Church of The Highlands Exposed: Pastor Chris Hodges Scandal

This article seeks to delve into the recent focus on uncovering the factors leading to the scrutiny of the Church of The Highlands, identifying those accountable, and examining the ensuing repercussions.

The Church of the Highlands was established in 2001, initially gathering in a leased auditorium at Mountain Brook High School with a modest congregation.

Over time, it has broadened its presence to emerge as Alabama’s foremost church, with over 22 locations spanning the state.

Will 2020 be remembered as the year Hodges confronted the consequences of social media scrutiny amid his current predicament?

Chris Hodges

The Church of the Highlands has stirred controversy and faced accusations of drawing worshippers from traditional churches with its rock concert-style services, spotlighting diverse praise bands.

Hodges’ sermons, rich with Louisiana charm and down-home humor, prompted theologians to scrutinize their adherence to orthodoxy due to their lifestyle-centered approach.

Despite challenges, Church of the Highlands flourished by constructing a $16 million campus in Irondale, leasing auditoriums for gatherings, establishing additional branches, and broadcasting sermons statewide via live-streaming.

At the start of 2020, each venue saw a consistent attendance of more than 50,000 individuals at their services.

Highlands College is grooming a new crop of millennial ministers

During its rapid expansion, the Church stood unparalleled, drawing visits from pastors seeking to glean from Highlands’ success. Today, Highlands College is grooming a new crop of millennial ministers.

Despite the cancellation of Sunday services due to a coronavirus outbreak since March 10, Church of the Highlands has thrived.

Our company has consistently prioritized providing high-quality live-streaming video services, facilitating a seamless transition to offering them exclusively over the internet.

Church members were already contributing tithes online, ensuring stable revenue.

Highlands Church members

The group boasts a contemporary and savvy vibe, comprised of members under 50 residing in suburban locales and with a strong focus on millennial interests. Meanwhile, the Church maintains a conservative stance in both its theological doctrines and political affiliations.

The fatal incident involving George Floyd and Minneapolis police on Memorial Day exacerbated racial tensions, providing Hodges’ critics with an opportunity to challenge his stance.

He had been backing the infamous pro-Trump activist Charlie Kirk, who serves as the president of Turning Point USA. The organization’s mission asserts that “White Privilege is a myth.”

The English teacher in Birmingham City Schools stirred controversy by highlighting Hodges’ culturally insensitive social media “likes,” igniting a flurry of reactions.

Following the backlash, the “Dream Team” of volunteers from the Church of the Highlands ceased mentoring youngsters and carrying out social outreach in Birmingham’s public housing estates.

On June 8, the Birmingham Housing Authority terminated its partnership with Christ Health Center, which had been offering healthcare services to residents of public housing.

In March, Christ Health Center provided complimentary drive-through mass Coronavirus testing on the Highlands campus.

While that particular service is no longer offered, residents of Woodlawn can still access free COVID-19 testing at the clinic.

On June 9, the Birmingham Board of Education made the decision to cut ties with the Church. The Church had been leasing space at Parker and Woodlawn High Schools from Birmingham City Schools since 2014.

Hodges has consistently and emotionally expressed remorse for endorsing Kirk’s social media posts, emphasizing that Kirk’s viewpoints do not align with his own.

However, the criticism only intensified, and according to Hodges’s friends, this news has deeply affected him.

“Pastor Chris doesn’t harbor a trace of racism,” stated Associate Pastor Layne Schranz, who moved to Birmingham to assist in establishing the Church. His two-decade track record attests to that.

Hodges has consistently placed a high priority on welcoming individuals from all backgrounds and serving the broader community of the city.

He purchased a shuttered fire station and transformed it into the Dream Center, dedicating over a decade to assisting the underprivileged.

The Church’s volunteer initiatives in the community have been centered around this location. Hundreds of “Dream Team” volunteers frequently assist with activities such as garbage collection and home repairs for those in need.

Some prominent black pastors responded negatively to Hodges’s 2018 announcement of founding a church in West Birmingham.

A pastor at a white church downtown labeled Hodges as a “slavemaster” and displayed a sign stating, “Black Folks Need to Stay Out of White Churches.”

Church of the Highlands hired Mayo Sowell, a former Auburn University football player, as their black campus pastor. The congregation opted to pay $3,000 per month to rent the Parker High School auditorium from Birmingham City Schools for their Sunday morning services.

Prior to the Coronavirus shutdown, Church of the Highlands members, predominantly African American, packed the Parker and Woodlawn high school auditoriums on Sundays.

Concerns have been raised about Hodges’s social media activity, which suggests his support for Trump and Kirk.

The Rev. Gwen Webb, who participated in the Birmingham civil rights demonstrations of 1963 and currently serves as an associate pastor at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in west Birmingham, remarked, “Some people believe it’s deeply ingrained in his heart.”

Permitting them to gather near Parker and Woodlawn could potentially provoke significant animosity. It’s advisable to steer clear of further negative reactions in the city at this juncture. Consequences arise from engaging in negative actions.

Recently, some white and black Highlands students have been openly questioning their allegiances.

Christine Clark, who was a member of the Church’s branch in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, penned an open letter to Hodges. In it, she stated, “Mr. Trump’s rhetoric in support of white supremacy, power, and the dog whistle calls for dominance is undermining the principles of inclusivity and equality that you preach, teach, and endeavor to uphold here in Alabama.”

President Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., expressed his support for Hodges via Twitter. Former Attorney General and current Senate candidate Jeff Sessions also defended Hodges.

Sessions asserted that the actions taken by the Birmingham Housing Authority and the Birmingham Board of Education against the Church of the Highlands infringed upon the Church’s rights to freely exercise religion and free expression.

According to Flynt, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Hodges shares Turning Point USA’s and Trump’s political views.

Flynt commented, “I’m not surprised that he supports Trump.” Given that a predominantly white evangelical megachurch pastor in the United States is 90% likely to support Donald Trump, I fail to see why it’s such a big deal.

Flynt speculated that the economic downturn during the lockdown and the transformation of protests against police abuse into rioting in several cities might have diminished support among white evangelicals for Trump.

The actions taken by the Birmingham Housing Authority and the Birmingham Board of Education could potentially tarnish some people’s perception of Hodges.

Still, Flynt predicts that this will have minimal to no impact on the Church’s expansion in Alabama.

While Flynt acknowledges that aligning with Trump may have negative repercussions outside of the Church, he contends that it is advantageous within the congregation. “It won’t have any noticeable impact on the Church of the Highlands,” he argues.

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