Celebrity-endorsed megachurch accused of violating Washington consumer and wage acts in lawsuit
SEATTLE - A video editor for Churchome is suing the megachurch and its top leaders for allegedly forcing staff to give 10% of wages back to the church.
Churchome is headquartered in Kirkland, Washington and according to its most recent annual report, has more than 300,000 people attending its online and in-person services, with high-profile followers like Justin Bieber and former Seattle Seahawk Russell Wilson, who is listed as a board member.
Rachel Kellogg filed the lawsuit in King County Superior Court last week. In it, she accuses Churchome and leaders Judah Smith, his wife Chelsea Smith and David Kroll of setting policies and practices such as tithing, which she says she was pressured to do or lose her job.
Tithing is the act of giving 10% of one's income to a church. Kellogg says there was no mention of tithing in her job posting when she applied and she didn't learn of the company-wide policy at Churchome until a video conference call in April 2020 with then lead pastor Judah Smith.
"Where [Judah Smith} said you know, if you're not tithing, you will get fired," said Kellogg.
The filing claims Smith also quote Bible scripture, implying employees should sell their "possessions and belongings" rather than not tithe to Churchome.
After this meeting, Kellogg says she did tithe regularly until a car accident in August 2020.
"Unfortunately the other driver was underinsured, and I had to pay a lot of stuff out of pocket," said Kellogg.
A year later, Kellogg tells Fox 13 Seattle that she received a call from Churchome Chief Creative Officer Wes Halliburton who pressured her over the phone and through Churchome's Slack channel to begin tithing again.
"There was just a lot of bullying that happened over the next year or so," said Kellogg.
Kellogg's lawsuit includes a written reprimand for not tithing and Kellogg says she's not the only one who has faced pressure to tithe to Churchome.
"I know probably 2 or 3 people that have been fired for not tithing and I know several people on staff who have been talked to for not tithing in a similar way that I have," said Kellogg.
Kellogg is represented by Seattle-based Terrell Marshall Law Group, who says more people have come forward.
"This is a class action lawsuit, this covers not only Ms. Kellogg's experiences but any current or former employee of Churchome who has had to work under these policies," said Eric Nusser, attorney for Terrell Marshall Law Group.
The lawsuit accuses Churchome of violating Washington's Consumer Protection Act and Wage Rebate Act.
As of Tuesday night, a lawyer for Churchome sent this statement to Fox 13 Seattle in response:
"For many years, Churchome’s Statement of Faith and employee handbook have included a statement on tithing. Churchome believes the Bible teaches that all Christians should tithe, and that tithing is the worshipful act of paying the first ten percent of our income to God, given in an attitude of faith and in response to what Jesus has already given us. Churchome does not deduct any tithe from employees’ paychecks, but does ask all employees to live out this faith practice of the church. Pastors Judah and Chelsea Smith, CEO David Kroll, and other Churchome employees give at least ten percent of their income to Churchome in accordance with this faith practice. The First Amendment protects a church’s right to restrict employment to those employees who choose to abide by church teaching. Churchome intends to vigorously defend the rights of all religious institutions to live, teach, and model their faith through their employees."
Kellogg's lawsuit is fighting to recover wages lost to Churchome's alleged forced tithing practices.
"What I want is to just hold those leaders accountable," said Kellogg. "There's been a lot of wrongdoing for a lot of employees there over the years and it's been frustrating to watch and frustrating to hear."