Megachurch in turmoil after 'dangerous' lead pastor is allegedly caught on video having an affair
Several staff members at a megachurch based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, have quit and are speaking out after their lead pastor was allegedly caught on video kissing a woman who is not his wife.
Eight employees resigned from Venue Church last week after confronting Pastor Tavner Smith about rumors he was having an affair with a longtime employee, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.
Smith is currently in the process of divorcing his wife. He has three children.
The alleged affair is not the only allegation against Smith. At least one former church member has aired his grievances with Smith in a public Facebook post.
"I was hired by Venue church in its early days to set up its systems and structures and model anything an adult would experience on a Sunday morning. In hind sight I 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," former Venue Church employee Colt Chandler Helton wrote.
He alleged there were at least a dozen major problems with the megachurch, including mental and physical abuse. "I witnessed the worship pastor slam his wife against a wall in the green room prior to going on stage," he said.
"There could not be a more dangerous man and or organization than Pastor Tavner and Venue Church," Helton added. "He currently has cheated on his wife with his assistant and lead worship leader. His staff have almost all quit and he refused to step down. This is in part due to no elder system or any leadership to force him out."
Venue Church was founded in 2012. Just a few years later, in 2015, the church was named as one of the "fastest-growing churches in the country," with more than 1,000 people regularly attending sermons.
"Smith would regularly post to social media pictures of himself in designer sneakers and clothes," The Chattanooga Times Free Press explained. "Sunday services included light shows and congregants would provide a standing ovation when he came on stage. Along with the campus security team, a special team of armed bodyguards would follow Smith around."
Destiny Santos, who served on the church's security team, told The Chattanooga Times Free Press that she was instructed to bar certain people from the megachurch. "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," she explained.
Santos also alleged that Smith would regularly take credit for the work of others. "All everyone ever sees is him giving away a check to this school on the news or volunteering at a soup kitchen or giving back here," she said. "Newsflash: he didn't do any of that. He shows up when the cameras get there. We did everything. Like we volunteered at the soup kitchen. We gave away the clothes to the homeless. We cleaned up the streets. We raised the money to give to the schools. We did this and we did that. And he just shows up, looks nice on camera."