From one controversial pastor to another: Meet Judah Smith, the Churchome leader Justin Bieber has turned to after parting ways with Carl Lentz, and whose church hired someone accused of rape and was sued for forcing staff to donate 10 per cent of wages
- Justin, 29, was spotted grabbing dinner with Judah, 45, over the weekend
- FEMAIL took a look into their friendship – and Judah’s scandalous past
- His church hired someone accused of rape and was sued by a past employee
When Hillsong leader Carl Lentz was kicked out of the church after it was brought to light that he had been unfaithful to his wife, it was a scandal that shocked more than just worshippers.
The pastor, who co-founded Hillsong in 2010, had not only transformed his religious group into a massive celebrity-loved megachurch, but he had also become a star in his own right along the way, gaining hundreds of thousands of followers on social media and mingling with some of Hollywood’s most elite, including Justin Bieber, who once referred to him as his ‘second father.’
But Carl’s elite status was quickly ripped away from him after his tumultuous affair was brought to light in 2020. Justin, 29, distanced himself from Carl amid the fallout, and confirmed he was no longer a part of Hillsong months later – and the rest of his celebrity pals quickly followed suit.
Three years after the explosive scandal, it now looks like Justin has found a new pastor as he and his wife, Hailey Bieber, were seen getting dinner with Churchome leader Judah Smith in Los Angeles over the weekend – but the 45-year-old has had his own fair share of controversies.
Three years after cutting ties with Carl Lentz, it now looks like Justin has found a new pastor as he and his wife, Hailey Bieber, were seen getting dinner with Churchome leader Judah Smith
Carl (seen with Justin in 2017) transformed Hillsong into a massive celebrity-loved megachurch. But he was kicked out in 2020 after he admitted to cheating on his wife
Similarly to Carl, Judah has slowly integrated himself into Hollywood, turning what was once a small, Seattle-based church passed down to him by his father into a massive organization beloved by a slew of stars.
Judah has long strived to push the boundaries on ‘organized religion’ and ‘question’ some of the old-fashioned ‘customs and traditions’ that he realized were ‘not essential for a life of faith.’
He proudly caters to ‘Gen Z and millennials,’ and was one of the first to bring his church services online through his massively popular app.
His innovative views and his continuously-growing connection to the rich and famous are favorable with the younger generations, and has earned Churchome an immense following both in person and online.
Similarly to Carl, Judah (seen with Justin) has turned his organization, Churchome, into a massive organization beloved by a slew of stars – but he has had his own fair share of controversies
But also like Carl, Judah does not have a squeaky clean reputation. He was once accused of homophobia after he made a series of eyebrow-raising comments in which he said he believed that being gay was a ‘sin’ that’s on the same level as ‘rape and murder.’
His church has also been slammed for hiring someone that was previously accused of rape, and the organization once faced an allegation of protecting abusers by a woman who claimed she was encouraged not to go to the police when she was sexually assaulted by a church intern.
One Churchome employee is also in the midst of suing the organization after she claimed she and other staffers were forced to donate 10 per cent of their wages back to the church or they’d face termination.
With Judah and Churchome’s long list of controversies and ongoing legal woes, Judah seems like an odd choice for Justin to be turning to after cutting ties with disgraced pastor Carl.
But it turns out, Judah and Justin’s bond goes back long before the singer was even famous, as his mom was a huge fan of Judah’s teachings and would even play them for Justin when he was a kid.
As Justin and Judah are spotted dining together, FEMAIL dug into the duo’s friendship, as well as Judah’s scandalous past.
Take a look into the preacher’s journey and uncover how he turned his dad’s church into a multi-million dollar phenomenon.
How it all began: Judah’s dad started Churchome when he was a teen, and when he took over in 2009, he became determined to push the boundaries of ‘organized religion’
Judah, who grew up in Seattle, Washington, knew he wanted to be a pastor from a young age, since he ‘came from a long line of preachers.’ He’s seen as a kid with his parents and sister
Judah, who grew up in Seattle, Washington, knew he wanted to be a pastor from a young age, since he ‘came from a long line of preachers.’
