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Christian MLB star Ben Zobrist claims wife had an affair with their pastor and marriage counselor

Ben Zobrist, Julianna Zobrist
ABC features Ben Zobrist and Julianna Zobrist on "Celebrity Love Stories" on March 7, 2017. |

A recent court filing on behalf of outspoken Christian and former MLB player Ben Zobrist alleges that his wife, pop singer Julianna Zobrist, had an affair with the couple's former Tennessee pastor, who also served as their marriage counselor.

Zobrist, who played in the MLB from 2006 to 2019, is now suing the former minister for damages, claiming he defrauded his charitable foundation. 

The Zobrists separately filed for divorce in 2019. The 2016 World Series MVP's court filing alleged that his wife of 14 years was guilty of “inappropriate marital conduct.”

The new lawsuit discovered by the Journal Star revealed that former Tennessee pastor Bryon Yawn had an affair with Julianna Zobrist while Yawn was their pastor at Community Bible Church in Nashville.

The suit claimed that Yawn and Julianna Zobrist began talking over the phone every day in 2018, which later developed into a sexual relationship in the spring of 2019. 

Zobrist reportedly seeks $6 million in damages from Yawn, who served as the couple’s pre-and-post-marital counselor. He additionally provided counsel for the former Chicago Cubs player regarding anxiety and depression.

The former minister, the CEO of a Nashville-area business-consulting firm Forrest Crain & Co, is also accused of defrauding Zobrist's Patriot Forward, a nonprofit that helps professional athletes navigate mental health. Yawn used to work for the foundation as executive director.

While an elder at Community Bible Church in Nashville, Yawn met the couple. According to the church’s Senior Pastor Ryan Haskin, Yawn is no longer is associated with the church.

The scandal was first discovered by Yawn’s wife, who found pre-paid phones used by her husband and Julianna Zobrist to communicate secretively.

She alerted the former MLB player of what she believed only to be an emotional affair between his wife and her husband. However, the divorce proceedings in June 2020 exposed that Julianna and Yawn had a sexual relationship that began in 2019.

While his marriage was falling apart, Zobrist took a leave of absence from baseball and later retired at the conclusion of the 2019 season. During that time, the 40-year-old player confided in Yawn and sought marital counsel from him.

The lawsuit alleges that Yawn took advantage of "personal and private information" that Zobrist shared with him about "fissures" in the marriage while acting in a "pastoral role." 

"As an example, the Defendant became aware of small fissures in the marital relationship between Ben and Julianna Zobrist. The Defendant exploited this private information and in 2019 even deceptively encouraged Mr. Zobrist to 'give his wife some space,'" the lawsuit alleges. "All the while, the Defendant was using the confidential information shared with him by the Plaintiff to his own self-seeking advantage and in derogation of the Plaintiff’s personal, emotional or spiritual wellbeing."

The lawsuit featured a text message exchange between the men, which took place in February 2019, as Zobrist was about to head off to Spring Training for the 2019 season in Arizona. 

"She used the words emotional, verbal and spiritual abuse. I was shocked," Zobrist texted Yawn about his wife’s claims against him. "Can't be 2,000 miles away from her and kids while she's thinking that about me. I have owned every bit of my sin, but I will not own the abuse angle."

Yawn replied: "I'm sure it's like getting knocked off your feet and into your head. But I can't imagine what it feels like in this moment. You're a husband and a father first. That's who you are."

The lawsuit also alleged that although Yawn was terminated from Zobrist’s nonprofit in March 2019, he "fraudulently" continued to cash his $3,500 monthly salary until May of that year.

"Mr. Yawn often capitalized on the Plaintiff's celebrity," the lawsuit detailed, "asking him to sign autographs for his mother-in-law; requesting tickets to baseball games; hosting 'Guys Night Out' for the church at Mr. Zobrist's home; (requesting) that Mr. Zobrist send personal videos to parishioners who were being baptized; and nominating Mr. Zobrist as a deacon of Community Bible Church in hopes that his celebrity would attract new parishioners and keep current parishioners."

Zobrist's attorney, Larry Crain, told Journal Star he was unable to comment on the lawsuit because it is pending litigation.

Zobrist and Julianna were married in 2005 and share three children. The couple first met when Julianna was 16 through Julianna's sister's husband, who was a teammate of Zobrist's when he attended Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois, according to The Chicago Tribune. They didn't start dating until she was attending college at Belmont University. They are both children of pastors. 

The couple co-authored the book Double Play, which "gives fans a first look into the heart of an athlete whose talent and devotion to God, family, and baseball make him one of the most loveable figures in the Major League today."

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