Two weeks after he was accused of liking racially insensitive posts on social media, Pastor Chris Hodges of Church of the Highlands in Alabama told his congregation Sunday that he has cried “buckets” since then and is now a changed man since the controversy erupted.
“It’s hard to explain your own journey … I am not the same Chris Hodges I was two weeks ago. Do I have a long way to go? Yes, sir. But I can look you in the eye and say, I’ve been tested, stripped, disciplined, broken. I cry two times a year, and usually with a movie,” he said laughing uneasily in his message, titled "Becoming One."
“I have buckets for days, buckets. I know it’s really been one of the most painful things I’ve ever been through in my life and I know God is disciplining me, breaking me. A broken and a contrite heart is the pathway to the presence and anointing of God,” he explained about the journey he has walked in the last two weeks, which involved conversations with four black leaders on his church’s pastoral staff.
Hodges’ message of repentance and the need for true racial reconciliation came days after the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District and the Birmingham Board of Education cut ties with Church of the Highlands, the largest church in Alabama, due to reports that he 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 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.” Another post says, “We all must do our part to defeat China Virus.”
Hodges previously apologized to his predominantly white but racially diverse congregation but on Sunday, he argued that God was using the coronavirus pandemic as well as Floyd’s death to force America to confront its racism.
Being quarantined, he said, helped “soften” people to receive the message behind Floyd’s death.
“God brought us to a stripping of ourselves. We were in our homes, we were going through a breaking. We lost things only to soften our hearts so that that event that took place in Minneapolis could be history making,” Hodges said.
“I think God is doing it to America. I think He’s done it to people that don’t even know God. That we’re shaken and I really believe that God is doing something. I’m so encouraged today. I truly believe the devil is going to be defeated and we’re going to see not only a healing from a disease but I don’t think our land is ever going to be the same again. I truly believe we’re going to see lasting change,” he said.
The Church of the Highlands founder said he interrupted his vacation to speak to his congregation because God spoke to him about preserving unity in the church.
He cited Ephesians 4:3-6, which says: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
“We all know there’s not a lot of ones right now. There’s a lot … not just in America but across the world there’s a lot of distinctive groups that have been formed or in people’s mind, different groups that, not a lot of one going on. And the Bible tells us, the church, tells me as a pastor, you need to make an effort to kind of bring back the ones. We gotta get back to one,” Hodges said as he gingerly broached the issue of race and acknowledged his church’s own struggle to stay united.
“One of the ironies of our experience that is happening not only in our nation but here at our own church is that for the last three months, I was leading with some others an effort to bring unity to the body of Christ through prayer in this thing called Unite 714. And while there was unity in leading unity around the world, I had allowed disunity to happen in my own back yard, own church, own city, own nation the world,” he said. “And the Lord said, ‘No, no, no. You did it there but you need to do it here.”
Hodges said his church will be working on initiatives to improve race relations, which will be posted on the church’s website over the coming months.
“We do it for COVID-19, why can’t we do it for racial reconciliation,” he noted.
“I’ve grown,” he continued, noting that he thinks Christians can become one in heart by choosing to learn, lament and love in order to overcome racism.
“We gotta not let this moment pass us by and act like it didn’t happen,” he said. “I have the first hope in my 56, almost 57 years that we could actually move the ball down the field in this racial reconciliation thing. I really, really do.”