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Birmingham's housing authority, schools cut ties with Church of the Highlands over pastor’s social media likes

Donald Trump Jr calls decision 'absolutely insane'

Birmingham's housing authority, schools cut ties with Church of the Highlands over pastor’s social media likes

Chris Hodges, founding and senior pastor of Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama, speaks at a Hillsong Conference in July 2018. | (Photo: Hillsong)

The Housing Authority of the Birmingham District and the Birmingham Board of Education cut ties with Church of the Highlands due to controversy surrounding Chris Hodges, the church’s founder and pastor, liking social media posts that have been criticized as racially insensitive.

“Due to a recent social media controversy involving Church of the Highlands’ pastor Chris Hodges, HABD Board of Commissioners voted Monday during a special called meeting to end HABD’s partnership with the church," the affordable housing provider said in a statement Monday.

The decision affects a Memorandum of Understanding that has existed since October 2017 between HABD and Church of the Highlands which provided resident outreach programs and social services at its Campus of Hope, located in the Marks Village Public Housing community.

The Birmingham Board of Education also voted Tuesday night to end its leases with Church of the Highlands, which paid an average of $12,000 a month each to rent Parker High School and Woodlawn High School for Sunday worship services, AL.com reported. The megachurch has over 20 locations throughout Alabama for services.

English teacher Jasmine Faith Clisby complained in an earlier report that Hodges followed and liked several social media posts of Turning Point USA leader Charlie Kirk in the wake of national protests over the killing of 46-year-old African American George Floyd by Minneapolis Police Department officers on Memorial Day.

One of the posts reportedly shows two photos — one featuring President Donald Trump standing next to Muhammad Ali and Rosa Parks with the caption “The racist Donald Trump in the 1980s,” and the other featuring Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam with two men wearing blackface and a KKK costume with the caption “Progressive Leftist Ralph Northam in the 1980s.”

Hodges has since apologized to his predominantly white but racially diverse congregation.

“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 and that is not what we teach," Hodges said in a sermon two Sundays ago. "I understand how this has made you feel and I apologize. Honestly, it’s understandable to me. I don’t take it personally. I know people are hurting right now and they want clarity. 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.”

During an emotional prayer service the day before, Hodges called Floyd's killing "outrageous," "wrong" and "disgraceful."

"Racism, bigotry, prejudice exists; it’s real," he stated. "And it’s of the devil. White supremacy or any supremacy other than the supremacy of Christ is of the devil."

The housing authority, which has been providing affordable housing in Birmingham for more than 80 years, did not appear satisfied with Hodges’ apology.

“Pastor Hodges recently submitted a public apology to his church members after ‘liking’ social media posts that were perceived as racist and offensive to people in the African-American community. HABD Board of 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,” the agency said.

Church of the Highlands did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday when contacted by The Christian Post. In a statement to AL.com, however, Hodges thanked the the HABD for allowing his church to serve.

“Jesus Christ teaches us to love our neighbors,” Hodges said. “In these complex times we want to do more than ever to listen, love and serve our city. We want to publicly 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.”

President Donald Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., responded to the situation on Tuesday, calling the HABD decision “absolutely insane.”

“They’re canceling the pastor of the largest (and most racially diverse) church in Alabama just because he liked some of @charliekirk11’s posts,” he wrote.

According to the MOU that existed between Church of the Highlands and the housing agency, the church, which is the largest in Alabama and one of the largest congregations in America, would provide public housing residents with a number of social service activities in addition to mentoring, support groups and faith activities.

“In addition, the vote to cancel the MOU with COTH will cease activities provided by The Dream Center and Christ Health Center, which are both ministries within the COTH,” the agency said.

Christ Health Center CEO Dr. Robert Record, who also attends and is on staff at the Church of the Highlands, told AL.com that while the church continues to fund the clinic, the church and the clinic are separate entities, with separate boards of directors.

“We are thankful to serve thousands of patients who live in these great neighborhoods," Record said in a statement. "The vast majority of this medical work is done in our clinic and grows into relationships within homes across the community. These patients are our neighbors and friends, and we will continue to provide care as we always have. We were happy to partner recently with HABD to bring free COVID-testing right into the community – our first direct patient care on HABD property. This mobile-testing opportunity may take some reworking.”

In their statement on Monday, HABD noted that its decision to end its relationship with Church of the Highlands does not diminish the great work the church has done.

“HABD greatly appreciates the many resources provided for our residents by COTH staff and volunteers over the years. Severing this partnership does not diminish the great work and support from COTH, which has made a difference in the lives of countless residents,” the agency said.

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