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Culture

Black Churchgoers Get Kicked Out Of Their Sunday Venues Over Instagram “Likes”

By Brooke Conrad·· 6 min read
church of the highlands

It seems as though anything on social media can be misconstrued as “racist,” or “insensitive,” even if that was never the poster’s intent.

The irony is that “cancel culture” will oust anyone — black or white — when they associate with people or perspectives the social media mob doesn’t like. 

You Can Now Get in Trouble for Just “Liking” 

Chris Hodges is a white pastor who leads the second largest church in the country — Church of the Highlands — with multiple campuses across Alabama. Several days ago, Hodges liked a few Instagram posts from the conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA, led by Charlie Kirk. 

One post pictured Donald Trump standing next to Muhammad Ali and Rosa Parks with the caption, “The racist Donald Trump in the 1980s.” The photo was juxtaposed with the notorious 1984 yearbook photo of Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam that pictured two men wearing blackface and a KKK costume, along with the caption “Progressive Leftist Ralph Northam in the 1980s,” reported al.com.

Another post that Hodges liked was a photo of Kirk donating blood with the statement, “We all must do our part to defeat the China Virus.” Hodges also liked a post featuring a quote from Michelle Obama, asking people to stay home except for essential activities, above a picture of former President Barack Obama playing golf. 

One Facebook Complaint and Cancel Culture Kicks In 

A high school English teacher in Birmingham, Alabama, didn’t approve of Hodges’ Instagram activity. After screen-shotting the posts with Hodges’ likes on them, she took to social media to air her grievances.

“I would be upset if it comes off as me judging him,” wrote Jasmine Faith Clisby in a Facebook post. “It’s not that. I’m not saying he’s a racist. I’m saying he likes someone who posts things that do not seem culturally sensitive to me.”

“I’m saying he likes someone who posts things that do not seem culturally sensitive to me.”

The City of Birmingham takes action against Hodges’ church and ministries.

Her post kicked off a public firestorm. On Monday, June 8, the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District told the church that volunteers could no longer enter public housing to offer free youth mentoring and social services. They issued the same prohibition to Christ Health Center, founded by Church of the Highlands, which has provided free and discounted services to the poor for over a decade. 

The biggest blow arrived Tuesday, June 9, when the Birmingham Board of Education voted to end its high school building leases with two Church of the Highlands campuses that used the venues for Sunday services. 

The black community suffers the most.

Ironically, the housing residents and church members were mostly black.

The people who suffered most from the incident were not other Instagram users who saw Hodges’ activity, as Clisby insinuated in her Facebook post. 

The people who suffered most were the two black campus pastors — Jamil Gilleylen and Mayo Sowell — and their majority-black congregations who participated in services at the Parker and Woodlawn locations until the city shut them down. The city’s decision also affected the mostly-black residents living in the nine Birmingham Public Housing communities where the church offered free health and social services.

The Church of the Highlands has been actively serving the underprivileged of all colors in Birmingham for years.

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen many compassionate individuals urging others to use their social privileges to help those who are less privileged. The Church of the Highlands was already responding to that call long before June 2020. 

The Church of the Highlands’ more than 50,000 members are majority-white, but they saw the needs of the less-privileged in Birmingham — the people who live in the city’s poorest, most violent areas — and brought their churches there. They also paid the city government nearly $817,000 to use its inner-city venues since 2014.

The Church of the Highlands offered mentoring, community support groups, and social service activities.

In addition, the church opened its arms to the less-privileged individuals occupying the city’s public housing by offering mentoring, community support groups, and social service activities. As of late, the church even gave public housing residents free COVID-19 testing. 

Nevertheless, the city government caved to public pressure over Hodges’ likes, and hundreds of people suffered the consequences. Now black congregants at two Birmingham campuses have no place to meet on Sundays, and public housing residents have fewer resources than they did before.

Cancel Culture Does More Harm Than Good

Hodges should not have been canceled. All he did was press the "like" button on a few relatively-insignificant Instagram posts, and the city government turned his life — and the lives of his members — upside-down. Not only that, but the city completely disregarded the church's long-standing record of community service in Birmingham and the revenue stream resulting from the use of its venues.

It’s good to hold people accountable for their actions — especially people with a lot of influence, like Hodges. But canceling someone for their political opinions is another matter, especially when those opinions are expressed in a relatively harmless way. As Hodges’ case shows, you don’t even have to create your own content to get canceled; merely liking a post or following the account of a controversial figure is enough to incite the rage of the social media mob.

Sometimes people forget that cancel culture makes ripple effects. In Hodges’ case, those ripples multiplied into the hundreds.

Sometimes people forget that cancel culture makes ripple effects. In Hodges’ case, those ripples multiplied into the hundreds. In other cases — say, where someone loses their job over a provocative Facebook post — their spouse and/or children also suffer the financial loss. Not to mention the ripples that spread into our broader culture, that prevent us from speaking the truth for fear of ruining our careers or relationships.

Closing Thoughts

There are so many pockets of good in the world (Yes, I believe I can still say that, even in the middle of a pandemic and worldwide social unrest!). The Church of the Highlands’ inner-city ministry is one example, and there are many more like it. Instead of quashing those small, fragile embers of hope, let’s see how we can fan them into bigger flames.

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