Church of the Highlands Exposed

Founded in 2001 and headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, the Church of the Highlands, a prominent megachurch, has come under severe scrutiny and criticism due to racially insensitive actions attributed to its senior pastor, Chris Hodges.

Under Hodges’ leadership, the Church of the Highlands has grown rapidly into Alabama’s largest church, with over 50,000 weekly attendees spread across 22 campuses. However, the church’s expansion and Hodges’ charismatic preaching style have stirred occasional controversy over the years.

The recent scandal erupted when it was revealed that Hodges had endorsed numerous social media posts by Charlie Kirk, the controversial leader of Turning Point USA, an organization accused of promoting racist views.

The scandal has sharply divided opinions, drawing support from conservatives while continuing to face criticism from black leaders and liberal circles. Analysts argue it underscores Hodges’ alignment with Donald Trump, and insensitivity to racial issues.

As a consequence, the city of Birmingham severed ties with the church, which had been providing essential services such as housing, healthcare, and education to disadvantaged communities. Hodges offered tearful apologies but asserted his decades of community service as evidence of his non-racist stance.

For the influential Church of the Highlands, known for its youthful congregation, this moment signifies a critical juncture as it navigates heightened scrutiny.

The long-term repercussions on Hodges’ reputation and the church’s future trajectory remain uncertain. The controversy has starkly illuminated deep-seated divides over race, politics, and social justice.

Church of The Highlands Scandal Overview

The Church of the Highlands, a sizable Christian megachurch located in Birmingham, Alabama, was founded in 2001 by Pastor Chris Hodges. Since its inception, the church has experienced rapid growth, now boasting over 20 campuses across Alabama and drawing a weekly attendance of more than 38,000 individuals.

The church’s mission is centered on guiding individuals to discover and follow Jesus. It aligns itself with mainstream evangelical Christianity and emphasizes worship services featuring contemporary Christian music, small group gatherings, biblical teachings, and active involvement in local and global outreach initiatives.

Church of the Highlands Exposed (2)

In recent times, the Church of the Highlands has encountered scrutiny and controversy:

  • Concerns have emerged about Pastor Hodges’ substantial compensation and the church’s financial transparency. Despite generating tens of millions annually, critics argue it allocates insufficient funds to charitable causes.
  • In 2014, the Church of the Highlands established a branch in the Cayman Islands, perceived by some as an effort to evade U.S. disclosure laws. This branch ceased operations in 2018 amid public scrutiny.
  • Former attendees and staff members have criticized the church for fostering a controlling environment resembling a cult, discouraging dissent and demanding unwavering obedience to Pastor Hodges and other leaders.
  • In 2016, a youth pastor at the Birmingham campus resigned and was arrested on charges of sexually abusing a minor, highlighting concerns about accountability within the growing megachurch.
  • The church has drawn criticism for its affiliation with financial expert Dave Ramsey, whose teachings on topics like tithing and debt management have sparked controversy.
  • In 2020, Pastor Hodges openly defied COVID-19 restrictions in Alabama by maintaining full church operations, triggering confrontations with local authorities and prompting widespread health concerns.

Despite its emphasis on community service, the church has allocated over $100 million towards expanding campuses and upgrading production facilities in recent years, raising questions about its financial priorities and commitment to charitable endeavors.

In 2018, plans were unveiled to open a new campus in Huntsville, Alabama, sparking opposition from local residents and businesses worried about its potential impact on the area’s small-town character. Despite protests, zoning approval was ultimately granted.

  • Pastor Hodges authored a book titled “The Cure,” outlining the church’s approach to Christian living. However, critics argue that the book promotes harmful attitudes towards guilt, sexuality, and human nature.
  • Some critics point to concerns over the church’s alleged authoritarian leadership style, lack of financial transparency, and other operational practices.
  • Highlands College, the church’s ministry training program, has also faced scrutiny for its lack of accreditation and high costs. Some graduates have expressed feeling unprepared for ministry roles after completing the program.
  • Critics have highlighted the church’s biblical counseling program, which lacks licensed clinical therapists or psychologists. This has raised concerns about the quality and potential risks of such counseling.
  • A significant incident in 2022 involved the resignation of a children’s pastor amidst allegations of misconduct. The handling of this resignation raised questions about the church’s accountability and investigative procedures.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Pastor Hodges drew criticism for holding large services without implementing necessary health precautions, citing religious exemptions. This sparked controversy and concerns about public health and responsible leadership during a crisis.
  • There have been accusations that the church pressures members to volunteer, donate money, and recruit new attendees, sometimes resorting to shaming or threatening individuals who do not comply.
  • Despite these criticisms, many devoted members believe the church adheres faithfully to traditional Christian teachings and positively impacts the local community, solidifying its position as one of the largest and most influential churches in the American South.

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