The pastor of the largest church in Alabama went public with his support of a right-wing organization and it has cost the church dearly. The Birmingham City School Board voted to terminate their $6,000 a week contract with the Church of the Highlands allowing them to hold services in two school facilities. The Birmingham Housing Authority voted to ban the church from sending volunteers to their property. And the congregation’s Christ Health Center has been forbidden from assisting with COVID texting in public housing communities. Church pastor Chris Hodges had been following and liking Charlie Kirk, a conservative commentator and Turning Point USA president. Hodges addressed the controversy in his Sunday sermon and apologized for his actions, pleading for an opportunity to be a healer in the current racial crisis.
The Supreme Court handed down two decisions this week, fraught with religious significance. First, by a vote of 6-3, they included sexual orientation and gender identity in the categories protected by federal law in all matters related to employment. In other words, employers may not discriminate against gay and transgendered persons in any areas related to employment. It was a major setback for religious conservatives who have sought to pack the Supreme Court with those who will rule in their favor—against such things as gay rights and abortion. In a second case, the Court stayed the execution of a Christian man in Texas because he had been denied the death-day services of a minister of his choosing. Interestingly, both of these decisions were written by the two Trump appointees to the Court, Neil Gorsuch and Bret Kavanaugh.
The Episcopal Diocese of Missouri has installed Reverend Deon K. Johnson, a descendant of a slave, as their bishop. He is the first black, openly-gay bishop in the179-year history of the diocese and one of the few with that description in the history of the Episcopal church nationwide. “We have a whole new story to tell and a whole new boldness to tell it with,” he said, upon his installation, “I look forward to the adventure.”
Rev. Rolland Slade, senior pastor of Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, California, has been elected unanimously to serve as chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. This committee of volunteers is the group that runs the business of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination outside its annual meetings. Slade is the first African American to hold that position, generally considered the most powerful non-employee position in the Convention. Slade was previously vice chairman of the Executive Committee and chair of its Cooperative Program Committee, which handles the denomination’s central funding mechanism. The denomination was formed before the Civil War in a conflict over slavery; in recent days, it has been rocked by decline in numbers and division over the role of race. The denomination has been criticized for the lack of minorities in many executive positions at its seminaries, mission boards and agencies.
Christians throughout the nation, but especially in Charleston, commemorated the massacre that took place five years ago at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. On June 17, 2015, Dylann Root joined a Wednesday night Bible Study led by the pastor in the ground floor fellowship hall of the historic African American church. After a time of prayer and study, he pulled out a gun and killed nine people (including the pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney) and wounded three others. At the memorial service, President Barack Obama spoke, then sang “Amazing Grace”. Since then, the church has coped with streams of tourists, pilgrims, scholars, and visitors, a situation that has challenged both their congregational life and their hospitality.