Church of the Highlands Exposed Church of the Highlands Exposed

Church of the Highlands Exposed: Uncovering the Full Story

The Church of the Highlands, with its aim of guiding individuals towards knowing God and making a difference, has established itself as a beacon of spiritual guidance. Offering a variety of resources from weekly worship services to a mobile app, the church’s footprint extends across Alabama, underline by its commitment to cater to diverse age groups through tailored ministries.

This article delves into the ‘Church of the Highlands exposed’, shedding light on the detailed background of the church, the allegations it faces, its stance, and the ensuing community and media reactions. It aims to present a comprehensive view of the story unfolding around one of Alabama’s most influential religious institutions.

Background and Growth of Church of the Highlands

Founding and Early Development

The Church of the Highlands was established on February 4, 2001, by Pastor Chris Hodges and a core group of 34 individuals. Initially, the church held its services in the Fine Arts Auditorium of Mountain Brook High School, attracting around 400 attendees in its inaugural service. Despite a slight decline in attendance in the subsequent service, a turning point came after the 9/11 attacks, which saw a surge in church attendance across the nation, filling the auditorium to capacity and setting the stage for rapid growth.

Expansion and Growth

By Easter 2002, the demand for services led to the introduction of a second service. The church’s operations initially ran out of Pastor Hodges’ basement, emphasizing its humble beginnings. Over the years, the church expanded its footprint across Alabama, with significant milestones including the opening of its main building in 2007, which features a 2,400-seat auditorium. As of early 2022, the Church of the Highlands boasts 25 campuses across Alabama and Georgia, including the purpose-built Woodlawn Campus near Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport, which opened in September 2022.

Impact and Contributions

Under Pastor Hodges’ leadership, the church has not only grown in attendance but also in its impact, both spiritually and socially. The church has been a significant contributor to community and charitable efforts, giving away approximately $100 million to various causes. Additionally, it played a founding role in the Association of Related Churches (ARC), which has started 925 churches nationwide. The church’s approach to ministry, which includes a wide array of programs such as Highlands Kids, Students, and Highlands College, emphasizes its commitment to nurturing a life-giving culture and fostering intimate relationships with God.

Educational Initiatives

A notable extension of the church’s mission is Highlands College, which focuses on training students in ministry through a holistic educational approach that includes academic instruction, ministry training, character formation, and spiritual development. In 2023, Highlands College achieved a milestone by being granted initial accreditation by the Association for Biblical Higher Education Commission on Accreditation. This accreditation marks a significant step in the college’s development, reflecting its commitment to providing high-quality religious education.

The Allegations: A Detailed Look

Pastor Chris Hodges and The Lodge Retreat Center

  1. Clarification on The Lodge’s Purpose: Pastor Chris Hodges stated that The Lodge, a retreat center associated with the Church of the Highlands, is intended for pastors experiencing burnout, not for clergy accused of sexual misconduct.

Pastoral Restorations and Allegations

  1. Involvement in Pastoral Restorations: Hodges has been involved in the restoration of pastors, including Associate Pastor Dino Rizzo after an inappropriate relationship.
  2. Case of Pastor Micahn Carter: The Church of the Highlands initially supported Micahn Carter, former pastor of Together Church, after he stepped down for undisclosed reasons. However, ties were severed following allegations of sexual assault against Carter.
  3. Immediate Actions Taken: Upon learning of the allegations against Carter, Pastor Hodges expressed regret for allowing him to preach and took immediate actions to cut ties.

Legal Challenges and ARC’s Role

  1. Lawsuits Involving ARC: The Association of Related Churches (ARC), co-founded by Hodges, faces lawsuits alleging negligence or cover-up in cases of sexual harassment or abuse by ARC pastors.
  2. Defamation Lawsuit by Micahn Carter: Carter filed a defamation lawsuit seeking $500,000 plus damages against a woman who accused him of rape.

Allegations of Financial and Ethical Misconduct

  1. Allegations Against ARC and Church Leadership: Stovall and Kerri Weems, founders of Celebration Church, filed a lawsuit accusing ARC and its leaders, including Hodges, of engineering a takeover of their church amid allegations of financial mismanagement and abusive conduct.

Investigations and Public Reactions

  1. Investigations into ARC and The Lodge: Both ARC and The Lodge Retreat Center are under investigation for various allegations, including financial misconduct and mishandling of abuse cases.
  2. Public Reactions and Departures: Jeffrey Wright, a former member, left the church citing leadership’s support for controversial political stances, impacting church inclusivity.

Controversies and Social Media Impact

  1. Social Media Controversies: Pastor Hodges faced criticism for liking controversial posts on social media, which raised concerns about racial sensitivity within the church community.

Church’s Stance and Actions Taken

Clarifications and Policies on Pastoral Misconduct

1. The Lodge’s Intended Purpose

Pastor Chris Hodges clarified that The Lodge was designed to serve as a retreat for pastors experiencing burnout, not for those accused of sexual misconduct. The facility, costing $4.5 million, primarily hosts church events and guest speakers.

