A church that served the local community for years found its lease canceled this week. Had the pastor been accused of sexually assaulting someone or embezzling funds? Had the church preached a message of true hate or intolerance? No, the city revoked the church’s lease because the pastor had committed the heinous sin of “liking” tweets exposing Democrat hypocrisy. Among others, he had “liked” a tweet daring to criticize His Holiness Barack Obama for golfing when his wife, Michelle, urged members of the black community to stay home to stop the spread of the coronavirus (yes, this happened).
There was simply no other remedy. The Housing Authority of the Birmingham District Board of Commissioners just had to revoke the lease of the Church of the Highlands. It’s not like the pastor had apologized for his heinous sin or preached a sermon condemning racism, or anything. Oh wait, he did both? Well, apparently that’s immaterial.
The Housing Authority terminated its partnership with the Church of the Highlands on Monday, claiming a disagreement with the “views” of Pastor Chris Hodges, AL.com reported. In doing so, the authority severed an agreement dating back to 2017 which allowed the church to provide resident outreach programs and social services at its Campus of Hope in the Marks Village Public Housing community. The Campus of Hope provided mentoring, community support groups, and faith and social service activities that promote volunteerism. Church of the Highlands (COTH) provided these services at nine of the housing authority’s public housing communities.
AL.com noted that “HABD did not pay COTH for their services. The vote to cancel the memorandum with COTH will also end services provided by The Dream Center and Christ Health Center, which are ministries within the COTH.”
In a statement on the severing of ties, the housing authority stated, “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. HABD and Campus of Hope staff will continue to work with other faith-based organizations in the community to identify resources that will replace the services that were provided by COTH.”
This condemnation of Hodges’ “values” appears to be a reference to tweets the pastor “liked.” The controversy traces back to a Birmingham high school English teacher who bravely exposed the mean pastor’s nefarious social media button-pushing.
The witch hunt against the pastor
Jasmine Faith Clisby, the English teacher in question, discovered that — horror of horrors! — Pastor Hodges had “liked” tweets from Charlie Kirk, founder of the — gasp! — conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA. She revealed the pastor’s social media sins in a Facebook post that received wide attention.
Clisby, who teaches at Carver High School and is working on a doctorate in education, 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.”
What a saint! She won’t even accuse the pastor of being a racist, just being tangentially associated with things that “do not seem culturally sensitive to me.” How considerate! How woke!
Of course, Clisby’s totally-not-judgmental crusade against Hodges included condemning the pastor for following Kirk on social media. “One of the main things Kirk harps on is white privilege being a myth. I found something troubling. I can’t see into Pastor Hodges’ heart,” Clisby said. She also admitted, “I do not attend Church of the Highlands.”
If she did attend the church, she might have the slightest inkling of the truth that the Church of the Highlands is not at all racist.
The church’s stance on race
On Sunday, Pastor Hodges preached, “White supremacy or any supremacy other than Christ, is of the devil.” He went on, “I want you to know that I believe it makes God angry and it makes us angry too. I know we need to do something. We need to pray. We need to be the church. But Proverbs 31 says to speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves. Ensure justice for those who are being crushed. Think of that verse. Speak up for the poor and the helpless. Be sure that they get justice.”
He also insisted that the violence of the riots is not the answer. “But as the Bible teaches, as Jesus teaches, as Dr. King taught so beautifully, that hatred cannot drive out hatred, violence doesn’t heal violence. It’s okay to be angry about an unfair system, injustices, but Romans 12:21 says don’t be overcome by that evil, overcome the evil with good.”
While the Church of the Highlands is majority white, it draws thousands of black worshippers. Former Auburn University football player Mayo Sowell, who is black, serves as the campus pastor at the church’s Parker High School location.
“I would love for you to not just look at a microscopic zoom-in but look at the totality of 37 years of ministry and 19 years as a church. If you look at that it will be abundantly clear that we value every person. For every person that has been marginalized, rejected or belittled, abused or even afraid because of how God made you, Tammy and I, the Church of the Highlands family, stand with you,” Pastor Hodges preached.
So where did Clisby get the idea that the pastor
is a horrendous racist — sorry — might not be “culturally sensitive?” What horrific tweets caused the whole kerfuffle?
The tweets Hodges “liked.”
AL.com reported on three Charlie Kirk tweets Hodges “liked.”
The first included a meme showing Donald Trump standing alongside Muhammad Ali and Rosa Parks with the caption, “The racist Donald Trump in the 1980s,” next to a photo from Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D-Va.) medical school yearbook page featuring one man wearing blackface and one man wearing a Ku Klux Klan costume. The caption for the Northam photo read, “Progressive Leftist Ralph Northam in the 1980s.”
While Northam has insisted he was not in the KKK-blackface photo, that photo did indeed appear on the Ralph Northam page of his 1984 medical school yearbook. The photo may not include Northam, but it seems the man who would later become Virginia’s governor did indeed select it for his yearbook page. As for Trump, Snopes admitted Trump received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in October 1986, and he stood by Mohammed Ali and Rosa Parks for the commemorative photo.
The second tweet showed former President Barack Obama playing golf beneath a quote from Michelle Obama urging the black community to stay home during the coronavirus crisis.
Indeed, Obama did go golfing in late April, the day after Michelle Obama released two public service announcements aimed at black Americans. “Hi everybody, it’s Michelle Obama. Our communities are among the hardest hit by the coronavirus, and we’ve got to do everything we can to keep each other safe. And that means staying home because even if we are not showing any symptoms, we can still spread the virus to others. Let’s keep each other safe by just staying home,” she said.
Hodges’ damning third “like” concerned a tweet in which Charlie Kirk shared a photo of himself donating blood above the sentence, “We all must do our part to defeat China Virus.”
It seems Clisby was referring to the tired old canard that referring to the coronavirus as “Chinese” is somehow racist against Asian people. Yet President Donald Trump has repeated the fact that the virus came from China in order to combat a Chinese conspiracy theory that COVID-19 was developed by the U.S. military and somehow planted in Wuhan. Indeed, the very same left-leaning journalists who condemned Trump’s terminology as racist had themselves referred to COVID-19 as the “Wuhan coronavirus” or the “Chinese coronavirus” weeks earlier.
All three of these tweets may seem divisive, but they each mocked an example of liberal and Democratic hypocrisy. Even if they had been truly offensive, Pastor Hodges didn’t author them — he merely “liked” them.
The pastor’s apology
Yet rather than stand by his “liking” of supposedly offensive tweets, or even just staying silent on what arguably amounts to a non-issue, Hodges groveled before the angry mob.
“I realize that I have hurt people that I love deeply because I ‘liked’ multiple insensitive social media posts. 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,” Hodges said in a statement. “I now realize they were hurtful and divisive, and I sincerely apologize.”
This apology drew more attention to the controversy and bolstered the mistaken impression that the Charlie Kirk tweets the pastor “liked” were somehow outrageous. The Housing Authority took that impression and ran with it.
It appears Pastor Hodges was guilty of wrongthink, of heresy, of daring to associate himself — in however small a way — with supposedly politically incorrect tweets calling out liberal hypocrisy.
Pastors should prioritize preaching the gospel over enflaming partisan divisions, but a pastors’ social media habits are hardly grounds for this kind of inquisition. Canceling the church’s lease over Hodges’ “liking” of tweets is petty in the extreme, especially after the pastor apologized for them.
Residents of Birmingham should reach out to the Housing Authority and demand answers. The Church of the Highlands does not deserve this kind of treatment.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.