Judah Smith and his West Coast megachurch, Churchome, are facing a class-action lawsuit for requiring staff to tithe 10% of their wages—a policy that violates two Washington state laws, the suit claims.
The suit was filed Tuesday in King County Superior Court in the state of Washington on behalf of Rachel Kellogg, a post-production producer at Churchome. Also included in the suit are any church employees who contributed part of their wages to Churchome during the relevant time period, unless they opt out, said Eric Nusser, attorney for the plaintiffs.
Named as defendants in the suit are Churchome; its pastors, Judah and Chelsea Smith; and its CEO David Kroll.
According to the suit, Churchome threatened Kellogg with termination if she didn’t give 10% of her wages back to the church, despite Kellogg’s claim of financial hardship. The alleged actions are consistent with Churchome’s company-wide policy of compulsory tithing, which is outlined in the church’s employee handbook, attached to the filing.
The policy violates Washington’s Wage Rebate Act, which prohibits employers from collecting a “rebate of any part of wages” from an employee, the suit claims. The suit also alleges that the policy violates Washington’s Consumer Protection Act, banning unfair “acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce.”
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“Together, these Defendants have engaged in a systemic scheme of wage and hour abuse against their employees, including the requirement that all employees rebate ten percent of their gross earned wages back to Defendants in the form of tithes on a monthly basis or face actual or threatened pressure, discipline, or termination,” the suit states.
Some churches consider tithing 10% of one’s income a biblical standard for giving. However, a Barna survey last September found that only one in three pastors believe the traditional 10% tithe should be the standard. About 20% said congregants should give a “sacrificial” amount. And another 20% said the standard should be “as much as they are willing.”
TRR reached out to Churchome for comment about the lawsuit, but the church did not respond.
The lawsuit seeks to recover “compensatory” damages equal to the amount employees paid in tithe over the past three to four years, as well as “exemplary” damages. Exemplary damages are twice the amount paid according to the Wage Rebate Act, Nusser told The Roys Report (TRR). But under the Consumer Protection Act, exemplary damages are triple the amount paid, he said. (The time period of three to four years is based on the respective statute of limitations for each law.)
According to Frank Sommerville, an attorney and CPA with 40 years of experience in cases involving employment law and religious organizations, lawsuits involving compulsory tithing are rare but not unprecedented.
Sommerville cited a 1987 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right of a Mormon church to fire an employee who refused to tithe. However, that suit was based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Sommerville said, not a state law like the Churchome suit.
Sommerville added that in his entire career, he’s only come across two to three churches that required tithing other than the Mormon Church. Those churches were evangelical churches, Sommerville said.
Potential recovery amounts in this case could be large. Churchome currently has 80 to 100 employees, Nusser said. But the church recently trimmed staff after closing several Churchome campuses and moving more to an online format. So, the number of employees eligible to recover losses in the case could be “substantially higher,” Nusser said.
Churchome was one of several churches recently named as participants in a so-called “celebrity preacher’s scam” involving the global megachurch Hillsong. According to whistleblower documents, Churchome paid $100,000 annually to be included in the “Hillsong Family,” which enabled its celebrity pastors to receive large honorariums for preaching at the megachurches of other celebrity pastors.
Churchome also recently came under fire for re-hiring a former campus pastor after a third-party investigation found a “preponderance of evidence” that the pastor had raped a woman.
Tithing “more important than taking communion”
According to the suit, Churchome hired Kellogg in 2019 as a production assistant. But in Churchome’s job posting, application process, and orientation, the church never mentioned that employees are required to rebate 10% of their gross wages to the church, the suit claims.
Yet, in a staff videoconference in April 2020, Churchome Lead Pastor Judah Smith “reminded” employees of Churchome’s policy requiring employees to tithe 10%, the suit said. Nusser told TRR that his firm has audio of that videoconference, but has not yet decided whether to release it.
During the meeting, Smith said, “I’ll be very honest: people have already been transitioned and moved on and fired because they were not tithing,” the suit claimed. Smith also reportedly asserted that tithing 10% was a “black and white” issue and “more important than taking communion.”
Smith also used Scripture to imply that employees should “sell their ‘possessions and belongings’ rather than fail to rebate ten percent of their paychecks back to Churchome,” the suit said.
After that videoconference, Kellogg was afraid she’d be fired for not tithing, so she arranged for 10% of her wages to be automatically withdrawn from her checking account, the suit says.
But about four months later, Kellogg reportedly got in a serious car accident, which totaled her car and left her with serious injuries. Kellogg bought a new car with higher payments. She also had to “cover several up-front medical costs,” the suit said.
As a result, Kellogg reportedly stopped tithing in December 2020 and didn’t tithe for all of 2021. In July of 2021, Kellogg lost her rental home and was forced to lease another home with “substantially greater” rent, increasing her financial strain.
