Mosaic is a church.
We feed the homeless, weekly. We hold church services, weekly. We have art classes, dance classes, free martial arts training and small Bible study groups. We regularly allow church and para-church organizations to use our facility for free. We've organized benefits for a variety of charitable organizations. We are followers of Jesus Christ and believe the Scripture is the Word of God.
Mosaic is, indeed, a church.
About a couple dozen times a year, we cater to the at-risk, black youth of this community and allow them to hold events of their choosing in our downtown facility. This one small effort, and its downtown location, is, in part, why a hurricane of conflict has been created by certain leaders in our community, especially by our embattled mayor. Our local missions program known as Fathom has been labeled by our city leaders as well as area media as a nightclub -- a completely inaccurate representation.
Mosaic is a church. We are not trying to hide behind any laws. Yes, most other churches would find our outreach to at-risk, black youth uncomfortable. We allow people and behavior in our doors that many other churches and venues would not allow. We have no dress code. The youth are allowed to dance however they desire. They are allowed to get loud. They are allowed to get rowdy. They are allowed to speak their minds, and we don't censor their speech.
While many groups state they have a "come as you are" policy in their churches, we embrace that policy to the furthest extent possible, within the law.
It's ironic that this one small part of our ministry represents the conflict that has led to the lies, misinformation and misdirection of some city leaders. If Fathom was located in East Chattanooga, the attacks upon our Mosaic church would be minimal, at worst. A form of racism is compromising our ability to reach these youth.
Only during these particular events do police swarm our facility when we have a good number of black-skinned, young people inside. They treat our guests with arrogance and intimidation. As a result, these youth don't feel secure. And when they are treated like animals, they begin to act like animals.
As a follower of Jesus, I believe I'm called to care for the most outcast of our society. Our at-risk youth should be welcomed into any part of Chattanooga, tourist zones or otherwise. Yet they've been discarded. The few efforts made to serve them have been limited to recreation centers away from downtown, and leaders want to keep them tied to the inner city.
They should not be treated this way.
During these events, many would be surprised that the vast majority of our black youth come from good families. These so-called gangsters are well-educated and respectable members of society. Many attend UTC, just blocks away.
This is the real story. Some leaders here don't want events downtown attracting this demographic. And they don't want anyone downtown who looks like a gangster. While Chattanooga does have a serious gang problem, leaders here throw the word in our direction to rally support against us. And as far as I'm concerned, that's racist behavior.
The community should recognize that we are sliding down a slippery slope and choosing a dark path when government can use all its powers -- inspectors, law enforcement, attorneys -- to tell a church how it should pursue its mission. One small example: Our hands were recently tied once again when we were told we were required to have 47 toilets. Yes, larger churches and larger venues in Chattanooga may have no more than a couple restrooms at best serving hundreds of guests or patrons.
For years we've been criticized for lascivious posters and fliers advertising many of these at-risk events, posters we do not produce, and posters typically designed by event organizers which include many times over zealous artists excited about their event. Though we ask organizers to be respectful in their advertising, we have little control over this. We do not approve of such fliers and such advertising. And in one case, a poster designer from a local church actually came to me and apologized for creating a vulgar poster designed with the intention of maligning our church.
The community is unaware of the numerous events we've canceled because event organizers would not adhere to our policies, designed to protect guests and respect community standards. While I deeply respect and commend the honorable job our Police Chief Bobby Dodd is performing, I sympathize with the fact that he is required to be a mouthpiece for our embattled mayor. Dodd's recent column in the newspaper includes accusations that need addressing:
Mosaic, Fathom or myself have nothing to gain by our ongoing efforts to establish a firm foundation for our ministry, financial or otherwise. We've never been able to rent our facility out for more than $500 (not $1,500 as Dodd mentioned) at a time, one of the few ways we support the ministry. My family supports itself through my work as a landscaper and occasional speaking engagements outside of our church.
Consider this: Raising millions of dollars annually, hundreds of nonprofits and churches in the region hold conferences, concerts and dozens of other programs that leaders seem to suggest Mosaic has no right to pursue. Other churches hold events and charge hundreds of dollars, yet, no one is attacking their right to pursue the dollars needed for their ministry -- and Mosaic brings in barely enough to survive month to month. The data shows Mosaic and Fathom in no way represent a night club and in no way exist to make money.
Not one act of violence has ever occurred inside our walls. Period. Perhaps at nearby parking lots. Perhaps at locations blocks away from the church after an event. But never inside the church.
The resources Chief Dodd complains that we use up every time there is a disturbance following one of our rare, urban events are the same resources that would have been used had these youth been allowed to plan their own gatherings in a less protective place. A willingness to work with us rather than against us could make this city much safer for all Chattanoogans, from St. Elmo to East Brainerd. Not just those who live downtown. And not just the tourists.
I would ask our community to think about this question: Why does our small church and our missions outreach seem to be the primary focus of time, money and attention by our city leaders? My answer would be that Mosaic has become a scapegoat and, perhaps, a diversion. It detracts from the enormous amount of energy the city should have been putting into gang eradication years ago -- and even now. I'm hopeful for the new gang task force and think it's a step in the right direction.
Chattanooga, please wake up to the real issues here. Our growing gang problem plays a part. Racism plays a part. Fear of damage to our tourism industry plays a part.
Mosaic is, indeed, a church. It's time our local government started treating us like one.