Righting America

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The Racist Silence at the Heart of Answers in Genesis | Righting America

by William Trollinger

A white male, carrying a large Confederate flag over his shoulder, walks across a room decorated with leather furniture, marble busts, and golden-framed artwork.
Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest in the US Capitol Rotunda on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. – Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Over the past few weeks Ken Ham and his merry band of creationists have relentlessly attacked Charles Darwin, with a particular focus on the racism they claim to be at the heart of Darwinism. Here is a small sample of what they have been saying:

  • Sadly, Darwin’s Descent of Man [1871] fueled racism. It’s well documented that Hitler used Darwin’s evolutionary ideas about man (lower and higher races) to justify what he did to eliminate certain types of people (Jews, those who were disabled, etc.)” Ham, “Darwin’s Racist Descent of Man Turns 150,” February 16, 2021. Ham ratches up his rhetoric to claim that Darwinism was the culmination of Satan’s efforts “to undo what the Reformation . . . did to get people to return to the absolute authority of the Word of God.”
  • “[Darwinism] was a deadly legacy. It was one of racism, eugenics (such as that practiced by the Nazis), moral relativism (as we’re seeing played out in our culture right now), abortion, and more.” Ham, “Darwin Day 2021–Why Do We Care So Much About Darwinism,” February 12, 2021.
  • “If we are going to deplatform people who are deemed racist, it seems very hypocritical not to start with one of the most well-known racists of all time: Charles Darwin.” Harry F. Sanders III, “Deplatform Darwin,” February 05, 2021. Sanders – about whom AiG provides no biographical information (despite the fact that he has written numerous AiG articles) – spends much of his time in this article (in good Tucker Carlson fashion) whining about the supposed “wave of censorship and appeasement” that has swept America “on a nationwide scale, resulting in deplatforming of people whose ideas were not in step with the mainstream narrative.” 

There’s much that could be said here, including the point that – to give but one example – the Darwin-Hitler trope (a commonplace among young Earth creationists) is very problematic history. So it is that the Anti-Defamation League “has vigorously critiqued the Darwin-to-Hitler trope, pointing out that such an argument, usually ‘offered by those who wish to score political points over the teaching of intelligent design,’ neatly erases the multiple factors that led to the Holocaust, including a Christian anti-Semitism that long preceded Charles Darwin” (Righting America 183). 

But leaving this aside, there is a more obvious problem in AiG’s obsession with Darwinism as the engine of racism. Origin of Species appeared in 1859, 240 years after the first African slaves had been transported to North America. And over those 240 years slaveholders and nonslaveholders constructed what they considered to be an airtight defense for enslaving black people, a defense that did not derive from the yet-to-appear Origin of Species, but, instead, from the Bible:

In antebellum America millions of white Christians (in both the North and the South) held tight to a “plain-sense” reading of the Bible, one which, as Mark Noll has pointed out [in his brilliant The Civil War as a Theological Crisis], emphasized “the natural, commonsensical, ordinary meaning of the words” in order to construct a powerful argument justifying the enslavement of African Americans. These white Christians stood on their literal reading of the Word of God to issue forth a raft of proslavery polemics and to deliver an almost-infinite number of proslavery sermons; in the South, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene Genovese observed that “evangelicals, having cited chapter and verse, successfully enlisted the Bible to unify the overwhelming majority of slaveholders and nonslaveholders in defense of slavery as ordained of God.” These white Christians argued that opponents of slavery, who struggled mightily to combat the straightforward biblical arguments of the proslavery advocates, were undermining the authority of the Bible with their unbiblical antislavery arguments that depended more on Christian experience, humanitarianism, and morality than on the “literal” meaning of the text (Righting America 186). 

One might imagine that AiG would expend a little energy explaining how it is that an “overwhelming majority” of Bible-believing white evangelicals determined that a literal reading of the Bible justified – actually, ordained – the enslavement of black people and that abolitionist arguments were unbiblical and unChristian. How did these Bible believers come to such convictions? Were they, like the “evolutionists,” led astray by Satan? Was the South’s secession from the Union in an effort to preserve slavery also the product of a Satanic conspiracy? Were these proslavery evangelicals really not Christian, and thus were rightly damned to hell?

It won’t come as a surprise that Ken Ham and AiG do not address these questions. Nor do Ham and AiG address the fact that – after northern and southern whites joined forces to dismantle Reconstruction – millions of white Christians used a literal reading of the Bible, as Mark Newman notes about Southern Baptists, to bolster their arguments in behalf of segregation and against racial equality. Making the point even more forcefully, Carolyn Renee Dupont argues in Mississippi Praying: Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement that Mississippi’s white evangelicals “fought mightily against black equality, proclaiming that God himself ordained segregation, blessing the forces of resistance, silencing the advocates of racial equality within their own faith tradition, and protecting segregation in their churches” (231).  

As Camille Kaminski Lewis nicely documents in her edited volume, White Nationalism and Faith: Statements and Counter-Statements on American Identity, from the late 19th century to the present, Americans have wielded the weapon of religion against but also in behalf of “white rule” (16). But the silence from Ham and AiG on this history is deafening. 

And this silence has continued into 2021, and includes the January 06 “insurrection” at the U.S. Capitol. I have to say that Ham’s January 07 blog post, “Our Nation Is a Mess — What Does the Bible Say?,” is one of the weirdest post-insurrection pieces I have read. Without any reference to the insurrection whatsoever, Ham asserts that “America is in a mess spiritually, morally, and politically”: 

So many people in this nation, including many rulers (politicians, judges, etc.), have turned their backs on God. They have rejected God and his Word in the education systems. They have sacrificed millions of children to the god of self. They have rejected God in many ways through rejecting prayer, rejecting nativity scenes and crosses, and replacing the truth of God as Creator for the lie of evolution. (Even many church leaders and Christian academics have compromised God’s Word with evolutionary ideas).  

Not a word about the violence and destruction at the Capitol. Not a word about the Proud Boys and OathKeepers and Patriot Pastors and others. Not a word about all the crosses and Bible T-shirts and Jesus banners among the rioters who invaded the Capitol, looking to kill lawmakers who would dare to assert that Donald Trump lost the election. Not a word about the symbols of the Confederacy that were mobilized in the insurrection. Not. A. Word.

It seems to me that there are only two possible explanations for the silence. The first has to do with cowardice. That is to say, one could conjecture that Ham and company are fearful of antagonizing their white evangelical base of support, many of whom blame the insurrection on Antifa, many of whom hold tightly to a white nationalist “Christianity.” Anger these folks and attendance is going to drop at the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter. In this explanation silence makes economic sense, even if it comes at the expense of courageously holding to the Gospel.

But the other possible explanation is that Ham and his comrades actually support white supremacy, white supremacist groups, and the January 06 insurrection. Given that the “color-blind society” project promoted by AiG (and the Christian Right in general) assumes that racial equality has already been achieved in America and that the real problem now is that white Bible-believing evangelicals have been “cancelled” by the culture, a resurgent white nationalist “Christianity” makes sense. 

Two possible explanations for the silence regarding white supremacy and the January 06 insurrection.

Which is it, Ken? I eagerly await your answer.

Is that crickets I hear?