Now That We Know

Ignorance is bliss – until you’re no longer ignorant.

I walk into a patient’s room. The chart says it’s a 3 year old girl with a rash. I check the rash and notice a bruise in an unusual area. I try to ignore the bruise since, after all, the family came in for the rash. The little girl is precocious, though, and can’t help oversharing. “My father likes to kiss my booboo away” she says. She doesn’t understand the significance of what she just told me.

But now I know. I am fully aware of the bomb this little girl has dropped in my lap.

I am no longer an ignorant bystander and my knowing changes everything.

I now have to decide: will I be an ally to the little girl, or will I ignore her statement by awkwardly laughing it off? Will I simply try to explain it away?

Mind you, she’s only 3. What do little 3 year-old little girls know about kisses and booboos? Her mother acts like she didn’t hear. I almost convince myself that I didn’t hear the girl’s statement correctly. But I know deep in my heart, I know what I’ve heard, and I know that it’s true.

I am a mandated reporter of child abuse. I am a pediatric Emergency room physician. I look for signs of abuse. I listen and watch and never assume the best or the worst about anyone or anything. But I am called and have vowed to be an advocate for children. I will do whatever needs to be done, so help me God, to stop any pain wrongly inflicted on a child. Or an adolescent. Or any man or woman who has been wrongly touched, abused, or hurt in any way.

It’s my job to know. It’s my privilege to know. It’s my duty to report.

Up until now that privilege and duty was restricted to a few professionals: school teachers, counselors, doctors, social workers etc. Sunday school teachers were exempt. Pastors were exempt. Friends and family were exempt. Which means that if you weren’t looking for signs of abuse, you didn’t think about it, you didn’t look for it, you didn’t see the world with the filter of the reality of abuse.

Up until now, ignorance was bliss.

And then the Catholic Church scandal of abuse broke out. How could such a cover up last for so long? Why didn’t anyone believe the children? And then the US gymnastic team scandal broke out. We watched in horrified agony as women stated to have reported the abuse, only to be ignored by the very professionals that should have protected them. This year the Southern Baptists are facing their own dirty secrets.

We no longer live in a world blissfully ignorant. And thank God for that.

Now that we know, we must decide. Will we believe the 3 year-old girl who tells us that daddy kissed her booboo away in a place he should almost never touch? Will we believe the many who have voiced their pain, much to their shame and embarrassment?

Now that we know, we must decide. What kind of people will we be?

Will we give victims the benefit of the doubt, or will we assume the best about the abusers?

Now that we know, will we seek justice where it’s needed and protect the weak?

Now that we know we must decide how we will live going forward.

Now that we know, our knowing changes everything.

Why I Left Harvest Bible Chapel

So many people have recently asked me why I left Harvest Bible Chapel when I did.

I attended Harvest Bible Chapel for over 8 years and served as the Women’s Ministry Director at the Rolling Meadows campus for three of those years (that’s the flagship original campus by the way). I left the church 4 years ago, the week after 3 elders were publicly ex-communicated on a cheap home made movie not worthy of one wasted second of the worship service.

By then there were so many small things that weren’t so small and added up to big things that could have explained my leaving, but to me, that video was the tipping point.

Mind you, I didn’t simply walk out. The day I watched the video, I emailed my campus pastor and asked for an explanation. I was brushed off. I then called an elder who was a friend and someone I trusted. He did the same. So I called one of the elders in the video and got his side of the story. I am ashamed to say that after being a member at Harvest for 8 years, that was the first real conversation I had had with an elder about the state of affairs of the church at that time.

A year or so before leaving Harvest I had written a blog post about holiness in which I had referenced the growing fad of tattoos in our culture. I hadn’t realized that James had gotten a tattoo that week. My blog had indirectly undermined James. As a result, I was asked to meet with the elders, pull the blog piece and write a new one that James would first approve. James ended up sending me a copy of the new approved blog post, and out of fear, I complied. I didn’t want to be rebellious against authority. I also managed to write an apology to James for the pain I had caused him. I regret staying at Harvest after that meeting with the elders. I should have left that week, but I was too afraid to cause damage to Jesus and His kingdom and the women I was leading at that time.

