For a long time Mancow ran the 18-35 demographic in Chicago. As a legitimate pre-internet pop culture personality, calling him a Big Deal would be an understatement. From the mid 90’s to mid 2000’s he ran the #1 morning show in the city while earning a national syndication well before Sirius XM made that a thing. Some of his segments were outstanding:
Christopher Walken Theater: A staff member performing an over-the-top, satirical impression of actor Christopher Walken reads lines from a movie, and then has callers try to guess the movie.
Drunk Chick Friday: Muller invites a group of (supposedly) attractive women to visit the studio on Friday mornings, who then become highly intoxicated and obnoxious as the show progresses.
They want our jobs, but they suck: Clips from other radio shows that are really bad in comparison
Vintage Video Game: A track is played off a retro video game system (such as Arcade, Sega Genesis, or Nintendo) and callers must try to guess the name of the video game
Skid Theater: The staff pays homeless Chicagoans to act out scenes from movies, and then holds a contest for listeners to name the movie.
Death Psychic: A fake psychic would come on the air, and claim to predict how people die.
It was the wild west before the internet revolution and for a long time it was outstanding. Granted, he had his criticisms and certainly did some questionable stuff. But generally he was the toast of the town as edgy Generation X radio goes. And then one day it just kind of went away I guess. I’m not going to pretend like I was in the studio conference room when it happened but my understanding is executives wanted to go one way, Mancow another and ultimately he got bumped out. His relevance has naturally stumbled since, which brings us to today’s story.
Mancow is somehow responsible for blowing the doors off a decades long scandal at one of America’s largest churches. The story goes from being a Hey Remember Mancow? to Holy Shit That’s Fucked Up! status quickly as most things involving tens of millions of dollars and diabolical child-porn blackmail/extortion tend to do…
Slate – The Rev. James MacDonald founded Harvest Bible Chapel in a Chicago suburb in the late 1980s, and over the years his profile grew in tandem with the church’s. Harvest expanded to multiple campuses that drew 12,000 people to weekly services and became one of the 50 largest churches in America. Meanwhile, its critics say, the church amassed millions in debt while the motorcycle-riding MacDonald lived large and treated his perceived enemies ruthlessly.
Generally this story arc is not new: (1) Egomaniac Builds Church (2) Egomaniac sells Eternal Salvation, (3) Egomaniac profits tremendously. I’ve seen it a thousand times.
Questions about MacDonald’s leadership had been swirling for years. Problems were first raised in 2012 by two former church members who documented the church’s complicated finances on their blog, and accused it of accruing $44 million in debts.
Other disgruntled ex-leaders and members later began speaking publicly about their experiences. Then a freelance journalist named Julie Roys began investigating the story in earnest last year. MacDonald and the church responded by suing the two bloggers, their wives, and Roys for defamation last fall. The church dropped the suit in January after a court ruled that documents in the case could be made public.
Usually dropping a lawsuit because you want documents to remain private is a red flag. Usually. In this case I’m sure it was just a matter of not disclosing trade secrets or whatever mumbo jumbo they’re cooking up at Harvest Bible Chapel.
All of that was before Mancow Muller, who has been a fixture in Chicago since the 1990s, started speaking out. Muller has a reputation as “the wild man of Chicago radio,” known for stunts like taping himself being waterboarded. Muller had also attended MacDonald’s church since 2014. The two local celebrities became close, and Muller admired the older pastor. They traveled together and spent time together outside of church. On a trip to Israel last year, Muller says that MacDonald baptized him in the Jordan River.
This is where it gets real hairy for me because Mancow literally built a name for calling out bullshit. Usually when you’re that kind of natural authority, you don’t get fleeced. You get your identity stolen. But then again that’s the power of religion – one of the few things that can make you feel decent about yourself no matter how dumb/crazy/regretful your behavior may be. Even so it looks like MacDonald made the Kool Aid a little too strong:
Muller said he grew suspicious of MacDonald when, he claims, the pastor asked him to donate $3 million to the church.
Muller also recalled that MacDonald suggested he buy a house in Florida for Muller’s retirement and then leave that house to the church.
Muller said he’d grown suspicious, too, of MacDonald’s handling of the lawsuit against his critics last year, and of the way the pastor discouraged his followers from reading anything negative about the church.
He broke with MacDonald publicly last month in a scathing op-ed in a local newspaper, in which he accused MacDonald of fostering “a culture of authoritarianism, secrecy, intimidation, outlandish fundraising expectations, poor financial controls and debt.” Muller described the atmosphere at Harvest as “cult-like,” and he urged parishioners to stop donating money to the church.
Mancow made his first public comments on everything here. At the time it seemed like a petty debate Mancow probably didn’t need to drag through local media and generally just not worth public press. But that idea changed very quickly when Mancow got more involved:
In February, Muller escalated his crusade by airing clips on his show that seemed to capture MacDonald privately insulting his perceived enemies in terms that would be shocking to his followers—though not, perhaps, to Muller’s own listeners.
The voice in the clips refers to the idea of planting child pornography on the computer of Christianity Today CEO Harold Smith in retaliation for the magazine’s coverage of him. It calls the magazine’s editor in chief, Mark Galli, a “certifiable prick,” and jokes that Galli and Julie Roys had an affair. It calls the magazine an “Anglican, pseudo-dignity, high church, symphony-adoring, pipe organ-protecting, musty, mild smell of urine, blue-haired Methodist-loving, mainline-dying, women preacher-championing, emerging church-adoring, almost good with all gays and closet Palestine-promoting Christianity.”
Take a deep breath big fella
The next day, the church’s leadership board fired MacDonald “for engaging in conduct that the Elders believe is contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church.”
This sounds like a bad M Night Shyamalan movie made for Lifetime TV.
In a statement posted to the church’s website, the all-male elder board wrote that they had been considering MacDonald’s removal for some time, but the “highly inappropriate” tapes on Muller’s show accelerated the decision.
Imagine seeking internal salvation and turning to this group of guys
For now, the church MacDonald built is in chaos. His two sons resigned from their jobs at the church last week. Church members are calling for the resignation of another senior pastor, plus all of the church’s elders. Headlines about MacDonald’s disgrace dominate Christian media outlets. Muller tweeted that his former friendship with MacDonald could make a great movie someday: “The so-called ‘shock jock’ that found out that this mega church spiritual leader was a demonic fraud.”
I can’t wait to call someone a demonic fraud first chance I get. Probably going to be White Sox Dave just because and it’s going to feel great.
Anyways, wild shit all around. As a born and raised south side Irish Catholic I just assume all these big young cool hip churches are scams. I know I’m wrong. They’re not all scams. But the instinct inside of me just scoffs. Or maybe that’s institutionalized superiority rearing its ugly head? I’m not sure. I just know what they’re selling and what I’m buying are two different things.
PS – Imagine asking someone for $3,000,000. Good God the balls to make that ask. Simply astounding.