by William Trollinger
The Ark Encounter is scheduled to open on July 7 near Williamstown, Kentucky. The public relations campaign is in full swing, with billboards (including one here in Dayton) and press releases and interviews with journalists and – as reported in our last blog entry – the June 10 visit of President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter to the Ark.
One component of this PR campaign involves persuading individuals who are not Christian Right devotees that they will be treated hospitably. Hence Ken Ham’s June 18 blog entry: “Who Is Welcome at Ark Encounter?” In this piece Ham expresses surprise that “secularists” would imagine that “those who may disagree with us are not welcome at the Ark.” Ham hypothesizes that these “secularists,” who are “often intolerant of Christians personally,” wrongly imagine that “Christians will act the same way toward” secularists. He goes on to warmly encourage gays, atheists, Jews, and Muslims to visit the Ark and thus “encounter the truth of God’s Word and the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Related, Ham also mentions in this blog entry that he had the opportunity to explain to Carter “the biblical and evangelistic nature of the exhibits,” even though the former president “does not accept Genesis as straightforward history” (the latter point having been omitted from the AiG press release). Ham is praying that “he will be able to do this with Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and President Obama.”
It seems likely that Ham and others connected with Ark Encounter are sincere in their commitment to hospitality. In our seven visits to the Creation Museum we never had any problems. Of course, and as we mentioned in an earlier blog entry, we are middle-aged white heterosexuals without tattoos and piercings, and whose attire is anything but adventurous. It is possible that, say, individuals who wear politically or religiously provocative T-shirts or LGBT couples who engage in public displays of affection may face hostility at Ark Encounter. But we take Ham’s promise of hospitality at face value.
More than this, it seems obvious that Ark Encounter seeks to be evangelistic and – as a for-profit entity – seeks to make money. So on both counts it is in their interest not to frighten away paying customers who may be converted to their very particular form of Christianity.
Of course, the art of selling involves saying certain things (“this car is a dream to drive, and we are offering very favorable terms”) and not saying certain things (“this car is last in its class when it comes to safety, and we will be discontinuing this model in six months.”)
In the category of not saying things, it makes sense that Ken Ham – in inviting gays to Ark Encounter — does not reiterate what AiG spokespersons have previously proclaimed: individuals who choose homosexuality are “’choosing a perversion of God’s good design’”; homosexuality is “’a sin that has been particularly associated with the slippery slope of sinful attitudes and lifestyles leading to ever greater rebellion, social degradation, disease, and spiritual blindness throughout history’”; gay marriage will eventually result in the “’dissolution of the family unit’” in America (as quoted in Righting, 167-168).
It also makes sense that Ken Ham – in suggesting that he would love to give Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton a tour of the Ark — does not reiterate the rhetorical question he asked the attendees of the July 2013 Answers Mega Conference: “’If . . . America is under judgment” for having removed God from the culture, “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?’” (as quoted in Righting, 169).
Maybe it will work. Maybe Ken Ham and AiG can successfully and simultaneously employ two rhetorics: one evangelistic rhetoric of welcome for the general public and the national media, and another vitriolic rhetoric of culture war for the Christian Right faithful. Maybe one audience won’t notice what is being said to the other audience. Maybe.