By the time I left, I had discovered something dark about myself: I was a woman ruled by fear. I didn’t want to upset James. I didn’t want to risk any negative impacts on my own growing ministry. My first two books were scheduled to be released smack in the middle of that summer, and I didn’t want to impact their potential – not to mention that James had agreed to write the forward on my first book. Still, even I knew when enough was enough.

There is no question in my mind that what I did see and experience increasingly at Harvest was a culture that functioned and was sustained by fear and the desire to please James at any cost. The higher the leadership level was, the more protective of James they were. I was counted as one of the privileged ones and considered it a great honor to know James personally and even be considered as part of his inner circle at that time.

The more I think about the demise of Harvest Bible Chapel and James MacDonald, the more I believe that fear is the cancer at the root of it all – specifically the fear of James MacDonald. I did not fear God as much as I feared James and longed for his approval.

Until recently, I thought I had escaped my fear by leaving Harvest, but I was still afraid. Perhaps my fear had its legitimate reasons. I still had friends on the inside that I longed to remain friends with. With my life and schedule, my friends are few and far between, and have always been aware that my saying anything publicly about Harvest or James would jeopardize those friendships that I still love and value so much.

After leaving Harvest no one from the church reached out to me to see how I was doing, to ask why I left. Were they afraid? Were they unaware of what was happening behind the scenes? Did they not find that video shocking? Yet their silence hurt me and sometimes made me question the validity of my reasons for leaving. I wondered where God was in the narrative. I kept thinking people would wake up and see the truth and understand that my leaving was not a betrayal to James but a stance against his leadership style, and the leadership style of the XLT, and James’ sons, and most of the remaining elders.

I was wrong in hindsight. Leaving without speaking up was still an act of cowardice and self-preservation.

I regret my own weaknesses, my love for the approval of others. But as every Christian knows, we walk and we live by grace. Christ’s grace saves us and sustains us.

I have wondered if Harvest Bible Chapel (the organization) is worth the cost it’s taken to try and save it? Will James not wake up and realize that the Church of Jesus Christ is not the organization or nonprofits we create, but the men and women that God calls and saves by the sacrifice of His Son? We are the Church! When the Church becomes the organization instead of the people, then it ceases to be the Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ is not the organization or nonprofits we create, but the men and women that God calls and saves by the sacrifice of His Son. We are the Church! When the Church becomes the organization instead of the people, then it ceases to be the Church. 

Many might wonder why it all still matters to me so much. I have since moved on and seen God do some pretty amazing God-sized miracles in my life and ministry (evidently, God does work outside of the walls of Harvest Bible Chapel!).

Yet a week ago I posted on FB an invitation to open my house to anyone who needed to talk about their pain as it related to what was happening at Harvest. That night changed me. While only a handful showed up, the range of their pain was wide. Some women were still in the middle of the trauma and were still currently attending Harvest. Others had old wounds that had resurfaced and were hurting, having never felt closure to their stories. For years, they had been made to feel like the outcasts, but finally vindication in its godly form was working its way out. And still some came because their loved ones and spouses have abandoned the faith completely and now refuse to go to church – and they long to understand why.

While regret can’t look back, we now live in a different era than we did four years ago. God is purifying His Church. Hidden things have come to light. Christ followers are saying enough. We won’t let fear overcome the freedom we’ve been given in Christ. And I won’t stand in the way of Christ’s work.

The current leadership at Harvest Bible Chapel including Luke and Landon and Rick and Mo and Jeff and the CFO are infected by the cancer of fear and control. This cancer must be excised and as often as is the case in cancer treatment, months of treatment must be involved for health to take place. While I have no say in the future of Harvest, it is ridiculous to think that any healthy future can take place until the cancer is removed.

We are taught in God’s Word that it is Christ’s love that ought to control us. I pray that moving forward, His love will control me no matter the consequences. I pray that no stench of fear be found in any space occupied by Christ’s love.

The confidence I hang on to today is that whether I am approved or critiqued for this opinion, it is Christ’s love that will catch me and his arms that will continue to sustain me when I close my eyes at the end of each new day.

Grace and Peace.