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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Redemption to the Nations church Lead Pastor Kevin Wallace preaches to his congregation on Sunday, March 15, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The Chattanooga pastor who leased an unused building in Highland Park to house unaccompanied migrant children offered a rebuke Wednesday of criticism he received after news of the agreement broke in the past week.

Kevin Wallace, lead pastor of Redemption to the Nations Church, said people are too attached to their political ideas or "pet Jesus" to show compassion to those in need.

"I have seen people who call themselves Christians demonstrate the nastiest demeanor," Wallace said during a Wednesday afternoon Facebook Live. "I expect it from unsaved people. I do not expect it from people who have pictures of Jesus on their Facebook and pictures of the cross, and they say the most hateful, vile things. Get over yourself. Get beyond your politics and get in touch with Jesus and the heart of God."

Redemption to the Nations became the target of in-person and online attention after the online publication The Tennessee Conservative first reported rumors about migrant children coming to the city last week. The news pushed Chattanooga into the latest national border debate as record numbers of unaccompanied children cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

The church leased an unused building, formerly a Tennessee Temple dormitory, to the Baptiste Group in 2019 to provide shelter for up to 100 migrant children. According to documents from the state, children began arriving at the facility in November. There were as few as nine onsite at a February inspection.

Many local leaders learned about the facility from news reports this week, causing some hand-wringing among school system officials thinking they would have to educate the children. It turned out the children were to be taught on site at the Highland Park shelter.

Wallace said the "nations" part of his church's name is intentional because God's kingdom includes all people.

"I'm going to say something that some of you need to hear, and I pray that you hear it in the spirit I say it in, and I say it in love: Jesus did not come just to die for Americans," he said. "Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. The whole world. He is not a Southern Appalachia Holy Ghost. He is international. He's in every time zone. He reaches every race, ethnicity, culture, creed, language, tribe and tongue. Period."

He said it is upsetting to see people say they are Christian but act in ungodly ways toward people who do not look like them. Wallace said he is a citizen in God's kingdom before he is Caucasian or conservative.

Citing several passages of scripture, Wallace said people need to recognize the centrality of love in the Christian tradition.

"If I hear one more person tell me we're a nation of laws, I would agree with you we're a nation of laws, but as citizens of the kingdom there is a law greater than any law that has been handed to us by this nation. It is the law of love," Wallace said.

After last week's rumors, more information about the facility and the group became known this week, although the Baptiste Group has not spoken publicly to any local media outlets and has not responded to requests for comment from the Times Free Press.

During a Wednesday morning Hamilton County Commission agenda meeting, County Mayor Jim Coppinger said he is trying to get more information about what is happening.

"The phones have rang quite a bit here, emails and things of that nature wanting to know information, and it's kind of embarrassing that we don't have more information," Coppinger said.

The arrival of the migrant children in Chattanooga has become an issue among politicians.

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg, shared a Times Free Press story about the shelter on Twitter on Tuesday, and commented, "Every town is a border town. Every state is a border state. The Biden administration has been careless to offer illegal aliens refuge in our country and caused the endangerment of millions of children. This crisis can be stopped. It is on Biden to make it clear to migrants, you must immigrate to the U.S. through proper legal channels. We need policies that protect both American citizens and migrant minors from being subjected to the horrors experienced on their journey."

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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