Ken Ham and Answers In Genesis stepped in some controversy on Monday. They launched their new “Thank God You’re Wrong” billboard campaign targeted toward atheists. It raised a firestorm of criticism from — who would have thought? — other Christians.
One was my daughter, Cynthia, who took some of her Facebook friends to task when they were sharing pictures of this billboard in Times Square in New York. She followed up with a blog post criticizing AiG, got Ken Ham’s personal response (more on that below), and caught the attention of the Huffington Post. Why the ‘Atheists: You’re Wrong’ Billboard isn’t a Christian Message was posted in their Religion section yesterday.
A part of me is beaming proud of Cynthia. National exposure is a milestone, and she deserves it. She blogs every day, leads a writers group, is a reporter for her college newspaper, and talks quite a bit with her author-dad who loves her and wants her to fly in her writing life. Cynthia is awesome!
Another part of me is getting swept up in the controversy itself, and I am shaken. In fact, I’m hesitant to press the “publish” button. My convictions are overwhelming me this morning. But I have to say what I have to say.
I confess: I used to think very much like Ken Ham.
I’ve been on a journey for many years that has brought more freedom and love than I could have ever dreamed. This controversy is stirring old painful truths that I don’t enjoy recalling, but I suspect they are healthy reminders. Perhaps your journey is similar. I encourage you to come with me as I explain — especially if you’re sympathetic toward messages like AiG’s “Thank God You’re Wrong” billboards.
How I Used to Think
What Christians think — or anyone, for that matter — used to occupy a tremendous amount of my intellectual real estate. I would talk about the lost world often, even in my most sincere prayers, in the hopes to do my part in cleaning up the world’s filth. Honestly, I sat in Ken Ham-filled auditoriums and echoed the A-MENs along with everyone else.
I shared a deep judgment toward my fellow human beings that kept me from personal relationships that could have been edifying and good. My judgment of right from wrong was personal. I logically dissected and analyzed truth and tagged others with being either right (which was where I was) or wrong (where the lost world resided). My logos was all I needed to get by — never mind pathos or even ethos. I was a victor of persuasive technique; others just needed to listen to the truth.
The result? I alienated a lot of people. I distanced myself from extended family and old friends. I didn’t handle conflict well, I had a hot temper, and I spoke very little of love.
A peculiar observation: in all my judgment toward “worldly sinners,” I knew very few of them. I sincerely thought of myself as a champion for truth, even talked grandly of how to lead people to Christ. Life was very simple and its secrets easy to understand, the pagans just refused to accept it. But I counted the years since I had any influence on anyone other than like-minded people around me.
Ken Ham leads his billboard with “to all our atheist friends…”, yet I wonder if he knows any.
Cynthia does. One is a co-worker at The Scribe, the student paper she writes for. She invited him to our Birthday Bash last week. He’s a bit older than Cynthia, and though the party was demanding on my attention, he and I got into some small conversations. He seems like a decent guy, and perhaps we’ll get another chance to get to know each other. I’m glad he’s Cynthia’s friend.
The thought of converting him to the truth didn’t cross my mind. It would have overcome me 10 years ago.
I don’t care when people get the peripheral wrong. I care about their life, their well-being, their background story of how God has shaped them to be who they are — whether or not they recognize God’s hand in it. Who cares if they don’t agree with my views on the evolution/creation debate? Is that really the love of Christ? Get Genesis 1:1 correct — really?
As I mentioned, Ken Ham himself jumped into the fray, rebutting my daughter’s challenge. Here’s a copy of his post:
I’m tempted to lay in here. My old self-righteousness can steam up the back of my neck at times. He’s rebutting my daughter here, too, so I’m ready to let loose — and able, don’t you know, locked and loaded with debate-coach ammo that can dice his fallacies into the tastiest morsel.
But I pause. Dear friend, please understand: this billboard shakes an inner pharisee of whom I have spent years fighting. I’m like an alcoholic who can very easily fall off the wagon. I can wrap myself up in this argument and be totally effective, hurting and wounding and perhaps killing others in the process, and it would rot me with spite and anger and judgment. I don’t want to go there.
You see, I totally get Ken Ham. His response may sound like irrational gibberish to you (the atheists are having a hay day with this), but it actually makes sense to me. I used to think this way. It was cold, unkind, and narrow. My life’s journey wasn’t to love, it was to make sure I was right. Loving others? That first required admitting they were wrong, what I saw as the first confession to their salvation. Billboards blasted with “Thank God You’re Wrong” in bold, black, dark font would be affirmed by my former self. Ken Ham and I would have been on the same righteous page, and all those atheists wrong.
And any Christian — perhaps even my daughter — who would have raised her hand to remind me of the “most excellent way,” would have been thought weak, surrendering, turning the cheek too much. I would have given a very similar response: “Tsk, tsk. The nonsense some Christians come out with.”