In November 2021, Churchome’s Chief Creative Officer Wes Halliburton spoke with Kellogg and told her she needed to resume tithing, the suit says. In follow-up messages attached to the filing, Halliburton wrote, “Im (sic) not sure if you have started giving since our last conversation, but that needs to happen asap.”
Kellogg responded that she planned to resume giving in January. But she added “it likely won’t be a full 10% to start, but I’ll be doing my best to work my way up as time goes on and my finances become a little more stable.”
On January 18, 2022, Kellogg received a written reprimand from her supervisor, Video Production Manager Ben Sorte, for failing to tithe 10%.
“Your conduct regarding company policy on Tithing has not been met over a period of time and has created a pattern that is in direct violation of the referenced company policy,” Sorte wrote. “. . . It is my expectation that you get in rhythm with our company policy on tithing. While I understand the complexities of finances, this is an expectation for all Churchome employees and you need to correct this pattern immediately.”
Sorte added that “continued incidents of this nature . . . may result in additional, more serious disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”
About a year later, Kellogg reportedly met with Joe Goods, Churchome’s content director, about tithing. Kellogg told Goods she couldn’t afford to give 10% to the church, the suit stated. Goods then reportedly told Kellogg that when he had financial difficulty, he chose to sell his house rather than stop tithing.
Earlier this month, Goods sent a message to Kellogg, telling her that the Churchome executive team expected her to start giving a full tithe to the church within four weeks. When Kellogg asked what would happen if she couldn’t meet that expectation, Goods asked if she needed six weeks. But he added that not complying “would lead to being removed from staff.”
The suit states that Kellogg knows of at least two former Churchome employees who were fired for not tithing. Despite this, the church continues to not disclose the tithing requirement in its advertisements for job offerings.
Attorney Nusser told TRR that any former or current Churchome employees who who have had experiences similar to Kellogg’s are welcome to contact his law firm, Terrell Marshall Law Group. Any information shared would remain 100% confidential unless the person directs otherwise, Nusser said.
Kellogg v. Churchome Complaint filed March 21, 2023Kellogg v Churchome Complaint with Appendices
Julie Roys is a veteran investigative reporter and founder of The Roys Report. She also previously hosted a national talk show on the Moody Radio Network, called Up for Debate, and has worked as a TV reporter for a CBS affiliate. Her articles have appeared in numerous periodicals.
65 thoughts on “Judah Smith’s Megachurch Faces Lawsuit for Forcing Staff to Tithe 10% of Wages”
This is so incredible it’s hard to even know where to start. The apostle Paul would have had scathing words for these greedy false shepherds, enriching themselves by preying on the sheep so they can prance around on stage with expensive designer clothes and lip fillers. Nonetheless, the point of giving in the New Testament was for fellow believers in need. That’s it. No expensive building rentals, sound systems, and pastors salaries. So when this poor women was in financial trouble, the “tithes” of the other employees should have gone to her to help her out! What a shame on the name of Christ these evil people are.
Judah wants his staff to be blessed! And Malachi 3:10 agrees with him
Marlene, I would challenge you to read Malachi 3:6-15 and then read this article again. It puts verse 10 in it’s full perspective and points out a lot of the points people are posting about in response to this article.
2 Corinthians 9:7 says giving should not be “under compulsion.”
Judah seems to want material things. He and others at “SmithCorp Industries™” have proved it is not the well being and needs of their minions.
Regarding tithing. It’s been done away with since the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Context clearly shows that Malachi 3:10 addresses the disobedience of the Priests under the Old Covenant. Thankfully we are under the New and Better Covent in Christ’s blood.
Please do not rely on what a (so called) pastor or anyone else tells you if it is counter to a correct knowledge of the bible.
Buncha fake shepherds and ravenous wolves
Bible says believers are not to take brothers to court
However , these are wolves in the pulpit so that nullifies the command !
Also Malachi was not addressed to the sheep but rather to the SHEPHERDS!
The text starts with Oh ye SHEPHERDS ! That were ROBBING GOD!
A church that receives MILLIONS in tithes in offerings being unwilling to show up for their own employee in her time of need and going as far to demand more of her financially speaks louder about their priorities than any sermon preached on giving from the pulpit.
Take a look at their Audited Financial Statements containing data from 2019, 2020 and 2021 (linked to the visually appealing annual reports they post on their website each year). I find it interesting that the “tithes and offerings” amounts have dropped by almost half since this “requirement” was put in place. It’s also curious that their personnel costs have steadily increased despite “financially necessary” layoffs and staff members like Rachel struggling to survive let alone tithe when unexpected calamity hits. For reference, most churches spend about 50% of their annual budgets on personnel. bit.ly/3lVq6Z3 bit.ly/40rWQbi
I’m curious to see how this lawsuit turns out and the impact it will have on the church in America.
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