Righting America

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“Social Justice is Anti-Biblical”: Ken Ham as Promoter of Biblical Illiteracy | Righting America

by William Trollinger

Dr. Martin Luther King's headshot, wearing suit and tie, looking out into the distance, speaking into a microphone, and gesticulating with his left hand.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Image via abc7Chicago.com.

Every time I think that things can’t get worse at Answers in Genesis (AiG), they do.

The ever-intrepid Dan Phelps has noticed that on March 05, 2021 AiG replaced their original hyper-fundamentalist statement of faith (SOF) with an even more harsh and more hyper-fundamentalist statement of faith. This SOF may take the record for length, with 46(!) separate provisions, including this defense of the sacred sexual binary:

The only legitimate marriage, based on the creation ordinance in Genesis 1 and 2, sanctioned by God is the joining of one naturally born man and one naturally born woman in a single, exclusive union as delineated in Scripture . . . Any form of sexual immorality, such as adultery, fornication, prostitution, homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, pornography, abuse, or any attempt to change one’s gender, or disagreement with one’s gender, is sinful and offensive to God.

(Note “naturally born” in the first sentence. And “disagreement with one’s gender”?)

AiG’s SOF explicitly states that “all persons employed by the AiG ministry in any capacity” must “agree to our Statement of Faith.” Interestingly, AiG’s Ark Encounter discriminates in hiring while at the same time it, as Dan Phelps observes, “continues to receive $1.825 million dollars every year in tax incentives from the state [of Kentucky] and will continue to do so until 2026.” 

But that’s not the only governmental assistance that Ark Encounter has received.  Last year I reported (again) that in 2013 the nearby town of Williamstown

Issued $62m in junk bonds and then loaned the proceeds to help get the Ark Encounter project underway, and . . . this sweet deal was made even sweeter by the provision that 75% of what Ark Encounter would have paid in property taxes over the next three decades will actually be used to pay off the loan. [Sad to say, while] Ark Encounter used the vision of great economic benefits to persuade Williamstown, . . . it turns out that the town has seen virtually no economic benefits from this deal. 

All this government aid for a hyper-fundamentalist ministry that forces job applicants to sign on to a 46 point faith statement. So much for the separation of church and state!

Here is proposition #29 in the AiG SOF:

The concepts of “social justice,” “intersectionality,” and “critical race theory” are anti-biblical and destructive to human flourishing (Ezekiel 18:1-20; James 2:8-9).

(For now I will refrain from saying anything about intersectionality and critical race theory.) 

Social justice is anti-biblical? So the leaders of the Civil Rights movement had it wrong in their profound conviction that to work for social justice is a biblical imperative? Ralph Abernathy, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, Howard Thurman – and so, so many others – are spinning in their graves.

But in good fundamentalist fashion, AiG has appended Bible verses (with links) to support their assertion. And in good academic fashion I looked up these passages. And I read them, closely, slowly. And for the life of me I could not find anything in these verses that indicates that social justice is anti-biblical. Not. A. Thing. 

But I am not a biblical scholar – neither is Ken Ham, fyi – so I turned to Abingdon’s New Interpreters Bible Commentary, volumes VI and XII. Maybe esteemed scholars Katheryn Pfisterer Darr (Boston University) and Luke Timothy Johnson (Candler School of Theology) could enlighten me as to how Ezekiel 18: 1-20 (VI: 1255-1262) and James 2: 8-9 (XII: 193-195) bolster AiG’s argument that social justice is anti-biblical. 

Once again, nothing. Not. A. Thing. This does not even rise to the level of prooftexting. 

More than this, just five verses after the James text referenced by AiG comes this passage:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (2:14-17)

As Johnson comments on this passage, a pertinent question for churches is to ask about whether they would

as James does, make the community’s response to the poor a touchstone for testing the authenticity of its faith. Insofar as contemporary Christianity has aligned itself unthinkingly with the individualistic and competitive ethos of capitalism, or allowed itself to be seduced into equating financial success with God’s blessing, it has, by James’s standards, become a friend of the world and not a friend of God. (200)

Unthinkingly or not, Ham and AiG and the Christian Right have certainly aligned themselves with unfettered capitalism.

Not only do Ham and AiG provide no evidence that social justice is anti-biblical, they have also chosen to ignore the host of biblical texts that make quite clear that to work for social justice IS a biblical imperative, texts that have prompted Christians over the centuries (including those spearheading the civil rights movement) to give their lives to working for more just social structures. 

Take, for example, these words from the Hebrew prophets:

  • “Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” (Amos 6:22-24)
  • “Cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1: 16b-17)
  • “Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, the widow, or shed innocent blood.” (Jeremiah 22: 2-3)

Then there is the one place in the Gospels where Jesus speaks about the Last Judgment:

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”

They will also answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or naked or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it for me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25: 34-45)

Could this be any clearer? 

And why did I put that one passage in bold?

As we noted in Righting America (45-46), for the first decade of its existence Jesus scarcely made an appearance at the Creation Museum, save for a white statue confined to an obscure corner (pulled out for the Christmas season, and then sent back to the corner). 

But a decade after the museum’s grand opening in 2007, the folks at AiG created a three-room exhibit devoted to Jesus as vindictive superhero. And this exhibit features a “Teachings of Jesus” placard. And on that placard is included a version of the verse from Matthew 25 that I have put in bold. 

And that one verse is all they quote from Matthew 25. There’s not a word about the verses before and after, not a word about the fact that how one fares in the Last Judgment is dependent on how well one cared for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill, the imprisoned, the least of these.

Just a few days ago Ken Ham posted on Facebook a lament that “biblical illiteracy is rampant in the church and culture in the US.” 

He knows whereof he speaks, given that he and AiG are major contributors to this rampant biblical illiteracy. 

More than this, it seems obvious that their erasure of the Bible is intentional.

Anything to serve the politics of the Christian Right.