His dad, Wendell Smith, founded Churchome more than three decades ago in 1992, originally calling it The City Church.
His dad, Wendell Smith founded Churchome in 1992, originally calling it The City Church. It started with just over 20 members and by the time Wendell passed it down to Judah in 2009, it was up to around 7,000 members. Judah is seen as a kid with his dad
According to Marie Claire, it started with just over 20 members and by the time Wendell passed it down to Judah in 2009, it was up to about 7,000 members.
But when Judah took over, he told Daily Beast in 2019 that he realized the way that his dad was running things was no longer ‘sustainable.’
He became determined to push the boundaries of ‘organized religion’ and ‘question’ some of the old-fashioned ‘customs and traditions’ that he realized were ‘not essential for a life of faith.’
For years, Judah continued on what his dad had started, but he knew he wanted to do more.
His wife, Chelsea – who he married in 1999 and has co-lead the church with him since his dad stepped down – then suggested they head to Los Angeles to try to get through to the stars, an idea that came to her after she ‘had an epiphany’ while reading a gossip magazine on the toilet and realizing that ‘celebrities could benefit’ from their teachings.
‘I felt such a deep sense of compassion. It was a moment of feeling the heartbreak and the pain [celebrities feel] of achieving your dreams and realizing that you’re still empty and the unique type of hopelessness that that is,’ she recalled to Marie Claire.
When Judah (seen with his dad) took over, he realized the way that his dad was running things was no longer ‘sustainable’ and he wanted to push the boundaries of ‘organized religion’
His wife, Chelsea – who he married in 1999 and has co-lead the church with him since his dad stepped down – then suggested they head to Los Angeles to try to get through to the stars
The couple moved to California, and Judah started by holding ‘small gatherings’ at one of his friends’ homes.
That friend told all his pals about the meetings, who told all of theirs, and thanks to word of mouth, the intimate sessions soon got so big that Judah realized his guests could no longer fit in that space.
He then moved the sermons to the Montage Beverly Hills, but the attendee number continued to grow – and eventually, they couldn’t fit in there either, so he upgraded again to the Saban Theater.
By 2019, Churchome was described as ‘one of the most influential Christian congregations in Hollywood,’ and had expanded to five different locations across Washington and California, getting more than 10,000 attendees each week alone and raking in millions of dollars in profit.
His decade-long friendship with Justin Bieber: The singer’s mom was a big fan of Judah’s and turned to him after he became famous because she felt he ‘needed some good influence in his life’
As Judah was building his Churchome empire, he caught the attention of Justin’s mom, Pattie Mallette. Judah and Justin are seen together
So how did Judah transform Churchome into a small Seattle-based congregation with a few thousand members into a massive phenomenon attended by some of the biggest celebrities in Hollywood?
Years later, when his career started to take off, Pattie reached out to Judah and his wife and asked if they’d like to come see him in concert
His connection to Justin certainly helped – something he formed long before the Love Yourself crooner became a megastar.
As Judah was building his Churchome empire, he caught the attention of a young single mom named Pattie Mallette.
In 1999, Pattie took her then-eight-year-old son to see Judah speak at an event in Toronto. And that little boy would grow up to be one of the biggest singers on the globe.
Pattie purchased some recordings of Judah speaking on cassette tapes, and it’s been said she would play them for Justin ‘every night’ before he went to bed.
Years later, when his career started to take off, Pattie reached out to Judah and his wife and asked if they’d like to come see him in concert.
‘I don’t know if you’ve heard of my son,’ Chelsea recalled Pattie saying to them during their chat with Marie Claire. ‘But he needs some good influences in his life. Would you come?’
Judah and Justin hit it off immediately, and they have been ‘brothers’ ever since. And it turns out, it was actually Judah who put the singer in contact with Carl
In 2017, the two got matching tattoos that said, ‘Better at 70,’ and when Justin tied the knot with Hailey Bieber a year after that, Judah was the one to officiate the wedding
Judah told Daily Beast of the nuptials, ‘It was awesome. It was one of the most special days of my life’
Judah and Justin hit it off immediately, and they have been ‘brothers’ ever since. And it turns out, it was actually Judah who put the singer in contact with Carl.
