strong congregation that now includes 9 campuses across the city and suburbs, and one in Naples, Florida. Its sermons are presented live at churches, on simulcasts, satellite radio and social media.
A statement published on its website on behalf of church elders today said: "This decision was made with heavy hearts and much time spent in earnest prayer, followed by input from various trusted outside advisors."
MacDonald's two sons sit on the Church's executive leadership board. It's unclear whether they will remain there. The church promised followers to provide additional clarity during this weekend's sermons.