The caller said her Northwestern University student group had tried without success to find shelter at about 50 area churches for a project they were doing on the Cumberland Trail, so Community Baptist Church Pastor Clif Roth felt he could help them.
"They were doing Tennessee a favor [in helping build a nature trail]," he said. "I thought, 'They're helping us. We can help them.'"
But the next day, when Roth saw a Chattanooga Times Free Press article that mentioned a Northwestern professor's classroom sex toy demonstration, he felt he needed to rescind the invitation.
The independent Baptist pastor said he "was sure [the Alternative Student Breaks group] had no relationship to [the demonstration]," but he felt allowing the 14-member group to stay in the church indicated "support of that school" and would damage the church's reputation.
He said he was "concerned about the children" and realized he was painting the group with "a pretty broad brush" but believed the Holy Spirit had showed him the newspaper article for a reason.
Roth said he didn't make a call to check on any relationship the students might have with the Northwestern professor and didn't make any calls to help them find shelter elsewhere because the group didn't ask him to.
Jenny Haag, 22, the school's Alternative Student Breaks program director who called the pastor to seek shelter for the group, told the Chicago Sun-Times she was "absolutely stunned" by the decision.
"I couldn't believe what I was hearing," she said. "We give up our spring break to volunteer and to help out in communities and because of this one isolated incident that no one from [Alternative Spring Breaks] had anything to do with, the church decided they couldn't help us."
The website of Community Baptist Church, located on Dallas Hollow Road in Hixson, says "it is our mission to be like Jesus by displaying his attitudes."
Asked if Roth felt his decision reflected the attitude of Jesus, he said, "The Lord Jesus might do something different."
But he said Christians are called to be "part of the reproval" of sin on earth, and the sex toy demonstration in professor J. Michael Bailey's human sexuality class is an example of what is driving the nation "into a cesspool of sexual immorality."
The students, according to the Sun-Times article, wound up finding accommodation during the visit last month with the organization building the trail.
Contact Clint Cooper at email@example.com or 423-757-6497.