A Birmingham, Alabama church’s lease agreement with two public high schools was terminated by the school board June 9 after a teacher complained about the pastor liking social media posts “that do not seem culturally sensitive.”
Chris Hodges, pastor and founder of the Church of the Highlands—with 60,000 worshippers meeting at more than 20 locations across the state—first apologized to his congregation on May 31 and again in a statement on June 2.
“I realize that I have hurt people that I love deeply because I ‘liked’ multiple sensitive social media posts,” Hodges wrote. “Each one was a mistake. I own it. I’m sorry. I’ve learned so much in the past few days about racial disparities in America. I wish I could sit down and have a conversation with everyone impacted or hurt by my actions.”
Jasmine Faith Clisby, an English teacher at Carver High School, posted screenshots on Facebook of Hodges following and liking social media posts by Charlie Kirk, president of the conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA.
“I’m not saying he’s a racist,” Clisby said of Hodges. “I’m saying he likes someone who posts things that do not seem culturally sensitive to me. … One of the main things Kirk harps on is white privilege being a myth.”
The Church of the Highlands, a predominantly white congregation, also attracts thousands of black worshippers, including inner-city west Birmingham congregations that had met at Woodlawn High School and Parker High School prior to the COVID-19 shutdown.
Responding to backlash to Hodges’ social media activities, the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District (HABD) Board of Commissioners also voted June 8 to end its partnership with the Church of the Highlands.
The church’s Campus of Hope ministries had been providing free tutoring, mentoring and community support groups at nine Birmingham public housing communities. The church’s free health clinic provided COVID-19 testing and other health screening services.
HABD released a statement saying in part: “Commissioners agreed that Pastor Hodges’ views do not reflect those of HABD and its residents; and Hodges values are not in line with those of HABD residents.”
Hodges asked his critics to consider his church’s longtime investment in Birmingham’s underprivileged communities. “Over the last 20 years our church and I have fought for the disenfranchised, marginalized and hurting of all races in our community,” Hodges said on Sunday. “But this week I’ve learned that even with 20 years of loving and serving people, it’s still possible to have a blind spot that you just didn’t know was there.”
Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is currently seeking election to Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat, said, “The actions taken by the Birmingham Housing Authority and the Birmingham Board of Education against the Church of the Highlands represent an attack on both religious liberty and freedom of speech.”
“This cannot happen in America, and certainly should never happen in Alabama,” Sessions said. “Birmingham will not become Berkeley.”
Photo: Church of the Highlands