Three East Brainerd friends on Saturday counted the ways $700,000 could benefit their community.
A community center. A sports recreation league. Transportation for kids whose parents work all the time. A Thanksgiving turkey for almost every resident at Rainbow Creek Apartments -- not much more than a stone's throw from The Crossings Church where three 100-foot-tall crosses just went up.
All those things, the 20-year-olds said, could have been undertaken with $700,000 cost of the crosses, which are 200 feet from Interstate 75 and will be lit at night.
"I really think they could've spent the money in better ways," said Cody Teague, one of the group.
He and friends Cody Sehon and David Lynch went to Ooltewah High School together and have remained in the community they grew up in since graduation a few years ago. They have worked stints at a handful of Chattanooga's brochure employers: Volkswagen, Amazon, the downtown hotel businesses.
They said Saturday they just can't see the point in spending that kind of money for the crosses, especially when there is so much poverty in the area.
The Rev. Terry Harris, senior pastor of The Crossings Church, said last week that the crosses -- as tall as the Patten Towers and the DoubleTree Hotel at their highest -- are intended to "represent a bold reminder ... of Jesus' sacrificial death."
Harris could not be reached for comment Saturday.
The Crossings Church is not the first group to put up big crosses in hopes of drawing attention to Christianity.
Most I-75 travellers are familiar with the big white cross looking down from the south side of Knoxville. Chattanoogans know its cousin at the intersection of Lee Highway and Highway 153. Or its other 28 relatives from here to Indiana and Mississippi.
They are the product of James Potter's ministry, based in Oneida, Tenn.
Potter said it's to serve only one purpose.
"We just have just a simple message: praising God and thanking him for what he did for us," Potter said Thursday.
The cross at Lee Highway and 153 stands 110 feet tall and is only 14 feet shorter than the tallest of The Crossings' centerpiece. Potter said that cross cost $90,000 to build. It is the costliest of his designs. Churches raise the money, he said, and he provides the blueprints and oversight for free.
He said he constructs only one cross, not three, because it is only one cross that mattered.
"That's what I do," he said. "I put up one big cross, one bulky cross."
Potter said he also has been asked whether money spent on crosses should be used to feed, clothe or house the poor. He referred to the words of Jesus in the gospel.
"[Christ] said, 'The poor will always be with ye, but I won't be,'" Potter said.
He is trying to raise money for another big cross on Alcoa Highway near the Knoxville airport. That way, he said, folks coming in from all over will see the reminder.
Something like that -- cheaper and smaller -- would be preferable, the Rainbow Creek Apartments friends said.
"They could've put just one up there, and that'd be just fine with me," Lynch said.
It would've at least been around $600,000 cheaper, and that's a lot of Thanksgiving turkeys.
Contact staff writer Alex Green at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6731.