(RNS) — Former Chicago area megachurch pastor James MacDonald has been charged with two felonies for allegedly assaulting a woman during a dispute over parking.
MacDonald, who was fired from Harvest Bible Chapel in 2019 and later disqualified from ministry for what church leaders called a “substantial pattern of sinful behavior,” was arrested in Coronado, California, on March 22.
According to details of the incident posted on social media by the Coronado Police Department, MacDonald, 62, was parking his truck when he hit a vehicle in an adjacent spot. When a 59-year-old woman got out of the other vehicle, MacDonald allegedly “jumped out of his truck and attacked the victim,” according to police.
Witnesses came to the woman’s aid and she was taken to the hospital.
A gun was found in MacDonald’s truck.
The former pastor was not identified by name in the initial post by Coronado police, but a police spokesperson later confirmed to the Roys Report, a Christian website, that MacDonald was the suspect in the incident.
Tanya Sierra, assistant director of communications for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, told Religion News Service in an email that MacDonald was arraigned on March 29 and pleaded not guilty. He faces a June 14 readiness hearing before a July 6 preliminary hearing.
MacDonald has been charged with “assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury” and battery with serious bodily injury, according to a complaint filed in the Superior Court of California for the County of San Diego. If convicted, he could face up to seven years in prison.
Defense attorney Michael Pancer, who represents MacDonald, said in a statement that MacDonald “has never, nor would ever, intentionally harm another human being.”
“The charges as written are not accurate as to what took place,” Pancer said in the statement. “We believe the evidence will show Dr. MacDonald’s intent and conduct was neither malicious nor correctly assigned, in the charges filed.”
MacDonald was once pastor of what had been one of the largest churches in the Chicago area and the voice of Walk in the Word, a broadcast Harvest shut down in 2019. His final years at the church were marked by a series of controversies over finances and conflicts, much of them fueled by his confrontational leadership style.
During those controversies, Harvest sued Julie Roys, founder of the Roys Report, and a pair of bloggers who were critical of the church. The church later apologized for the lawsuit.
Since leaving the church, MacDonald has run an online preaching ministry and has appeared as a guest preacher. He has also devoted much of his Twitter feed, where he has more than a quarter of a million followers, to an ongoing legal battle with Harvest and a forensic accountant the church hired to review church finances. MacDonald has argued that church leaders and the accountant conspired against him and defamed him.
In 2019, Harvest elders said they were thankful for MacDonald’s 30 years of ministry and that he could be returned to ministry in the future if he goes through a restoration process.
“We have communicated to James that he needs to find a small group of godly brothers to restore him biblically in the spirit of gentleness. He needs an extended period of time away from ministry in order to focus on repentance and to seek relational reconciliation and restitution where it is possible,” they said in a 2019 statement that ruled MacDonald unfit for ministry. “We are all in need of God’s grace, and we have implored James to humble himself and fully surrender to the Lord.”