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Kirkland church forcing employees to tithe 10% of salary, lawsuit underway

Mar 30, 2023, 5:26 AM | Updated: Apr 13, 2023, 10:07 am

churchome...

Churchome (KIRO 7)

(KIRO 7)

An employee of Kirkland-based Churchome was told her job was in jeopardy if she failed to tithe — or donate 10% of her earnings back to the church. Tithing, the age-old practice of donating money to a church, is typically done voluntarily. 

The employee filed a lawsuit with the King County Superior Court last week. 

Churchome has over 300,000 people watching sermons weekly online, on the church’s smartphone app, or attending in person. It has multiple locations in western Washington (in addition to one in Los Angeles) and is connected to multiple high-profile celebrities. Former Seahawk Russell Wilson is listed as a member of the board of directors. 

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Rachel Kellogg has been working for Churchome since December 2019 and is currently a post-production producer. According to the lawsuit, she claims she was unaware that tithing was mandatory when she was hired, and that it was not included in the job posting.  

“I’ll be very honest: People have already been transitioned and moved on and fired because they were not tithing,” Churchome pastor Judah Smith told employees during a virtual staff meeting, according to Kellogg.

The suit alleged Smith emphasized that tithing was a condition of employment at Churchome. Furthermore, Kellogg claimed Smith used the Bible to urge employees to “sell their possessions and belongings” rather than failing to pay tithes. 

Afraid of losing her job, Kellogg said she set up automatic withdrawals from her bank account to meet the 10% threshold. However, after being involved in a serious car accident that August, Kellogg experienced a strain on her finances.

“Because of the unforeseen financial burdens related to the car accident, Ms. Kellogg could not afford to continue rebating 10% of her earnings back to her employer, so she stopped tithing in or around December 2020,” the complaint read. 

It was at that point that her superiors at work increasingly began to pressure her, according to Eric Nusser, an attorney representing Kellogg. In November 2021, Kellogg was warned in a telephone meeting by Churchome’s then‐Chief Creative Officer Wes Halliburton, “that she needed to begin tithing the required 10% of her wages back to Churchome every month.”

Nusser said Kellogg also “got a formal written reprimand by her immediate supervisor that stated she is not following the tithing policy.”  

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Several of the alleged messages from multiple Churchome officials to Kellogg over a period of time warn of further disciplinary action and possible termination if she was unable to meet the 10% tithing amount.

“This message was reiterated multiple times before and after the reprimand, as recently as March of this year,” Nusser said.  

When Kellogg reiterated her financial difficulties to Content Director Joe Goods earlier this month. He reportedly responded by telling her he’d once sold his house in order to avoid violating the church tithing requirement.  

Goods informed Kellogg that the church would increase tithing audits to every six months to ensure that employees were compliant.

“Mr. Goods further suggested that other Churchome employees were also being reprimanded for not tithing, saying the ‘executive team is going through this with everyone that’s having these talks and giving more clear direction on expectations,’ ” the complaint continued. 

Additionally, the suit claimed Goods suggested that if Kellogg didn’t start paying up, she could be “removed from staff.” Part of the alleged message to her read, “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.”  

“For many years, Churchome’s Statement of Faith and employee handbook have included a statement on tithing,” Churchome said in a statement to KIRO Newsradio when asked for comment. “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 10% of their income to Churchome in accordance with this faith practice.” 

However, Nusser said Churchome’s policy violated Washington state’s Wage Rebate Act and Consumer Protection Act.

“Whether the employer takes it out of the paycheck as a line-item deduction or gives you the money first and then asks for 10% of it back, the outcome is still the same,” Nusser said. “It still is a de facto deduction of a person’s wages that they did not consent to, other than they have to pay it if they want to keep their job.” 

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“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,” Churchome responded in a prepared statement. 

Kellogg, who works remotely and is based in South Carolina, is still employed by Churchome as of this reporting.

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Kirkland church forcing employees to tithe 10% of salary, lawsuit underway