Righting America

A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US
The Murder of George Floyd, and Ken Ham Finds His Voice | Righting America

by Susan Trollinger and William Trollinger

Photos of police officers kneeling on one knee in front of crowds of people in honor of George Floyd.
Photo Credit: Allie Caren, Washington Post (2020)

In late 2007, we were asked by Mike Castle, then pastor at Cross Creek Church here in Dayton, to give a presentation on Evolution Sunday (which in 2008 was February 10). In light of William’s previous research on fundamentalism, we responded by suggesting that we instead speak on antievolutionism. Mike agreed.

The Creation Museum – an hour down the road, just south of Cincinnati – had opened just a few months earlier. Given Susan’s work in visual rhetoric, we thought the museum would provide a perfect site of analysis for our talk at Cross Creek.

Now, it is important to know that – before we made that winter drive to the museum twelve years ago – we knew next-to-nothing about Answers in Genesis (AiG) and next-to-nothing about Ken Ham. We were confident that whatever politics were expressed would be quite conservative, but when we visited we were stunned by how much emphasis on culture war politics was on display at the museum. And as we kept visiting the Creation Museum – that count is in double digits by now – the emphasis on politics became increasingly clear, as did the fact that there really is not much substance as regards science and the Bible.

For a few years, we happily gave papers on the museum at a variety of academic conferences. But thanks to encouragement from a friend, we decided to turn our research into a book, and secured a contract from Johns Hopkins University Press. And as we were doing that work we realized that we needed to spend “more time outside of the confines of the museum and in the larger world of AiG,” particularly in examining AiG’s “mind-boggling flood of print, media, and social media material” (Righting America, 11, 15).

Most of this material is directed inward, to the AiG/young Earth creationist community. As a result, the political views that are expressed are much more direct and much angrier than one finds at the museum. Just to give one example, in his opening address at the July 2013 Answers Mega Conference, entitled “The Great Delusion – The Spiritual State of the Nation,” Ham devoted thirty minutes to a diatribe against homosexuality and gay marriage, with President Obama the target of his vicious diatribe:

[America] is under judgment by an almighty God who looks upon this culture that has thrown God out of the culture. If . . . America is under judgment, then how should we view the president of the United States, who has promoted gay marriage, pushed the gay marriage/homosexual agenda in a big way, has condoned the killing of 55 million children that makes what Hitler did at the Holocaust pale in comparison?

Interestingly, when it comes to race, Ham and AiG take a very different tack than they do when talking about the gender/sexual spectrum. At the museum and in various print publications, the emphasis is on the fact we are all of “one race, one blood,” that racism is at odds with the Bible, and that the true Christian will not discriminate against those of a “different skin color.”

That said, the anti-racism expressed by Ham and AiG has been very abstract, with no reference to specific acts of racial violence, police brutality, and white supremacy. Having followed Ham on social media for almost a decade, we can say that he and his compatriots have said virtually nothing about Ahmaud Arbery or the Charleston Nine or Charlottesville or the Confederate flag or Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice or Breonna Taylor. 

After the Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd on May 25, AiG’s Answers News did mention Floyd’s name, but downplayed what had been done to him, saying that “George Floyd died in police custody.” And in keeping with his years of silence, Ken Ham said nary a word about Floyd’s murder.

Until now. On June 03, in a post entitled “Racism, Riots, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Ham reported that 

These past few days have certainly made my heart heavy. First there was the truly horrifying murder of George Floyd in Minnesota. Then tensions and riots erupted across America, including here in our state of Kentucky, resulting in the deaths of several people (so far) and the destruction of property and livelihoods. A nation already very divided is now even more divided. (Just go on social media for five minutes for a sampling of this division!) Is there anyone who can bring unity amidst the chaos, confusion, heartbreak, anger, and sin raging across our nation?

Ham goes on to assert – in keeping with what he has been saying for decades – that we are all “one blood,” and that racism is rooted in sin. Ham’s statement provides no acknowledgment of systemic racism and no mention of the troubling rise of white supremacy in recent years. More about that below.

That said, we want to note that Ham departed from his usual abstract discussion of racism and specifically referred to “the truly horrifying murder of George Floyd.” That is an improvement! 

On a less positive note, we also must mention that he refers only to the “eruption” of “tensions and riots” and never mentions either the vast majority of protestors of diverse backgrounds and skin tones who have been peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights (which is not “rioting”).

Again, the central point of Ham’s post is to steer his reader away from false analyses of racism and its causes to a properly Christian analysis and solution. According to Ham, 

We must understand the root of racism—it’s not ultimately rooted in the tragic history of the United States, slavery, or past racist laws (like the Jim Crow laws). It’s actually rooted in sin. That’s why racism, prejudice, and discrimination have existed, in one form or another, all throughout history—because sin is the root of all evil actions and thoughts, including racism.

Right— according to Ham, we don’t need to think about that very long history of institutionalized racism that kept most black people poor, unable to exercise their Constitutional right to vote, barred from getting their children into good public schools because of redlining, and on and on it goes. We don’t need to think about all that or how it continues today in various forms, including police brutality, or how we might change all that. We can just jump right over that to Adam and Eve in the garden disobeying God. That’s what’s important right now.

Of course, human sin is important. We are all about trying to be as honest as we can about our sins, change for the better, and ask God to have mercy. But we don’t think our personal and (we hope) salvific relationship to God is going to fix all that this country’s long history of systemic racism has wrought. If only it were that simple!

To be fair, Ken offers another solution, and that is Jesus Christ and the atoning work that Jesus did on the cross:

Thankfully, Jesus Christ, the God-man who became a descendant of Adam, died on the cross in our place, taking the penalty of death for us that we deserve because of our sin. Through his death, Christ nailed our sin to the cross, and when we repent of our sin and trust in Christ alone for salvation, we are forgiven and he remembers our sin no more (Hebrews 8:12). Not only that, but we’re given a new heart, with a new love for others, and we’re adopted into his one family, the one body of Christ. This is our ultimate hope and it’s the only ultimate answer to racism, discrimination, prejudice, and the sinful heart behind such things.

But the Gospels have more to say than this about Jesus. They also talk about what he did during his short life . . . and what he did in the course of that life is, actually, a pretty helpful guide especially in these painful and dangerous times. He did things like dine with tax collectors, who in the context of the Roman Empire were considered by Jews to be the worst people on the planet. He healed a Samaritan woman who was bleeding; the fact that he even touched her (never mind took the time to heal her) was incredible as she was – by the measure of her time – doubly untouchable because of her background and her “filth.” And he preached. He preached that we should (instead of stockpiling guns) turn the other cheek. He preached that instead of fomenting division and violence (as some—who we won’t bother to name here) we should love even our enemy.

We are reminded once again that what is happening all over this country, while tense, is not simply a bunch of riots. We could list off many examples to challenge that simple (and dismissive) claim. But we will just return to one of the most powerful images we have seen in recent days. Peaceful protestors, having taken a knee in remembrance of George Floyd (and the many others) who died at the hands of those sworn “to serve and protect,” asking armed police officers to join them. And some did. 

Loving one’s “enemy” is never easy. Jesus never promised that it was. On the contrary, he promised that his followers would get persecuted for it. He certainly did. But, in truth, it’s all we’ve got. 

Culture war be damned.