Unloved preferences: Pastor Chris Hodges, Church of the Highlands and Twitter & # 39; s Wrath | The alternate
Sometimes I feel like I wake up in the scene from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein where everyone picks up pitchforks and torches and goes after the monster. Today, it appears, the one who is under attack is the pastor of the Church of the Highlands, the largest church in Alabama.
It started with Charlie Kirk, the conservative leader of Turning Point USA. Kirk is a strong supporter of President Trump and has been at the center of several high-profile conflicts in recent years. Like many other social media personalities, Kirk seems to be particularly adept at provoking admiration and contempt in equal measure. He knows how to use social media.
Kirk has recently been one of the more visible supporters of the belief that while racism is evil, claims about systemic racism are not true or overstated. In this regard, Kirk represents a significant number of Americans, many of whom identify as evangelical. As I wrote, marched, and talked about it, I believe Kirk (and those who agree with him) are wrong.
Please watch the video we released this morning from the National Association of Evangelicals that I think is a better approach. In other words, I disagree and have spoken quite loudly about it.
Simply put, systematic racism is real and we have an important national moment to address it.
This controversy spread to the evangelical world when Chris Hodges, pastor of the Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, liked some of Kirk's tweets. In a lesson on the power of social media, as James' letter warns of the burning tongue forests, Hodges quickly found himself in the middle of a firestorm. It looks like people with pitchforks and torches are gathering for him and his church.
So we know the following.
It's true that Hodges was a Trump supporter when I wasn't. He has also led his church to be the largest diverse church in Alabama, to engage the poor and marginalized, and to serve widely and well in his community. He and the Church he leads have served the poor, hired the sick, volunteered in schools, and more. During the pandemic, the Church of the Highlands served thousands of meals, made masks, performed blood donations, and helped other churches with online services.
Unfortunately, he also liked some tweets.
Get the pitchforks.
We have all heard the phrase "15 minutes of fame". If this is the case, I firmly believe that we have missed an opportunity. If you put Chris Hodges in a mental "basket full of grievances", the opposite of what many intend.
I keep hearing progressives say Trump supporters are ousting everyone. But now a church is kicked out of school because a pastor likes a few tweets, even after apologizing for his actions. (Remarkable: The Church will continue to provide resources to schools after their church leaves, saying, "In the future, we will continue to provide financial support to the school system and encourage others to do the same.")
Let me add that people in this church pay taxes to the school district and rent to use the space.
The Birmingham District Housing Authority and the Birmingham Board of Education also only cut ties to the Church of the Highlands because Chris liked these social media posts.
The school board did not offer schools free of charge; The church paid rent.
But the school district doesn't want the money and the housing authority doesn't want it to serve the poor.
Abort the rise of culture
Although I think Hodges made a mistake, I'm cautious of how people have armed social media in response. Two years ago I warned Christians in the age of indignation that social media can make us exceptionally bad managers of our anger, even though Christians must be angry about injustice and hatred.
Where Scripture prompts us to teach and reconcile, social media too often provide incentives for those who are concerned with destruction and silence. Most of the time we are concerned with destruction and decommissioning.
This new practice is known as "breaking culture". And as President Obama weighed at a summit last year, making lasting changes is both simple and ineffective. In fact, he condemned the thought of responding by "canceling" someone: "This is not activism. That doesn't change. If you just throw stones, you probably won't get that far. It is easy. "
Simply put, the demolition culture refers to the practice of withdrawing public support after saying or doing something that is considered offensive by a particular group. The schools and the housing authority in Birmingham have just done that.
The demolition culture communicates here. "We will not take your money, Tweet Liker. We will not let you serve our communities either. Get out with you – because we are inclusive." Unfortunately, I can say that I saw this locally on a smaller scale and that I am increasing it see on a larger scale, like in this case.
It seems absolutely critical today that we all have to take the time to look at the overall picture of a person or organization. Each of us has said or done something that deserves a confrontation at some point. It is undeniable. But does each instance require public disgrace and in this case an end to the relationship that has brought so much good to so many?
Here is a church that wants to serve – and has served – and is a leader in its congregation. Unfortunately, at the current time it was true: "The Housing Authority of the Birmingham Division voted on Monday that voluntary helpers and clinic employees are no longer allowed to work in public shared apartments."
Do not miss this: You are canceling church service for the poor because you did not like the pastor's social media.
