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On June 9, the Birmingham Board of Education and Housing Authority voted to end its lease with Church of The Highlands after Pastor Chris Hodges liked a tweet posted by the conservative group, Turning Point USA.
The church paid $288,000 dollars per year to rent Parker High School and Woodlawn High School for weekly Sunday worship services.
Services have been held at Woodlawn since 2012, and at Parker since 2018. Christ Health Clinic, an organization connected to Church of the Highlands provided free COVID-19 testing for residents of Birmingham Public Housing. The Board of Education and the Housing Authority’s vote also prevents both church volunteers and clinic workers to do work at public housing communities.
This situation draws a parallel to when a New York City councilman asked Samaritan’s purse to leave the city in early May after operating a field hospital in Central Park. The city council refused to tolerate the socially conservative, biblical views of the organization and prioritized “inclusion and diversity” over welcoming a group focused on saving lives and offering assistance during a pandemic.
In the same way, the Birmingham Board of Education and Housing Authority showed they are more concerned with conformity to a certain set of beliefs and values that are deemed culturally palatable and politically correct and that they cannot tolerate individuals and organizations who may hold different values, such as the leaders of Samaritan’s Purse and Church of the Highlands.
Both organizations sought to serve their communities by providing either coronavirus testing or assistance, which is something that seemingly would foster unity and a willingness to work together despite differences.
Unfortunately, this trend is part of a toxic “cancel culture” that is growing within American society. HBO Max pulled “Gone With the Wind” from due to its depiction of slavery and the Civil War South. Activists have rebelled against Harry Potter author J.K Rowling’s stance on gender, supporting “single-sex” spaces. These instances point towards a broader trend of being unable to digest different perspectives and still find common ground within society. This is a destructive trend that ends up discouraging tolerance in the marketplace of ideas and freedom of thought.
The severing of the relationship between the Birmingham Board of Education and Church of the Highlands is also an attack on religious freedom. For a public organization to sever its relationship with a religious organization based on superficial social media activity, such as liking a few tweets, sets up a new test of scrutiny that not a single individual would be able to pass. It is possible that religious organizations, non-profits and independent business owners across the country could be subjected to this toxic cancel culture simply for engaging in similar activity on social media as Church of the Highlands Pastor Chris Hodges did. Pastor Hodges has since apologized for liking the tweets, saying they do not reflect his views at all.
Responding to the idea of “cancel culture,” has been presented in a very constructive way at Liberty University and is something Senior Vice President of Spiritual Development David Nasser has addressed and modeled. Nasser has both invited and welcomed various guests to Convocation, who did not share all of Liberty’s ideological beliefs.
The idea of engaging respectfully with individuals who hold different values correlates with Liberty’s “We The Champions” mission statement, including the idea of “challenging perspectives.”
Liberty students are taught to constructively engage with different ideas, not to cut themselves off from an organization simply because they have a different set of values and beliefs. Christians are called to go above and beyond the toxic trend of cancel culture, loving and serving others, even if they might not agree with them. As Americans, we should be better than cancelling organizations of any kind, especially religious organizations, for following Scripture and thinking freely in their convictions.