Former Hillsong leader Carl wrote in his 2017 memoir, Own the Moment, ‘I met Justin through Judah.
‘He called me one day and said, “I’m working with this young guy, Justin Bieber. His mom used to play my preaching to him as a kid. He’s a really awesome young man. I think you can help me support him.”‘
While Justin became a prominent Hillsong member in the early 2010s, he stayed extremely close with Judah over the years.
In 2017, the two got matching tattoos that said, ‘Better at 70,’ and when Justin tied the knot with Hailey Bieber a year after that, Judah was the one to officiate the wedding.
Judah told Daily Beast of the nuptials, ‘It was awesome. It was one of the most special days of my life.’
Judah only grew closer to the hitmaker after his falling out with Carl. In 2021, Judah was featured on Justin’s song Where You Go I Follow
Throughout 2021, Justin made numerous appearances at Churchome’s sermons (seen)
‘Justin has got the biggest heart in the whole world, he forgives very easily, [and] he believes the best very readily,’ he added of the star in the 2019 interview. ‘[We] talk all the time and pray a lot and think a lot together.’
In 2020, Carl and Justin had a massive falling out after the now-disgraced pastor was ex-communicated from the church amid reports that he had been unfaithful to his wife, Laura.
And Judah only grew even closer to the hitmaker after that. Throughout 2021, Justin made numerous appearances at Churchome’s sermons – and Judah was featured on Justin’s song Where You Go I Follow that same year.
Most recently, they were seen grabbing dinner together with their respective wives in Los Angeles over the weekend.
Using his bond with Justin to turn Churchome into a phenomenon: The organization has gained an immense following – including a slew of other stars – and its popularity has turned Judah into a star himself
Whether it was his friendship with Justin or his innovative take on religion, Judah has turned Churchome into an organization that now reaches hundreds of thousands of people. The pair are pictured together in 2015
Whether it was his friendship with Justin or his modern and innovative take on religion, Judah has turned Churchome into a celebrity-loved organization that now reaches hundreds of thousands of people.
Over the last two decades since Judah took over, it has gained an immense following and has caught the attention of a slew of other stars, like Kourtney Kardashian, Larsa Pippen, Ciara and her husband, Russell Wilson, and Selena Gomez. Judah is seen preaching
Over the last two decades since Judah took over, it has gained an immense following and has caught the attention of a slew of other stars, like Kourtney Kardashian, Larsa Pippen, Ciara and her husband, Russell Wilson, and Selena Gomez.
It was even revealed in 2017 that Amazon wanted to make a reality show about Judah and his religious group, but it fell through in the end.
And in 2019, Churchome became one of the first religious groups to create its own app app.
The platform offers ‘weekly church services, daily guided prayers,’ a way to ‘chat’ with pastors and other members, and ‘even more encouraging content – all available in the palm of your hand and with you wherever you are on the go,’ according to the description on Churchome’s website.
Earlier this year, it was reported that more than 300,000 people were using the app to tune into its sermons every week.
Thanks to Churchome’s success, Judah himself has become a star in his own right, racking up more than 706,000 followers on his Instagram, where he often shares clips of himself preaching.
Thanks to Churchome’s success, Judah himself has become a star in his own right, racking up more than 706,000 followers on his Instagram
He lives in a $2.5 million mansion in California with his wife and their three kids Zion, 19, Eliott, 17, and Gracie, 14
Earlier this year, singer Lana Del Rey included a track on her latest album, entitled Judah Smith Interlude, which contained a four-and-a-half minute recording from one of his sermons.
As for its earnings, Marie Claire reported that Churchome had a total revenue of $20 million for 2018.
It added that Judah ‘does not disclose’ his ‘income to the church,’ but it’s likely the preacher-turned-social media star has made a hefty fortune from his work with Churchome – since he lives a pretty lavish lifestyle.
He often jets back and forth from LA to Seattle, and he was able to purchase a $2.5 million mansion in California in 2016, which he described as ‘an investment in Churchome’s future.’
