by William Trollinger
One of the distinctive ways in which fundamentalists make use of the Bible is proof-texting, i.e., pulling a few verses or verse or part of a verse out of context, and then using this text as “proof” for a particular theological or political or cultural position.
The folks at Answers in Genesis (AiG) are masters of the art of proof-texting. As Susan Trollinger and I noted in Righting America at the Creation Museum,
Visitors find bits of Genesis in the form of individual verses and snippets from verses on various placards, murals, columns, and screens throughout the museum . . . [with a] lack of ellipses indicating where text has been removed from a passage [as well as] the failure to provide relevant context for the passages that are displayed (116, 136).
Then there’s the AiG “Statement of Faith,” which every person who works at the museum or at Ark Encounter must affirm. After almost every one of the 46 separate propositions – 46 propositions may be a new record for fundamentalist faith statements! – there are references to specific Bible verses.
For example, here’s proposition #29 in the AiG Statement of Faith:
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).
Leaving aside the fact that this proposition is further evidence that white American fundamentalism has simply devolved into a form of toxic Christian Right politics, there is nothing in these verses that establish that social justice, intersectionality, and critical race theory are anti-biblical and destructive. Not a thing. AiG could have used Hezekiah 11:26, for all it matters. This is proof-texting on steroids.
In his Facebook posts Ken Ham uses Bible verses in much the same way: individual verses or parts of verses yanked completely out of their biblical context. (I assume he does the same in his Gab, Gettr, MeWe, Parler, and Truth Social posts, although I can’t say with certainty, as I am not able to deal with the antisemitism, white supremacy, and threats of violence that one finds on these sites – enduring Ham’s hateful rants on Facebook is enough for me!) Here are some examples, some of which will be familiar to those of you who attend to Christian Right rhetoric:
- Anti-LGBTQ: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27)
- Anti-abortion: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13)
- Anti-climate change foolishness: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22)
Leaving aside whether these biblical snippets (especially the last one) actually serve as evidence that the Bible endorses Ham’s culture war arguments, I want to highlight the point that Ham particularly enjoys using Bible verses to issue threats of eternal damnation. Some examples from just one month’s worth (September 27-October 27) of Facebook posts:
- vs. pro-LGBTQ:
- “But they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5)
- “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ . . . Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:13, 15)
- “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6)
- “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31)
- vs. pro-choice:
- “I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful rebukes. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I lay my vengeance upon them” (Ezekiel 25:17)
- One day “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10)
- “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31)
- “If you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his iniquity, he shall die for his iniquity” (Ezekiel 3:19)
- vs. woke culture:
- “The nations have sunk in the pit that they made . . . Put them in fear, O LORD!” (Psalm 9:15, 19)
- I am certain you do not need me to say this, but these verses have nothing to do with abortion, LGBTQ, or woke culture. Ham’s approach is to mine the Bible for verses that threaten damnation, yank them out of their context, and wield them as weapons against his political and cultural opponents. And while it may be otherwise, all indications are that he relishes casting them into Hell. That certainly would explain why, at Ark Encounter, there is a “keepsake photo” site at the door that sealed the fate of the millions or billions drowning in Noah’s flood. Celebrate the damnation of the damned!
- It’s remarkable that Ken Ham is so confident in knowing whom God will damn. That is to say, he knows the mind of God. The self-righteous arrogance is breathtaking.
- It’s also remarkable whom Ham does not threaten with damnation. White supremacists, spousal/child abusers, antisemites, greedy capitalists, domestic terrorists: not a word. The silence is deafening.
- Finally, it’s particularly remarkable that – for all of his mining of the Bible for threats of damnation — Ham makes no reference to the one place in the Gospels where Jesus speaks about the Last Judgment (Matthew 25: 34-45). Ok, it’s not remarkable, because what Jesus had to say about damnation does not fit AT ALL with Ham’s criteria for damnation (which could suggest that Ham’s confidence about knowing the mind of God is, well, misplaced). I will end with this passage from Matthew:
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.
(For chapter 1 of the Gospel According to Ken Ham, see here.)
I’m particularly interested in the use of Genesis 8:22; a pretty flimsy protection against the effects of global warming, and according to Genesis itself not enough to save Jacob and his family from going down to Egypt as climate refugees.
AiG uses this verse repeatedly. Do you have any knowledge or links to the other creationist organisations doing so, now that they have linked arms with AiG, Heartland, and the rest of the fossil fuels apologetics industry?
Flimsy protection indeed, Paul! This use of Genesis 8:22 is a classic case of the worst sort of proof-texting. I don’t know, but I assume that other creationist organizations — as part of the ‘fossil fuel apologetics industry’ (such an apt phrase!) — are also using this verse.
How is Ham’s millstone comment not inciting violence? Twitter doesn’t think so; I’ve tried to report it when he uses the quote.
Thanks Dan. And it is telling that Ham has nothing to say about violence perpetrated by those on the Right: Charlottesville, the Insurrection, the attack on Pelosi, on and on.