Eight staffers of the Venue Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee have quit over allegations that Pastor Tavner Smith has been engaged in an affair as other former staffers say they witnessed spousal abuse and suspicious financial dealings during their time there.
Earlier this month, staffers confronted Smith over a video that appears to show him kissing a woman who is not his wife.
The video was later posted to Facebook on the page The Venue Is NO Church, which contends that the fast-growing congregation is a business rather than a church based on the manner in which it operates financially.
Two former employees and four volunteers or members who have been connected to the church between three and eight years told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that staffers and volunteers held several meetings with Smith on December 17 to confront him about the suspected affair.
Smith is currently in the process of divorcing his wife, Danielle, with whom he has three children.
The church told the Free Press that they would not be commenting on the situation until the staffers severance was arranged.
The newspaper noted that as the news broke of the mass employee exit, others previously connected with the church began sharing their stories online, including surrounding Smith’s apparently lavish lifestyle and affinity for designer clothes as well as the high costs for the church’s security team and light shows.
“As the church kept getting bigger and bigger, there got to be more and more warning signs with the fact that the culture changed real quick,” Colt Helton, who worked for Venue for about a year in 2014, told the Times Free Press. “The lead pastor, you could not talk to him anymore. If he walked in the room, you had to stand up. You couldn’t talk to him unless he talked to you in that room. And then you would be seated when he told you to be seated.”
Helton explained that as the church shifted from a more traditional Calvinist theology to what he described as the prosperity Gospel, it was frowned upon to question Smith as this was perceived as questioning God.
“Anyone that spoke bad about him or the church went onto this watch list with code names and explanations as to why they’re not allowed,” Destiny Santos, a former member of the church’s security team, told the Times Free Press. “Some of them were simple things like, this person was persistent about wanting to talk directly to pastor or wanting to talk to somebody about XYZ what they think about the church. Or, this person said this bad thing about the church. So now none of these people are allowed here.”
In a Facebook post that was shared hundreds of times, Helton lamented that, by helping Smith get established, he believes he essentially taught the “Iranians how to make nuclear weapons.”
“I gave a man who had very very bad intentions the ability to make a mega church,” he said, explaining that he had witnessed “zero elders or accountability.”
“Money issue – we were always told there was no money. But the lead pastor always had a new car every few weeks. And the shopping trips would blow your mind. From exotic dogs to shoe and jersey collections,” he wrote.
Helton also alleged that he’d seen the church’s worship pastor “slam his wife against a wall in the green room prior to going on stage” and speak to her “like a dog,” screaming, “submit to me.”
“I witnessed on many times if someone saw or said anything about the money, accountability or abuse they were ran off and everyone at the church was made to triangulate against the said person and attack them by calling their jobs friends etc. making false statements in person and or on social media,” Helton claimed.
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