Church of The Highlands Exposed: Pastor Chris Hodges Scandal

This article intends to explore the recent attention on the factors leading to the Church of The Highlands’ exposure, identifying those accountable, and examining the ensuing repercussions.

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

Over time, it has grown significantly, evolving into the foremost church in Alabama, with a network spanning more than 22 locations across the state.

Over time, it has grown significantly, evolving into the foremost church in Alabama, with a network spanning more than 22 locations across the state.

The Church of the Highlands’ services, characterized by a rock concert-style atmosphere and diverse praise bands, have stirred controversy and faced accusations of drawing congregants away from established churches.

Hodges’ sermons, which prioritize lifestyle themes and are infused with Louisiana charisma and folksy humor, have prompted theologians to question their adherence to orthodox beliefs.

The Church of the Highlands overcame challenges and expanded its reach by constructing a $16 million campus in Irondale, renting auditoriums for services, establishing new branches, and broadcasting sermons statewide via live streaming.

As of the start of 2020, each location regularly welcomed over 50,000 attendees to its services.

The Church’s swift expansion was unparalleled at the time, drawing pastors from other regions who sought to glean insights from Highlands’ success. Furthermore, Highlands College is nurturing a new cohort of millennial ministers through its training programs.

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

Our company has always prioritized delivering top-notch live-streaming video services, which facilitated a seamless transition to exclusively offering them online.

Tithing was already being contributed by church members online, ensuring stable revenue despite the shift to exclusively online services.

The organization embodies a modern and astute approach, attracting members predominantly under 50 residing in suburban areas and emphasizing a millennial focus. While conservative in both theology and politics, the Church maintains a contemporary outlook on its operations and engagement.

The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on Memorial Day escalated racial tensions, providing an opportunity for Hodges’ critics to intensify their attacks.

He had been aligning himself with the controversial pro-Trump activist Charlie Kirk, who serves as the president of Turning Point USA. One of the organization’s missions includes promoting the notion that “White Privilege is a myth.”

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

In response to the reactions, the “Dream Team” of volunteers from the Church of the Highlands has 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 providing healthcare services to residents of public housing.

In March, Christ Health Center provided free 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 decided to cut ties with the Church, which had been renting space at Parker and Woodlawn High Schools from Birmingham City Schools since 2014.

“I stand with the Church of the Highlands—the government of Birmingham MUST immediately reverse its anti-religious and discriminatory actions taken this week against @HighlandsAL and Pastor Chris Hodges!”

Hodges has tearfully expressed regret multiple times for liking Kirk’s social media messages and has emphasized that Kirk’s opinions do not align with his own.

The criticism, however, has only grown louder. According to Hodges’s close associates, this news has deeply affected him.

“Pastor Chris doesn’t have a racist bone in his body,” stated Associate Pastor Layne Schranz, who moved to Birmingham to assist in founding the Church. His twenty-year track record attests to that fact.

Hodges has consistently prioritized 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 community volunteer efforts have been concentrated at this location. Hundreds of “Dream Team” volunteers frequently assist with tasks such as garbage pickup and home repairs for those in need.

Some prominent black pastors responded negatively to Hodges’s 2018 announcement of his intention to establish 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 enlisted Mayo Sowell, a former Auburn University football player and 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.

Before 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 in 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 their gatherings near Parker and Woodlawn could potentially provoke significant animosity. It’s prudent to steer clear of any further negative feedback in the city at this juncture. Consequences arise from our actions.

Recently, some white and black Highlands students have openly expressed doubts about their allegiances.

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

President Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted his support for Hodges, while former Attorney General and current Senate candidate Jeff Sessions also defended Hodges.

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

According to Flynt, the revelation that Hodges shares Turning Point USA’s and Trump’s political views shouldn’t have come as a shock to anyone.

Flynt remarked, “I’m not surprised that he supports Trump.” A predominantly white evangelical megachurch pastor in the United States is 90% likely to support Donald Trump. I fail to see what the fuss is about.

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

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

However, Flynt predicts that this will likely 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 within the congregation, such alignment is advantageous. He believes it will not have any noticeable impact on the Church of the Highlands.


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