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A Kinder Gentler Evangelism at Ark Encounter? | Righting America

by Susan Trollinger

One of the new additions to Ark Encounter that we mentioned in a previous post is a “theater” that has been installed in one of the ends of the ark. It consists of two flat screens suspended from the ceiling on one end of the room and several rows of backless benches arranged in front of them. A short film (the one we saw lasted about 25 minutes) plays repeatedly on the screens as visitors watch.

The film currently being shown in this new “theater” is As in the Days of Noah (2017). It tells the story of a very world-wise and skeptical (perhaps even cynical) young woman who writes for an online “progressive tabloid” in New York City. She hates her job as it is below her training and talents. Things get worse when she learns that her boss is sending her to Kentucky to do a story on Ark Encounter in which she is to make its creators look “ridiculous and greedy.” Angry, she fumes about her boss making her “cover a bunch of religious dummies who . . . think the story of Noah’s Ark is real.”

Nonetheless, she is soon on the road with a cameraman and a soundman. Along the road trip to Kentucky, we learn that Adah (played by Sasha Higgins) is as irritable as she is irritating. She is cranky, rude, ungrateful, vain, and presumptuous. When they arrive at Ark Encounter, Adah orders her crew around as she repeatedly checks her makeup.

With chairs and recording equipment in place, the Ark Encounter spokesman she is to interview, Noah Zomarsh (played by Curt Cloninger), shows up cheerfully singing to himself and sincerely apologizes for keeping Adah and her crew waiting. Noah is a white, middle-age man, about medium height and build, with a full head of silver grey hair and a well-trimmed beard and mustache. Despite the fact that Adah is impatient, dismissive (she rejects his explanation of why they built a life-size ark), rude (she often interrupts him), curt, insulting (she makes fun of his name and the Ark Encounter project), Noah is cooperative (he happily answers all of her questions), earnest (he tries to answer them as thoroughly and meaningfully as he can), humble (he often shrugs his shoulders as he makes his points and, when she cuts off one of his answers, he admits he used “a lot of words”), kind (he expresses a sincere interest in Adah and the grandmother who gave her the cross she is wearing on a chain around her neck). He smiles often and warmly at her.

Sympathetic to her frustrations about him going on at length, Noah excitedly suggests that rather than tell her why they built a life-size ark, he will take her inside the ark and show her a brand-new exhibit that the public hasn’t seen yet. Exasperated by him and all his enthusiasm, she nonetheless follows (with crew in tow) after him. Once inside the belly of the ark, she and her crew are brought to silence by what they encounter there.

As to what brings them to silence—we’ll save that for our next post.

Skipping that, we jump ahead to a scene near the end of the film in which Noah and Adah are having a very intimate conversation (notably, Noah’s assistant—Amy—is in the background to ensure that all is respectable) in which Adah asks whether someone like her “could get on the right side of God.” Very reassuringly, Noah reminds her that Jesus died for her sins so that she could escape the judgment she deserves. All she has to do is say yes. He brings his mini-sermon to a close by saying that this is why they built the ark—so that people would know that they don’t have to be judged. They don’t have to be condemned—that is, if they’ll just say yes.

Wow, what a message—a message of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, grace. All you have to do is say yes. What a spokesman. Gentle, kind, loving, patient, compassionate, empathetic.

Wait a minute. What is going on here? Is AiG changing its tune? Have they bagged the culture war rhetoric for a kinder/gentler Christian Right approach that now wants to show compassion for the truly irritating, dismissive, rude, and insulting enemy by way of a loving, forgiving, and merciful God?

Could be. Wouldn’t that be great? But to make that message credible, to make it consistent across their venues, they’d have to overhaul (if not get rid of altogether) a whole lot of dioramas, placards, and videos.

It’d be a big job, but it could be done. A good place to start would be the miniature diorama at the Creation Museum that depicts the ark off in the distance, its door shut forever, and all the men, women, children, infants, and animals perishing on the mountain top that will soon be completely submerged under water.

Another great place to start would be the flat screen at Ark Encounter that unabashedly asserts that God destroyed as many as 20 billion people in that flood. And that would be easy—just take down the flat screen.  

Somehow, neither seems likely.