Let me make two things clear here:
First, I was disappointed with Hodges & # 39; social media activity (as he says he was) and I think it shows that he has to deal with Christian color guides about systemic racism, and second, I see that the role of the church has to play a role rather than be ashamed.
This is a counterculture to "break off culture".
While the rest of the world relies on its division and tribalism, Christians have a rare opportunity to learn from one another in ways that testify to the world of our shared identity in Christ.
As I wrote in Outrage
“Scripture calls us to be people of the towel rather than people of the pitchfork. Jesus modeled this for us when he washed the feet of his disciples (John 13: 1-17) without exception or expectation. This was not an easy object lesson, but an example of perfect service that reflected the humility of Jesus when he came to earth (Philippians 2: 1-11). Jesus then asked his disciples to imitate him by washing each other's feet. People of the Towel understand that Jesus wants us to serve others humbly and lovingly in every human interaction. Perhaps there is no place more important than digital conversations these days. "
The best examples of this spirit in the past few days come from many of my African American brothers and sisters who have tirelessly held webinars, written articles, and replied to social media posts. With more reason than anyone else to leave, I was impressed by their persistence in getting involved in the kingdom. They push forward even when tired. Starting from the richness of their own theological tradition, this is an important lesson on what Christians can learn about our faith when we listen.
Where others want to stop, we are called to forgive and serve. Up to this point I have already contacted Hodges and some Protestant African American pastor friends and offered to connect them for discussions. I hope and pray that this is the beginning of the generation change, in which the Evangelical Church faces up to its mistakes and faces the challenges of our world.
And Hodges, he's already started to model this response, apologize, and commit to serving everyone in his church and community (to be clear, something he has already done):
“As a pastor, and above all as a follower of Jesus, I work to carefully consider every act, weigh every word, and respect every person and every opinion, as Christ taught.
It is clear to me that I hurt people I love very much because I “liked” several insensitive social media posts. Everyone was a mistake. I have it. I'm so sorry. . . .
Over the past 20 years, our church and I have fought for the disenfranchisement, exclusion and violation of ALL races in our community. But this week I learned that despite 20 years of love and service to people, it is still possible to have a blind spot that you just didn't know was there.
I understand that it is my responsibility to have more conversations to better perceive the pain and the pain and to understand ALL people better. . . .
I can promise you one thing: As a pastor, I will continuously do my best to lead you to Jesus, and through my actions I will also teach you what it looks like to need him. This will not be the last mistake I make or the last bit of mercy I need. I need God's compassion and your mercy. "
I agree with Chris regarding Chris' mistakes. And I agree with Chris about Chris' next steps.
Pastors should take note. Our ministries require that we make decisions that sometimes limit our personal freedom. This can take the form of staying away from social media or pushing into our "blind spot" until we appear on the other side. To be honest, with greater impact there is less freedom.
The long, graceful street ahead
But here's the deal: Hodges is not Trump. He's not even Charlie Kirk. He is a pastor who loves his diverse church. He has learned that his preferences hurt some colored people and he listens. Highlands will do it.
Hodges has already learned and will continue to do so. We are experiencing unprecedented times of conflict and change. There are no perfect leaders. Only those who model humility to learn and empathy for those who stumble are worthy of being followed.
The challenge for us is whether we can follow Hodge's model, seek forgiveness, and change when we need to change.
Let me also add to my evangelical friends who are reluctant to support Hodges that your time is coming. It may not go beyond the taste of some tweets, but it may be about your teaching about marriage or your view of Christ's exclusivity. The demolition culture comes for you too. It's only when and how.
So, in a sense, it's not about supporting Hodges' views. It's about being all-in for mercy and mercy. It's about holding onto the belief that the right way forward is to deal with grace on deep and profound issues, rather than finding the seemingly easy way to publicly shame someone else.
This works in both directions – pitchforks feel good until all of them are pierced and nobody has to work together anymore. Aborting culture finally comes for everyone. And we as a church have to find ways to intervene when it happens and shout: "Mercy!"
At the end of the day, the culture of abandonment is self-destructive. It feeds into the narrative of the cultural war that many right-wing voices put forward: They want us all to be out and all to be gone.
Let me also be clear: there are real threats and injustices that we as God's people must face. Furthermore, I am one who believes that the continued political naivety and transactionality of some evangelical leaders in their uncritical support for President Trump will undermine our testimony and will have lasting ramifications for generations.
But like a few tweets – is this the time to get the pitchforks?