What in the world is an ordained minister doing on the speaker's bureau of the Secular Student Alliance. It's a question I get asked a lot and the answer comes from an event that happened three years ago.
The Secular Student Alliance is a growing organization of atheist/freethinking colleges students with chapters all around the world. The SSA headquarters is located in my home city of Columbus, Ohio. After making friends with August Brunsman, Hemant Mehta and the atheists at Ohio State, the SSA invited me to address their national convention held in Columbus every summer.
That year, the convention sponsored a trip to the Creation Museum down in Kentucky. PZ Myers, atheist (or infamous, depending on your point of view) blogger, planned to lead the trip as the keynote speaker of the convention. Myers' runs a blog that has become a nexus point for atheists on the web. Lyz Lidell, Director of Campus Organizing for the SSA invited me to go on the trip with everyone from the convention and PZ.
The Creation Museum is located in Petersburg, Ky., just across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio. It's the brainchild of Ken Ham, a Christian apologist for Young Earth Creationism. Essentially, he believes that only a six-24-hour-days interpretation of Genesis one and two is the right one. Ham believes the earth is only 10,000 years old based on his reading of the biblical genealogies.
Ham has very little tolerance for any other view of Genesis one and two. He argues that Christians who take a different position aren't being faithful to the Bible. In fact, in listening Ham speak and reading his blog on the Internet, you get the feeling that he almost questions the Christianity of Christians who disagree with him.
Young Earth Creationism has become a test of orthodoxy in some circles of evangelical Christianity. The historical church has gone through various stages on how to read the first part of Genesis. The YEC position has never become a test of orthodoxy like it has in the past 50 years. It has become a test in the ongoing culture wars of the Christian right.
The Creation Museum has become a fortress in this culture war. The very fund raising campaign for the museum shows this as thousands of people gave money for its construction. The museum opened on May 28, 2007, after a building project that cost around 27 million dollars. No expense has been spared. Ken Ham took this view one step further when he called the opening of the Creation Museum, "Not just a historic event in American Christendom, but a historic event in Christendom."
No hubris in that statement at all.
In going to the Creation Museum, I would be visiting a place where I not only disagree theologically with people but also with their entire culture war mentality.
You can imagine my reluctance, then, when Lyz asked if I wanted to go to the museum with PZ and the students. I felt like it would be a no win position. They are fellow evangelicals and I try to respect their position.
On the other hand, I don't think the Creation Museum represents the YEC position very well. There are many learned believers who can articulate the YEC position in an educated and learned fashion in way that doesn't fire a rocket into the culture war. I didn't want to go and be embarrassed the whole time.
The more I thought about it, I realized I would be missing a prime opportunity to see pirate atheists and seven-day creationists in the space that is often the center of controversy between the two groups.
So, reluctantly, I told Liz I would go.
The day arrived and I hitched a ride with my atheists from Ohio State. We had a great chat on the way down talking about anarchy, consumerism and wondering how things would play out the museum. Despite their joking demeanor, I could detect a hint of nervousness.
Or maybe I was projecting.
We drove down the road to the museum. The building itself is a beautiful structure, with large plate glass windows dominating the front of the building. Cool dinosaur statues line the plaza in front of the building and look very lifelike.
With a deep breath, I got out of the car and headed to the entrance of the museum.
Needles to say, I got strange looks not just from the Christians, but also the atheists. I wore the T-shirt of my student group at Ohio State which states, "Question Everything." No one knew what to make of me. I thought this would be a cool feeling, but it really wasn't. It just made me uncomfortable, like a man without a country.
The Creation Museum had put up a table for the atheists to register as they came into the museum. As I stood in line, I struck up a conversation with a couple in line who had driven down from Canada to be a part of this visit. As we started talking, they asked me what I did for a living. Trying to be a bit secretive, I said, "Well, I work with college students up at Ohio State."
"Oh, that's nice! In what capacity?"
I mumbled, "Um, campus minister..."
Looks of frank disbelief, "Really?"
They nodded, not quite believing it, "So what are you doing here with us?"
I laughed, "I'm not really sure."
They laughed, and I explained the whole situation. They looked at me as if I were an alien from Mars.
"What do you think so far?"
I shrugged, "I'll tell you afterward."
This post is a series of three posts. The second will be posted in a few days.