A couple of weeks ago, Pastor Chris Hodges, who heads up Alabama’s largest church, Church of the Highlands, came under fire after a teacher shared screenshots of Hodges “liking” a series of Twitter posts from conservative activist Charlie Kirk.
The teacher’s post is no longer public, but here’s what it looked like:
One meme shared by Kirk featured a photo of Donald Trump standing alongside Muhammad Ali and Rosa Parks, with the caption, “The racist Donald Trump in the 1980s,” next to a photo of Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in a photo of two men wearing blackface and a KKK costume in a 1984 yearbook photo for Eastern Virginia Medical School. The caption for the second photo was “Progressive Leftist Ralph Northam in the 1980s.”
Clisby also shared a screen shot of that post with Hodges as one of those who “liked” the post on social media. Another screen shot showed Hodges liking a post about former President Barack Obama playing golf beneath a quote from Michelle Obama urging people to stay home except for essential activities. Another screen shot shows Hodges liking a photo of Kirk donating blood above the sentence, “We all must do our part to defeat China Virus.”
In essence, the problem was that a known MAGA cultist posted misleading, racist material for his fans, and this prominent Christian pastor expressed his support. (That picture with Rosa Parks and Muhammad Ali, by the way, had everything to do with all of them receiving awards for different things at a banquet. It’s not like Trump was being given a Best Friend to African Americans award.)
Hodges later said in a sermon that he didn’t support those things at all — hahaha, you think a heart symbol on Twitter means I like something?! You’re all crazy! — before adding that he’s totally not a racist.
“White supremacy or any supremacy other than Christ, is of the devil,” Hodges 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.”
It’s entirely possible to denounce white supremacy while still promoting the very things that lead to white supremacy. Donald Trump does it every damn day.
Hodges later issued a more formal statement:
I realize that I have hurt people that I love deeply because I “liked” multiple insensitive social media posts. Each one was a mistake. I own it. I’m sorry. I’ve learned so much in the past few days about racial disparities in America. I wish I could sit down and have a conversation with everyone impacted or hurt by my actions.
Right. Sure. Each one — *like* — was a mistake — *like* — and that’s why — *like* — he just can’t stop doing it!
It’s not just about the “likes.” It’s about finding humor in a racist person’s attempted jokes. Maybe that flies in evangelical Christian circles — I mean, they love it when Sean Hannity does it — but decent people should know better.
Well, guess what? Now Hodges is facing the consequences of his actions. He has freedom of speech, of course, but not freedom from repercussions.
His church used to rent out space at a couple of high schools in Birmingham on weekends — which is perfectly legal — but the Birmingham Board of Education voted on Tuesday to end their lease with the church. They don’t want his racist dirty money anymore.Church members also volunteered at several public housing communities in the city — it’s not clear if they were allowed to proselytize — but the Housing Authority of Birmingham decided on Monday that they didn’t want to put up with Hodges’ racism either.
Here’s Ed Stetzer at Christianity Today who is absolutely appalled that anyone could be upset at a pastor who’s totally not racist… even if he thinks racist memes are just hilarious.
The cancel culture communicates here, ”We won’t take your money, tweet liker. We won’t let you serve our communities either. Out with you — because we are inclusive.”
Perhaps a better way is to take the time to look at the larger picture of a person or organization. Each of us have said or done something at some point that deserves conversation or pehaps even confrontation. That is undeniable. But does every instance require a public shaming and, in this instance, a cessation of ties that has offered so much good to so many?
Not all public shaming is good or useful. But when you’re a person in a prominent position who has a reputation for leading a racially diverse church, and you get caught endorsing racist memes, then yes, a public shaming is perfectly understandable.
Instead of phrasing that as a hypothetical question, maybe Stetzer could reach out to some Black people who work at those schools or live in those housing communities and ask how they feel about having ties to a church whose leader might say out loud he loves all people but then goes home and amuses himself with right-wing Twitter memes.
Again, Hodges has no right to have contracts with these other places. If they want to break it off, that’s their decision. It’s not like they broke off ties to all Christians. Just the church connected to this guy.
Here’s a better question that I would love to see answered: How much racism is Stetzer (and other defenders) willing to tolerate from Christian leaders before he’ll admit they crossed a line? He says very clearly he doesn’t agree with Kirk and has no love for Trump, but plenty of white evangelicals have tolerated Trump’s cruelty for years by rationalizing it in other ways. The racism and sexism that exists in conservative Christian circles is also no surprise to the public. We know many evangelicals Christians will put up with bigotry because they’ve been doing it for decades.
Hodges still has his church. If he wants to explain why Charlie Kirk is full of shit, he has a weekly platform to do it. If he wants to show how he’s actually not racist, then he’s free to speak out against the moral bankruptcy of conservatives in power. Not with some useless generic “racism is bad, Jesus is good, let’s just get along” sermon but by actually calling out bad ideas that are very likely held by many of the evangelicals in his church.
Stetzer wants us to judge Hodges by his actions — by how his church serves the poor and volunteers and makes COVID masks, etc. Well, Hodges should also be judged by what he does on social media. It’s not like he sat down on his phone and accidentally liked those tweets.
A Twitter “like” may seem petty, but it reveals what’s actually going on in his head. If he can’t bother to denounce conservative bigotry on Twitter the way he does from the pulpit, then he shouldn’t be rewarded with any contract he wants, especially when many of the people served by those public schools and public housing communities are routinely worse off because of the policies promoted by the very conservatives Hodges likes so much.
He deleted his Twitter account, by the way. Now, if he wants to like more racist tweets, he’ll do it in private.
(Screenshot via YouTube)