2. Actions Against Misconduct

The Church of the Highlands has implemented strict measures to prevent any form of misconduct among its clergy. This includes clear policies that ensure no clergy accused of sexual misconduct will reside at The Lodge or participate in its programs.

3. Addressing the Micahn Carter Case

Upon allegations surfacing against former pastor Micahn Carter, the church acted swiftly by severing ties and expressing regret for previously allowing him to preach. This incident prompted a reevaluation of the church’s association with individuals under investigation.

4. Racial Sensitivity and Social Media Controversies

In response to controversies over social media likes, Pastor Hodges devoted sermons to discuss racism and issued an apology, acknowledging his mistakes and emphasizing his commitment to understanding and addressing racial disparities.

5. Recommendations and Reconciliation Efforts

Following the GRACE report’s recommendations, the Church of the Highlands has committed to public repentance for past wrongs and aims to foster reconciliation with survivors, reflecting a proactive stance on addressing issues within the community.

This table summarizes the key actions and stances taken by the Church of the Highlands:

Action Item Description
Purpose of The Lodge Clarified as a retreat for pastors dealing with burnout, not for those accused of misconduct.
Policy on Misconduct Strict rules to prevent misconduct; no accused clergy to stay at The Lodge.
Response to Allegations Immediate severance of ties with individuals like Micahn Carter upon allegations.
Addressing Racial Issues Sermons and apologies to address and learn from past insensitivities.
Reconciliation Efforts Commitment to repentance and potential reconciliation with affected individuals.

These actions demonstrate the church’s commitment to maintaining a safe and respectful environment, free from misconduct and sensitive to community concerns.

Community and Media Reaction

Reactions to Social Media Controversy

  1. Pastor Chris Hodges’ Social Media Activity: Pastor Hodges faced backlash after liking controversial posts by Charlie Kirk. These posts, perceived as culturally insensitive, sparked significant concern among community members, particularly given the church’s diverse congregation.
  2. Impact on Community Services: Following the controversy, the Birmingham Housing Authority and the Birmingham Board of Education ceased their partnerships with the Church of the Highlands. This decision directly affected social outreach programs and halted the church’s involvement in coronavirus testing in public housing areas.

Public and Institutional Response

  1. Withdrawal of Public Support: The public’s response to Hodges’ actions included the termination of contracts that facilitated the church’s community outreach efforts. This included mentoring programs and health services, which were previously supported by the church’s ‘Dream Team’ of volunteers.
  2. Debate Over Church Influence: Criticism extended beyond social media actions to concerns about the church’s rapid expansion and its impact on local congregations. Accusations of congregation ‘stealing’ have been part of the broader discourse on the church’s methods and its influence in the community.

Broader Implications and Discussions

  1. Cultural Sensitivity Concerns: The incident raised questions about the church’s ability to effectively serve and represent its diverse membership, particularly African American congregants. Discussions have emerged about the need for greater cultural sensitivity and inclusiveness.
  2. Debates on Free Speech and Accountability: The fallout from the social media controversy has also fueled discussions on free speech, accountability, and the extent of ‘cancel culture.’ These debates reflect broader societal challenges in balancing freedom of expression with community responsibilities.

This table summarizes key aspects of the community and media reaction:

Aspect Description
Social Media Backlash Criticism over Pastor Hodges liking culturally insensitive posts.
Service Program Impact Termination of church’s involvement in public service programs due to controversy.
Public and Institutional Response Withdrawal of support from public institutions and debates over the church’s influence on local communities.
Cultural Sensitivity and Inclusiveness Emergence of discussions on the church’s role and effectiveness in addressing cultural diversity and sensitivity.
Free Speech and Accountability Ongoing debates regarding the limits and responsibilities associated with free speech in public and religious figures.

These elements illustrate the complex interplay between church activities, public perception, and media response, highlighting the challenges faced by religious institutions in navigating social and cultural landscapes.


Throughout this exploration of the Church of the Highlands, we’ve traversed the establishment’s profound beginnings, rapid expansion, and its significant socio-spiritual impact, juxtaposed against a swirl of controversies and allegations that have both tested and demonstrated its resilience and response mechanisms. The narrative has unfurled a complex tableau of growth, challenge, and the pursuit of reconciliation, underlining the church’s dedication to community service, inclusivity, and transparency amidst the trials posed by internal and external scrutiny. This journey not only reinforces the core ethos of the Church of the Highlands but also exemplifies the multifaceted role of modern religious institutions in navigating societal expectations and ethical obligations.

The Church of the Highlands’ story is a poignant reminder of the broader implications that such institutions bear upon their congregations and the wider community. Its actions taken in response to controversies—ranging from social media miscues to serious allegations of misconduct—reflect an ongoing commitment to reform, learning, and greater societal harmony. Going forward, the church’s journey invites further reflection on the dynamics of faith, leadership, and community engagement in the 21st century, offering valuable lessons on accountability, reconciliation, and the enduring quest for spiritual and moral guidance in an ever-evolving societal landscape.