Pastor Chris Hodges (Image source: Church of the Highlands YouTube video screenshot)
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A teacher complained, so authorities have cut ties with the church that provides services throughout the city
The pastor of Alabama's largest church became the target of activists after a Birmingham teacher complained about him "liking" social media posts by Charlie Kirk, president of conservative group Turning Point USA.
Now, authorities in Birmingham are punishing the church and the community, by canceling contracts the church had held for years.
What are the details?
High school English teacher Jasmine Faith Clisby noticed last month that Pastor Chris Hodges of the Church of the Highlands "liked" several media posts made by Kirk. So, she voiced her concern on Facebook, and then told AL.com, "I would be upset if it comes off as me judging him. It's not that. I'm not saying he's a racist. I'm saying he likes someone who posts things that do not seem culturally sensitive to me."
Clisby went on to tell the outlet, "One of the things Kirk harps on is white privilege being a myth."
She added, "I found something troubling. I can't see into Pastor Chris Hodges' heart."
Pastor Hodges — who is part of the Evangelicals for Trump Coalition — founded the 60,000-member Church of the Highlands, and has reportedly apologized no less than three times to his congregation over his social media activity since the teacher complained.
In one sermon, the pastor said, "White supremacy or any supremacy other than Christ, is of the devil. Some have even brought our church or even me into question. They're wondering, where do you really stand? I think some saw something on social media that questioned my character. And, I'll own it, by the way, but that is not what I believe."
Now, the Birmingham Board of Education has canceled the leases it held for years allowing the church to utilize space in two high schools for Sunday worship services as part of its 20-branch campuses across Alabama.
The Birmingham Housing Authority also severed ties with Church of the Highlands and Christ Health Clinic — an independent nonprofit that is funded by the church and was the first in the state to offer widescale COVID-19 testing.
Despite the backlash, Hodges says his church and the clinic will continue to support the school district and to offer free services to public housing residents.
In a statement to AL.com, Hodges said:
Jesus Christ teaches us to love our neighbors. In these complex times we want to do more than ever to listen, love and serve our city. We want to thank the Birmingham Housing Authority for the opportunity they provided us to serve them over the years. We continue to support their work and encourage others to do the same.
What did the social media posts say?
According to AL.com:
One meme shared by Kirk featured a photo of Donald Trump standing alongside Muhammad Ali and Rosa Parks, with the caption, 'The racist Donald Trump in the 1980s,' next to a photo of Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in a photo of two men wearing blackface and a KKK costume in a 1984 yearbook photo for Eastern Virginia Medical School. The caption for the second photo was 'Progressive Leftist Ralph Northam in the 1980s.'
Clisby also shared a screen shot of that post with Hodges as one of those who 'liked' the post on social media.
Another screen shot showed Hodges liking a post about former President Barack Obama playing golf beneath a quote from Michelle Obama urging people to stay home except for essential activities. Another screen shot shows Hodges liking a photo of Kirk donating blood above the sentence, 'We all must do our part to defeat China Virus.'
In reaction to the controversy, Charlie Kirk told Fox News, "I have had wonderful times of fellowship with Chris in the past and think he is a gifted ambassador for Christ. I didn't ask him to like my posts, he did so on his own. I will never apologize for stating irrefutable facts, and nor should he."
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