Jules Carr-Chellman is an undergraduate student of Philosophy at the University of Dayton. Raised in Northern Idaho, he is now an honors student with research interests in psychoanalytic critical theory, social philosophy, and existentialism. As a high-school student, Jules completed his Eagle Scout award and received a golden congressional medal of service. During his time at UD, Jules spent a summer as Berry Summer Thesis Institute fellow and was awarded the emerging leader award for his activism in student government. When not studying or working as a writing tutor, Jules can be found spending time in the outdoors fly fishing, climbing, or cycling.
In May of 2007, Ken Ham and his young-Earth creationist apologetics ministry, Answers in Genesis (AiG), completed the construction of a $27 million, 75,000-square-foot Creation Museum without taking on a dime of debt. The construction of the Creation Museum marked the beginning of Ken Ham’s and AiG’s tenure as among the chief interpreters of God’s Word. AiG and other young-Earth creationists argue that not just the Earth but the whole universe is between 6,000 and 10,000 years old. Why so young? Because, according to AiG, a literal reading of the Bible (which, for AiG, is the only proper reading) requires it. Ken Ham and AiG exert a great deal of influence among white conservative Christians in America. So, it is important to take a careful and critical look at the Creation Museum and what is going on in Boone County, Kentucky.
In the spring of 2022, I took Dr. Susan Trollinger’s class on the visual rhetorics of American evangelicalism and the Amish. To get a first-hand experience of those visual rhetorics, our class spent a day at the Creation Museum and another in the world’s largest Amish settlement which, it turns out, is right here in Ohio. Both trips were great, but I was especially struck by what I saw at the Creation Museum.
What stood out to me were AiG’s security measures. Whether or not the Creation Museum and its employees face threats to their safety, the very visible presence of armed security personnel at the Creation Museum encourages visitors to identify as a member of a persecuted religious people. More specifically, I argue that the security measures at the Creation Museum, from armed guards to lethal weapons to canine units, do not merely exist to protect visitors or property, but also send a powerful message that visitors invested in the central argument of the museum are a persecuted people.
The Creation Museum itself is set back a bit from the main parking lot. Between that lot and the entrance, visitors encounter several concrete planters that serve as anti-car bomber obstacles. Upon entering the museum, visitors are screened by security personnel with a metal detector. Inside the museum, visitors will pass by two or three armed guards and canine handlers at Museum entrances/exits. Security personnel (all white men) are not positioned at the main entrance. That would probably not feel very welcoming to visitors. But they are posted on the exterior side of a huge section of glass windows near the entrance to the museum.
Security personnel inside the museum wear Creation Museum uniforms that resemble in color and style a state trooper class-A uniform. Interior guards wear a wide-brimmed campaign hat, a tan short-sleeved button up with a large metallic badge, black duty pants, combat boots, and a patch that reads “DEPT. OF PUBLIC SAFETY // CREATION MUSEUM // PROTECT, SERVE, ENFORCE.” The security personnel at the creation museum are all equipped with a full law enforcement utility belt, resembling that of a fully sworn peace officer, that includes a .40 caliber Glock handgun, handcuffs, mace, two extra clips, and a taser. According to my observations, about every thirty to forty-five minutes a member of the security personnel is deployed from the security office to patrol visitors among the exhibits.
As we think about the visual rhetoric of security at the Creation Museum, it’s important to remember that Protestant fundamentalism has long cultivated an identity as a persecuted people. With the rising dominance of evolution in the scientific community, and with historical criticism that treats the Bible like any other historical text, fundamentalists have felt profoundly under siege. Indeed, by the first couple of decades in the twentieth century, modernity left a lot of conservative Christians feeling “alienated from their own culture” (Righting America 111). It would appear that the Creation Museum, through its very visible display of security personnel, is making the most of that historical experience of alienation.
The concrete planters in front of the entrance of the museum, the sniffing bomb dogs, the authority conveyed by the security personnel uniforms, and even the caliber of handgun carried by security personnel (.40 caliber handguns are primarily meant for defense against human beings) are all signs that the Creation Museum means to defend the persecuted fundamentalist Christian. Of course, most museums are protected by their own museum security. However, at the Creation Museum, there seems to be more going on than the simple effort to protect exhibits and visitors.
Each uniformed security officer at the Creation Museum wears a dark colored campaign hat with flat, wide brims that extend equidistantly from the band to form the shape of a circle. The campaign hat is an iconic form. On the one hand it is just a hat understood as something that one wears upon the heads to gain protection from the elements or additional warmth. However, the campaign hat at the Creation Museum has an additional rhetorical function, as it calls to mind the hats worn by state troopers, US Military drill sergeants, and federal border patrol agents – among others.
Whether or how much Creation Museum visitors need protection from hostile forces is unclear. The point here is that the Creation Museum does its level best to construct its security personnel as surrogates for the police. By making AiG security personnel look like state or municipality police, and by positioning them visibly outside and inside the museum, the Creation Museum is relentlessly indicating to visitors that they are under a real and present threat.
In short, security guards carrying a .40 caliber Glock at the Creation Museum send a powerful message to Creation Museum visitors that they and their beliefs are threatened and that they need protection from armored guards. Beyond that, AiG also utilizes canine units inside and outside the museum to underscore the point that “Bible believing Christians” are under threat.
Notably, as of 2020, AiG was home to the largest private explosives/detection canine team in the state of Kentucky. The team is comprised of six canine units: a Belgian Malinois, a Dutch Shepherd, Two labs, and two German Shepherds. Dogs who serve in this kind of capacity, whether at an airport or a museum, are supposed to detect threats beyond the sense perceptions of human beings. Thus, a canine working in the service of a security unit indicates that it is reasonable for the visitor to understand themselves as potentially facing an intricately premeditated threat at any moment they are in or around the Creation Museum.
The security personnel, their campaign hats, uniforms, .40 caliber handguns, and canine units all provide powerful visual evidence that visitors to the Creation Museum are under threat. From secularists, humanists, mainstream geologists, and from all sorts of people unseen but surely lurking somewhere nearby: they are persecuted, whether or not there’s any evidence beyond security personnel outfits and gear to support such a claim.
One of the great rhetorical strengths of AiG is their ability to create a sense of deep identification among their faithful visitors through the notion that they are a persecuted people. In a manner that seems not at all in keeping with the message of Jesus Christ (who was God and died on the Cross to save sinners like us), a visit to the Creation Museum invites believers to understand themselves as the persecuted — as victims of secular culture. The rhetorical impact of the visibility of security personnel, canine units, handguns, and campaign hats serve a crucial and troubling function at the Creation Museum. To underscore the reality of the culture war and to construct the young-Earth creationist faithful that they are under threat. And they had better be prepared to fight.
It seems Ham is highly so stricken with paranoia that he converts his “museum” into some sort of military stronghold to shield himself, his made up fantasies, and his followers from non-existing “Christian persecution” occurring anywhere in Kentucky or anywhere else in the US.
If you need armed guards inside your religious monument you are doing religion wrong. Same goes for your church. If you need to have guns in your church, you are churching wrong. ANd in Ken Hamm’s case, we know he is doing both wrong.
I also can’t help but think of the very real security threats to other faith traditions’ houses of worship. Visible security is ubiquitous at most mosques and synagogues and community events. The visual rhetoric of this security is very different as are the threats to Jewish and Muslim communities. Would be interesting to compare.