KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A sex trafficking felony charge against a children’s minister has left a 4,000-member church reeling.
Jason Kennedy, 46, who joined Grace Baptist Church’s staff two and a half years ago, was arrested May 19 in Knoxville — one of 30-plus individuals charged in a four-day undercover sting operation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and local police.
The church posted a statement on its website May 20 that Kennedy had been terminated; that his background check had not shown any issues; that the church will be praying for Kennedy’s family; and that care and information will be provided “as we walk through this painful time together.”
Senior pastor Ron Stewart told a local TV station, “It’s sickening. There’s something in his past, evidently, and I’m not a psychologist, but I know from my experience as a pastor that the pain and hurt you had as a child sometimes comes out in strange ways as an adult.”
Kennedy, who is married and the father of three children, remained in a Knox County jail Monday, May 23, under $50,500 bail. An initial hearing is slated for May 31. Another minister, from nearby Oak Ridge, also was charged with felony sex trafficking in incidents that occurred within 1,000 feet of an unnamed church.
The Knoxville News Sentinel daily newspaper, citing Kennedy’s arrest warrant, reported that he replied by text to an online ad offering sex with two females, one of whom was described as being 15 years of age. Kennedy went to a local motel, placed a $100 fee on a counter, removed his pants and was then arrested.
Kennedy’s arrest comes at a time when the church is marking the 100th anniversary of its founding, according to the News Sentinel. Stewart had planned to retire next month but told the church May 22 he now will postpone those plans, according to a reporter with local TV station WLVT.
The reporter, who attended Sunday morning worship at Grace Baptist, recounted, “Pastor Stewart discussed the importance of relying on God in the midst of a storm. In his sermon Stewart said the church is hurting and that it feels betrayed. Stewart said he spoke with Kennedy’s wife, Sabrina. He said she just wants to ask Kennedy why he solicited minors for sex.” Stewart drew his message from the Matt. 8:23-26 passage about Jesus calming a storm that had terrified His disciples on the Sea of Galilee
The reporter also recounted, “During the church service one of the church leaders announced that Grace Baptist will begin providing counseling to children and adults who are suffering from Kennedy’s actions.”
Another local pastor was also charged with felony trafficking in the undercover sting operation. Zubin Parakh, 32, was previously listed as the creative pastor at Lifehouse Church in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
A statement by Lifehouse Church on Facebook said that they were “saddened” by the recent events and are praying for all the families.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation states on its website:
“In the United States, on average, every two minutes, a child is bought or sold for sex.
“The average age of a child sold for sex is 13 years old.
“Human Trafficking is the second-fastest growing criminal industry, just behind Drug Trafficking.”
— by Art Toalston | BP
CNJ added to this report.