He shares the 2,806-square-foot, four-bedroom home with his wife and their three kids: Zion, 19; Eliott, 17; and Gracie, 14.
Controversial past: Judah made a series of eyebrow-raising comments over the years – and he once called being gay a ‘sin’ that he believed fell under ‘the same’ category as ‘murder and rape’
While Judah (seen with Justin) has proved himself as a savvy businessman and is to thank for Churchome’s success, he has faced a slew of controversies along the way
While Judah has proved himself as a savvy businessman and is to thank for Churchome’s success, he has faced a slew of controversies and has made a series of eyebrow-raising comments along the way.
Back in 2005, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer published an opinion piece about Judah after he held a ‘religious rally’ at the University of Washington.
In 2005, he called homosexuality as a ‘ sin’ that he believed fell under ‘the same’ category as ‘murder, rape, or living with your girlfriend’
The guest columnist described the ‘supremacist presentations’ as ‘hateful, racist and demeaning to non-Christians.’
At the time, Judah shared his views on abortion with the publication, and he described it as ‘[murdering] innocent lives in the womb of our women.’
He also called homosexuality a ‘sin’ that he believed fell under ‘the same’ category as ‘murder, rape, or living with your girlfriend.’
When asked about his past quotes by The Daily Beast in 2019, Judah said he wanted to refrain from sharing his thoughts on those ‘topics,’ but added that he did believe life began at conception.
‘Those are topics that I think are very important, but I wonder sometimes if we are approaching them with people in mind, or policies in mind,’ he stated.
‘I’d love to err on the people-minded side. I’d just much rather build bridges than walls.’
Marie Claire also pressed Judah on the comments in its interview with him, and he said, ‘We have grown significantly in the past 15 years.
‘I wouldn’t agree with my approach when I was a young pastor on many issues and understand that no life decision is easy.
‘We hope to be a loving home for humanity, no matter what someone has experienced.
‘We are a church who love and welcome people regardless of their beliefs or background.
‘We are very much in the category of “We love everybody. God is for everybody. And God’s heart is for people.”‘
Churchome has had its fair share of scandals: The church re-hired someone who was previously fired amid allegations of rape and was accused of protecting abusers by another woman
In February, Churchome faced severe scrutiny when it was reported that it had re-hired someone named Braylon Oliver (seen) who was previously fired amid allegations of rape
In February, Churchome faced severe scrutiny when it was reported that it had re-hired someone who was previously fired amid allegations of rape.
According to an independent investigation obtained by The Roys Report, a man named Braylon Oliver stepped down from his position as a Churchome pastor in 2019 after a former girlfriend accused him of ‘improper sexual contact.’
The report said that the unnamed woman claimed he ‘forced’ her to ‘continue having sex with him after she told him to “stop” because he was “hurting her.”‘
‘Braylon refused to stop, and covered her mouth to keep her quiet and continued the act over her clear objections,’ it read of the incident, which had allegedly occurred years prior, in 2012.
It added that Braylon ‘denied any recollection of the particular evening’ and admitted that he had been ‘drinking’ when it occurred.
In the end, the report concluded that due to the ‘preponderance of evidence’ and ‘based upon interviews’ with the woman and with Braylon, ‘the allegation was credible.’
Despite the ruling, Churchome rehired Braylon three years later after determining that he had undergone ‘restoration and reconciliation.’
When asked about the controversial decision by The Roys Report, the church said in a statement, ‘Churchome believes in the grace and redemption demonstrated through the life of Jesus.
‘Braylon has demonstrated spiritual and personal growth since the alleged incident occurred in 2012, and he went through the investigation of the allegation and the loss of his Churchome job in 2019 with maturity and humility.
‘When Braylon applied for his current role, he was the best candidate for the role and was offered the position based on his skills and abilities.
In June 2023, a woman named Payton Frye Jones claimed that she had been sexually assaulted by a Churchome intern named Zachary Jacquith (seen) in February 2019
She alleged that Churchome General Counsel Troy Anderson had ‘discouraged her from reporting to police.’ Zachary (seen) and Troy have denied her claims
‘Additionally, due to his growth and Biblical principles, we firmly believed in his restoration and reconciliation.’
