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High-profile Kirkland megachurch leaders accused of forcing staff to donate

Churchome in Kirkland is being sued by an employee who alleges she was threatened with termination when she couldn't afford to tithe, or donate, to the megachurch.

KIRKLAND, Wash. — Give 10% of your wages, or lose your job: that's the alleged ultimatum one Washington megachurch is being accused of imposing on their employees.

Churchome is based in Kirkland and has locations throughout western Washington and one in Los Angeles. It has ties with several celebrities, including former Seahawk Russell Wilson, who is on the church's board of directors.

Now Churchome is at the center of a lawsuit, as one employee alleges she was threatened with termination when she couldn’t afford to tithe -- or in other words -- donate some of her wages to church.

"She's David and this is the big, giant goliath," said Toby Marshall, legal counsel for the employee and plaintiff, Rachel Kellogg.

Rachel Kellogg started working at Churchome in December of 2019, first as a production assistant, then as a brand video editor, and currently as a post-production producer.

"I can sit here and talk about what it says in the literal Bible, where it's like, God loves a 'cheerful giver,' but now you're like taking out the cheerful part of it, and I've now become a fearful giver," Kellog said. "I'm giving because I'm afraid I'm gonna lose my job."

The defendants in the lawsuit, Pastors Judah and Chelsea Smith and CEO David Kroll, are named alongside the Washington nonprofit of Churchome.

Kellogg told KING 5 Tuesday that she stopped tithing after suffering financial hardships, and alleges she was called up by her superior, who she said told her, "In order for you to be on the team here at Churchome, you need to give 10%, you need to tithe. And that's really when it hit me. I was just like, 'Wow.'" 

Included in the lawsuit: alleged screenshots of Slack messages between herself and managers of Churchome. In one instance you can see an employee, Joe Goods, telling her in part, "...it is expected if you're on the team that you tithe, and if not, it does sound like that would lead to being removed from staff. No one wants that! You don't and I especially don't want that."

KING 5 reached out to Churchome for a response, and their lawyer told us, "The First Amendment protects a church's right to restrict employment to those employees who choose to abide by church teaching."

That is something Kellogg's lawyer Marshall believes is irrelevant.

"We don't think this is a First Amendment issue," Marshall said.

Rather, he is alleging that they are breaking Washington State Law RCW 49.52.050.

"It's called the Wage Rebate Act, and it essentially says that it's unlawful for an employer to collect or receive a rebate of wages," Marshall said.

Tithing, the age-old practice of donating money to a church, is typically done voluntarily.

Additionally, Kellogg alleges the practice was not included in the job posting.

Churchome told KING 5 they plan to “vigorously defend the rights of all religious institutions to live, teach, and model their faith through their employees.”

In that statement to KING 5, Churchome said it does not deduct any tithe from employees’ paychecks.

This is something Kellogg said is technically true because she claims they had employees set up automatic withdrawals from their bank accounts rather than wage deductions.

"I'm not here to be like, 'I’m looking to make a buck off Judah, Chelsea or David,' like that’s not what I’m here for," Kellogg said. "What I’m here for is just holding them accountable for what they’re not supposed to be doing, but are getting away with."

Churchome told KING 5 they do, "ask all employees to live out this faith practice of the church," adding, "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."

Marshall said he is working to get a class-action lawsuit approved. In the meantime, Kellogg is still employed with Churchome.

Churchome's lawyers stated, "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."

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