Chris Hodges, founder and leader of Church of the Highlands, one of the largest churches in America, apologized Sunday for liking social media posts of Turning Point USA leader Charlie Kirk that have been criticized as racially insensitive.
“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,” Hodges said Sunday in his sermon to his diverse but mostly white Alabama congregation.
“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.”
The apology comes after Birmingham high school English teacher Jasmine Faith Clisby told AL.com that Hodges followed and liked several social media posts by 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, according to AL.com, 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.”
Turning Point USA was founded by Kirk, 26, as a national student movement dedicated to identifying, organizing, and empowering young people to promote the principles of free markets and limited government.
Clisby argued that Kirk, who has denounced white nationalism, is well-known to hold views such as “white privilege being a myth.”
White privilege is defined in a number of ways and one definition as highlighted by the University of Dayton is: “A right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by white persons beyond the common advantage of all others; an exemption in many particular cases from certain burdens or liabilities.”
“I found something troubling," Clisby told AL.com. "I can’t see into Pastor Chris Hodges’ heart.
“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 post[s] things that do not seem culturally sensitive to me.”
In his message on Sunday, Hodges clearly stated that white supremacy “is of the devil."
“White supremacy or any supremacy other than Christ, is of the devil,” he said. “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.”
The church spent much of their time over the weekend addressing the issue of racism and Hodges said dealing with the coronavirus and the explosion of racial tensions at the same time has made it an “incredibly tough season for our nation."
“On Monday, once again, an unarmed black man died needlessly, as a police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck," Hodges said. "I know with each new incident, with this one, Ahmaud Arbery, I think of Atatiana Jefferson, it’s disgraceful that racism, injustice, bigotry, prejudice, still even exists at all. 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.”
Two years ago, controversial longtime Alabama pastor the Rev. Michael R. Jordan of New Era Baptist Church in Birmingham slammed the Church of the Highlands as racist and "hypocritical" in its bid to start a church plant in one of Birmingham's most violent neighborhoods.
"Whites left the inner city. Whites carried their churches with them, they moved to the suburbs. White folk have proved they don't want to live next door to us, or be our neighbors, or worship with us," Jordan said in an earlier report. "Now they want to plant a white church in a black neighborhood under the umbrella of supposedly to fight crime? The real reason Church of the Highlands wants to put a white church in a black neighborhood is they have too many black folks at their main campus and they want them to leave and come to a church in their inner city."