Churchome added: ‘Before rehiring him, Churchome discussed the decision and reasons with his former girlfriend who had brought the allegation from 2012.’
Braylon’s accuser, who kept her identity hidden for privacy reasons, spoke about Braylon’s rehiring to The Roys Report earlier this year, and she confirmed that she did talk to Judah’s wife, Chelsea, before they decided to bring Braylon back.
She alleged that she told Chelsea that Braylon had ‘not taken responsibility for what he did’ and that she did not think he should come back.
‘The church, your church, needs to be a place where people feel safe, where there is trust, where there is accountability,’ she said she told Chelsea.
‘Unfortunately, Braylon has not taken responsibility for what he did, he has not sought forgiveness, therefore there does not appear to be genuine transformation.’
But she claimed Chelsea responded by telling her that Braylon had made a ‘mistake’ and urged her to ‘forgive’ him, adding that she would ‘pass along’ her request to the hiring manager.
‘Holding someone down, forcing them to have sex with you when you’re trying to get out of a car – that’s not a mistake,’ Braylon’s ex told the publication.
‘That’s a conscious choice. If I have to live the rest of my life with the consequences of his choice, so does he. He doesn’t get a three-year probation, a slap on the wrist, and his life back.’
In response to The Roys Report’s article, CEO David Kroll called it ‘very intentionally misleading’ and claimed it contained ‘straight-up factual inaccuracies.’
‘The moment that these accusations were brought to us, Braylon was paid, placed on paid leave, pending an investigation,’ he added.
‘That investigation came back. The bottom line of the investigation was this – there was no evidence and it was inconclusive.’
Two weeks later, Braylon resigned from Churchome once again.
In June 2023, a woman named Payton Frye Jones accused Churchome of protecting abusers.
She claimed that she had been sexually assaulted by a Churchome intern named Zachary Jacquith in February 2019.
She said that while she couldn’t remember much from the night in question, she had one ‘flashback of the incident’ and remembered ‘feeling paralyzed’ while Zachary was ‘on top of her.’
She said she believed he had slipped a drug into her drink, writing in a police report obtained by The Roys Report, ‘The next morning, I woke up in my car with his comforter on top of me and my pants unbuttoned.
‘I was so confused on how I got there. I also felt so “drunk” and messed up. I only remembered drinking one small cup of whatever [Zachary] made for me.’
She also alleged that Churchome General Counsel Troy Anderson had ‘discouraged her from reporting to police.’
Zachary denied her allegations and said Payton ‘initiated the sexual encounter, which was consensual.’ Troy also denied her claims.
DailyMail.com has reached out to Churchome for comment.
More legal woes: Churchome was sued by a former employee for allegedly forcing staff to give 10 per cent of their wages back to the church
Churchome was sued for a former employee named Rachel Kellogg (seen) in March for allegedly forcing its staff members to donate 10 per cent of their wages
It was also revealed in March of this year that Churchome had been sued for allegedly forcing its staff members to donate 10 per cent of their wages.
A former Churchome video editor named Rachel Kellogg filed a class-action lawsuit against the church and its leaders, claiming that she and other staff members had been threatened with termination if they didn’t give a chunk of their salaries back to the church, something known as tithing.
She claimed that she and other staff members had been threatened with termination if they didn’t give a chunk of their salaries back to the church, something known as tithing
According to The Seattle Times, Rachel claimed that she had messages from employers that said she had to ‘correct her behavior so that she may succeed in this position’ after she fell on hard times and stopped donating to the church.
‘Together, these defendants have engaged in a systemic scheme of wage and hour abuse against their employees,’ her lawyers wrote in court documents.
In response, Churchome said in a statement that under the first amendment, churches have the ‘right to restrict employment to those employees who choose to abide by church teaching.’
It added, ‘Churchome believes the Bible teaches that all Christians should tithe.
‘Churchome intends to vigorously defend the rights of all religious institutions to live, teach, and model their faith through their employees.’
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