Grace Baptist pastor appalled by children's pastor's arrest in sex trafficking sting

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- "We are held to a higher standard." That's what the pastor at Grace Baptist Church said after his children's ministry pastor was arrested during a sex trafficking sting.

Nearly three dozen people were arrested or cited for prostitution after a three day investigation, including two East Tennessee pastors.

Church staff fired Jason Kennedy, the children's ministry pastor at Grace Baptist Church Friday, after the news broke.

According to police, Kennedy responded to a Backpage.com ad, paid $100 and undressed in a hotel room for sex with two girls, one of them underage; 15 years old.

The other pastor, Zubin Parakh, is listed as the creative pastor at Lifehouse Church in Oak Ridge.

The TBI said he's the only other man who responded to an ad specifically for underage girls.

Rev. Ron Stewart, the senior pastor at Grace Baptist said he found out about Kennedy Friday, and he's trying to make sense of the situation.

"He did it, but it's like a tsunami that can cover a whole island. His tsunami has come across our whole church,” Stewart said.

Now Stewart's left with waves of anger, confusion and disbelief.

His main question is why Kennedy would allegedly attempt to solicit sex from a teenager.

“That's why it makes it so much worse than what anybody else on that list might have done,” Stewart said. “I don't know where that comes from except to know that you don't get there overnight. You don't wake up one morning and think that. There's something in his past, evidently."

He said no parents at Grace Baptist have come forward since the arrest and reported mistreatment of their children. Plus, there are security cameras throughout the church.

Stewart said there's been no complaints from staff either.

“In fact (Kennedy) went overboard to make sure nothing even looked wrong. He said he would never allow anyone to take a child to the restroom alone. Always had to be two or three that went. He didn't allow hugging. If you hugged someone it had to be a side friend hug,” Stewart said.

Stewart fired Kennedy after learning of the news. He said he's told staff before, if they fail morally, they'll be fired on the spot.

He's now trying to help Kennedy's wife and children -- and his entire congregation -- cope with what's happened.

Kennedy's wife had no idea this was going on, according to Stewart, who added the couple boasted about their marriage.

But he doesn't want this incident to tarnish the reputation of a church that's been in the community for 100 years.

"It happened because of somebody who's connected with us. But this doesn't say anything about Grace Baptist Church. See, the best of men are men at best. So no matter who the man is, you never quite know what's in their heart,” Stewart said.

Stewart was supposed to retire June 1. But he said he will likely postpone that to help the congregation heal.

Stewart will address what happened with his congregation Sunday. Services are at 8:45 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.