Evangelist Urges Believers To Stand Firm
Evangelist Urges Believers To Stand Firm
The making of a American religious huckster
By STEPHANIE SIMON, Los Angeles Times - 2/27/2006
WAYNE, N.J. -- Evangelist Ken Ham smiled at the 2,300 elementary students packed into pews, their faces rapt. With puppets and cartoons, he was showing them how to reject geology, paleontology and evolutionary biology as a sinister tangle of lies.
If a teacher mentions evolution, or the Big Bang, or an era when dinosaurs ruled Earth, Ham said, "You put your hand up and you say, `Excuse me, were you there?' Can you remember that?"
The children roared their assent.
"Sometimes people will answer, `No, but you weren't there either,'" Ham told them. "Then you say, `No, I wasn't, but I know someone who was, and I have his book about the history of the world.'"
He waved his Bible in the air.
"Who's the only one who's always been there?" Ham asked.
"God!" the boys and girls shouted.
"Who's the only one who knows everything?"
"So who should you always trust, God or the scientists?"
The children answered with a thundering: "God!"
A former high school biology teacher, Ham travels the U.S. training kids as young as 5 to challenge scientific orthodoxy. He doesn't engage in the political and legal fights that have erupted over the teaching of evolution. His strategy is more subtle: He aims to give people who trust the biblical account of creation the confidence to defend their views - aggressively.
He urges students to offer creationist critiques of their textbooks, parents to take on science museum docents, professionals to raise the subject with colleagues. If Ham does his job well, his acolytes will ask enough questions - and spout enough arguments - to shake the evolution theory of Charles Darwin.
"We're going to arm you with Christian Patriot missiles," Ham, 54, recently told 1,200 adults gathered at Calvary Temple in northern New Jersey. It was Friday night, the kickoff of a weekend conference sponsored by Ham's global ministry, Answers in Genesis.
To a burst of applause, Ham exhorted: "Get out and change the world!"
Over the past two decades, "creation evangelism" has become a booming industry. Several hundred independent speakers promote biblical creation at churches, colleges, private schools, Rotary clubs. They lead tours to the Grand Canyon or museums to study the world through a creationist lens.
They churn out home-schooling material. A geology text devotes a chapter to Noah's flood; an astronomy book quotes Genesis on the origins of the universe; a science unit for second-graders features daily "evolution stumpers" that teach children to argue against the theory that is a cornerstone of modern science.
Answers in Genesis is the biggest of these ministries. Ham founded the nonprofit in his native Australia in 1979. The U.S. branch, funded by donations, has an annual budget of $15 million and 160 employees who produce books and DVDs, maintain a website, and arrange more than 500 speeches a year for Ham and four other full-time evangelists.
With a pulpit-thumping passion, Ham insists the Bible be taken literally: God created the universe and all its creatures in six 24-hour days, roughly 6,000 years ago.
When pastors dismiss the creation account as a fable, he says, they give their flock license to disregard the Bible's moral teachings as well. He shows his audiences a graphic that places the theory of evolution at the root of all social ills: abortion, divorce, racism, gay marriage, store clerks who say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."
In the 1970s, Ham taught evolution and creationism in Australian public schools. Raised in a Christian family, Ham trusted God's account over Darwin's; the more he studied Genesis, the more he felt moved to defend it. He quit teaching in 1979 to take up evangelism full time.
A father of five whose features resemble Abraham Lincoln, Ham moved his family to the U.S. in 1987. He worked for the Institute for Creation Research near San Diego and in 1993 founded the U.S. branch of Answers in Genesis in northern Kentucky. America sorely needed someone to stand up for the Bible, he reasoned. With its network of Christian radio and TV, the U.S. also offered Ham a launch pad to take his movement global.
The gamble paid off.
Ham's daily 90-second broadcasts - on themes such as life in the Garden of Eden - are heard on more than 1,000 radio stations worldwide. Speaking tours, the heart of the ministry, often are booked three years in advance. He's produced dozens of books and videos for all ages, including a top-selling alphabet rhyme that begins: "A is for Adam, God made him from dust / He wasn't a monkey, he looked just like us."