Is James MacDonald the Next Jim Bakker? Allegations of Secret Budget Grow as Pastor Prepares Comeback

Bakker served five years in prison for fraud.

(Update: Due to new information becoming available, the latter section of this article has been revised. New additions are in bold text.

During an interview with investigative reporter Julie Roys, attorney Chris Nudo denied filing registration papers for James MacDonald’s new non-profit organization. Nudo’s name was used without his consent. Roys contacted the Illinois Secretary of State office and learned that attorney Tom Winters filed the registration papers. 

Manny Bucur tweeted,  “Tom Winters called Chris Nudo this afternoon to apologize to him for putting him down as the registered agent for that entity. Apparently, James told him to do it that way. It is being removed.”)

What do spies and televangelists have in common? Financial secrecy. Taxpayers and donors have little access to relevant financial information about their operations.

But there are whistleblowers and bloggers willing to reveal financial secrets. Edward Snowden leaked documents showing that $52.6 billion funded 16 intelligence agencies in 2013.

Journalist Julie Roys recently broke the news story of pastor James MacDonald’s extravagant compensation from Harvest Bible Chapel: “In 2018, Harvest reportedly paid MacDonald $80,000 per month ($50,000/month in regular salary and $30,000/month in deferred compensation) for a total of $960,000 per year.”

Even more troubling was the existence of secret church budget: “This budget reportedly comprised about 20-percent of Harvest’s total budget and was kept secret from all but top church staff and the former elder executive committee.”

Thirty years ago, a jury convicted televangelist Jim Bakker of mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy after learning that he too, operated with a secret budget.

In his investigative book Forgiven: The Rise and Fall of Jim Bakker and the PTL Ministry, reporter Charles Shepard writes, “Former PTL vice president Steve Nelson alleged that Bakker had ordered him to keep two sets of lifetime partner tallies—one accurate count for Bakker, a second, lower tally for public display during telethons.” (page 564)

“Keeping two sets of books” is a fraudulent activity the IRS investigates.

Did MacDonald and key church officials operate with two sets of books? Could he be prosecuted like Jim Bakker? What would the IRS find if it performed a criminal investigation, rather than an audit?


While deliberately avoiding the press, the pulpit and social media, MacDonald has begun preparing for a comeback, or so it would seem, based on records from the Illinois Secretary of State.

On March 13th HBC attorney Christopher Nudo attorney Tom Winters registered the new non-profit organization “Walk in the Word With Dr James MacDonald.”

This filing raises more questions for Christians concerned with accountability and transparency. Did Nudo register the new ministry with the approval of HBC elders or was it filed directly on behalf of MacDonald? If there are future legal conflicts between HBC and MacDonald, who will Nudo represent?

Could MacDonald’s future comeback result in litigation with HBC?

One such conflict might be over copyright ownership of MacDonald’s sermons.

Roys reports, “Harvest’s executive committee signed an agreement with MacDonald in 2015, granting MacDonald not just rights to Walk in the Word sermons, but to all the ministry’s multi-million-dollar assets, as well.”

But there is a disagreement among board members whether the agreement was approved by the board or if it required board approval rather than the church’s executive committee.

Meanwhile, some Christians object to such business arrangements. Ole Anthony, the well-known critic of televangelists, has said, “When did the intellectual property, when did the preaching and the Bible notes and the books become intellectual property for the pastor? That’s the property of the church.”