In the End, Only Two Things are Certain: Death, and the Ark Encounter’s Attempt to Avoid Taxes

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I’ve written quite a bit about Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis over the past two years. My focus, though, has always been specifically on what he and AiG teaches, and how it does not reflect good biblical exegesis or good science, and how the claims of AiG have no basis in the history of the Church. My biggest concern was not even Ham’s belief in a young earth, or a literal six days; by biggest concern was how he claims those specific beliefs to be the foundational tenets of the Christian faith and the Gospel.

Christians can disagree on a whole range of interpretive points, and yes, ultimately someone will be proved right and the other wrong. But if the points in question are secondary issues, well, they are secondary issues, and they should not be used to divide the Church. Therefore, by claiming belief in a young earth, a literal six days, a historical Adam and Eve, and a literal world-wide flood 4,000 years ago to be fundamental tenets of the Christian faith, on par with the resurrection of Christ itself, Ken Ham has made these secondary issues the foundation for the “gospel” he preaches…and that is a real problem. The divisions and contentions that seem to follow him everywhere he goes should testify to the fact that there is a whole lot more “works of the flesh” going on in his ministry than “fruit of the Spirit.”

To Pay Taxes, or Not to Pay Taxes…
And that brings me to the point of this particular post: the recent legal maneuvering that AiG has engaged in, in order to avoid paying a safety tax that the city officials of Williamstown implemented that would bring in revenue for city safety equipment, as well as public schools.

But in order to understand why people are upset over that, we need to go back a couple of years, to when Ham was building his Ark Encounter. Back then, in order to claim certain tax rebates, Ham claimed that the Ark Encounter was a “for-profit business” that would bring in millions of dollars of revenue to Boone county, Kentucky. A legal fight ensued. Many atheist groups were against Ham getting these tax rebates because, even though he said the Ark Encounter was “for-profit business,” it was clearly an Evangelical “outreach ministry” that had specific hiring policies that excluded non-Christians from working there. Therefore, they argued, Ham should not receive federal tax rebates.

A lot of people objected—not just atheists. Nevertheless, Ham won the case, the Ark Encounter was recognized as a “for profit business,” and the attraction opened to the public last summer. At that time, I really didn’t object to Ham’s attempt to get the tax rebates. I figured, “Hey, if he wants to call it a business, and runs it that way, and it brings in revenue to Boone country, sure, let him have the tax rebates.” Obviously, I don’t agree with anything AiG says or teaches, but they have a right to try to get those rebates, and if they are granted, so be it.

I want to make that clear: I did not object to Ham’s claiming the Ark Encounter was a for-profit business.

But now something new has happened. Williamstown has implemented a new safety tax that would end up being 50 cents per ticket at the Ark Encounter. In response, Ken Ham has sold the land upon which the for-profit business Ark Encounter sits to his Crosswater Canyon ministry, and is now claiming, one year after its opening, that the Ark Encounter is a ministry, and is thus exempt from taxation.

That’s the nuts and bolts of this situation: Ken Ham says, “The Ark Encounter is a for-profit business! Let us have those tax rebates!” But then when it comes to paying taxes that would go toward safety equipment and public schools, Ken Ham is now saying, “Oh no, the Ark Encounter is a church ministry! We don’t have to pay taxes!”

The responses on all sides have been predictable. Atheist groups are crying bloody murder. The “Friendly Atheist” blogger Hemant Mehta, has been writing on this almost daily. In addition, a number of Christians (like me) have objected to this perfectly legal, but thoroughly distasteful and dishonest, maneuver on Ham’s part. And Fundamentalist supporters of Ham are not only excusing this move, but they are positively cheering it on, and claiming that this is just another example of hatred and persecution against Ham.

In fact, one such example of such Fundamentalist cheerleading can be seen in a recent online article entitled, “Christian Mastermind Ken Ham Thwarts Statist Money Grab, Atheists Get Angry,” at the New City Times. If the title alone doesn’t tell you all you need to know, the first sentence of the article should: [Ken Ham] “has once against brilliantly found a way to prevent greedy extortionists from shaking him down and plundering his property.”

Wow…

What’s at the Heart of All This? Culture Wars!
Earlier this week, when news of all this broke, I got involved in a few online discussions on this. I said early on that I could guarantee what Ken Ham’s response would be. He’d say (1) it’s perfectly legal, and (2) it’s just another attempt by secularists to persecute him. I further noted that I bet part of the reason he was trying to avoid paying the safety tax was because some of the money would have gone to public schools, and Ham has routinely disparaged all public schools “temples to atheism,” solely because they teach evolutionary theory in science classes.

When I wrote that, a number of AiG supporters immediately agreed—“Yes, it’s perfectly legal! Yes, this is just hate and persecution directed at Ken Ham! Yes, he shouldn’t let his money go to those godless public schools!” In fact, in the New City Times article, it said, “This allows Ken Ham to totally avoid the ‘safety tax’ and thwarts their efforts to have Ham pay vast sums to the government schools which push the secularist views which Ham repudiates.”

Basically, the defense of Ham in this instance can be summed up as follows: “Hurray! Ham is sticking it to Caesar! Let’s not give any money to those godless institutions of atheism!”

Yes, that’s exactly like something Jesus and Paul would say: “Don’t give to Caesar what is Caesar’s! Screw him!” (Matthew 22:21), and “This is why you should do all you can to avoid paying taxes—lie, if you have to, because the authorities are God’s enemies, and must be fought against at every turn, especially when they are trying to use your hard-earned money that you made because of the tax-rebates the authorities granted to you, to go to educating children!” (Romans 13:6).

To the point, the reason why so many atheists are up in arms over Ham’s recent actions is simple: they see the hypocrisy and dishonesty, and his actions are just confirming their biases that Christianity is a crock. In that respect, Ham is “blaspheming the name of the Lord among the gentiles” (Romans 2:24).

The main reason why so many Christians are upset over Ham’s recent actions is also simple: it is dishonest and un-Christ-like. Instead of actually trying to reach out the to the world and reflect the image of Christ, Ken Ham and AiG is giving a giant middle finger to it.

And the main reason why so many others are actually defending Ham’s recent actions is also simple: they are convinced that they are fighting a culture war against godless secularism, that the government is the enemy, and that public schooling is just an atheist indoctrination mill. Therefore, instead of reaching out in love to a dying world, they want to see a war—a culture war.

In reality, we should see these actions, not as some righteous revolt against godless secularism, but rather as the pitiful and comical buffoonery of the People’s Front of Judea from Monty Python’s Life of Brian:

In any case, I felt I needed to write this brief post on these recent happenings. Let’s put AiG’s teachings to the side for a moment. For the sake of argument, agree with me that when it came to the building of the Ark Encounter, Ham had every right to claim “for-profit” status, so he could get government tax rebates. But let’s also be honest, to pull this stunt and now claim the Ark Encounter is a ministry, a mere one year after it opens, and for the sole purpose to avoid paying a safety tax that would go toward helping the public schools of Boone county—that is inexcusable, deceptive, and shameful.

I don’t plan on obsessing over recent stunt by Ham…I’ll just say he’s going to reap what he is sowing. And as Paul said, “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit” (Galatians 6:7-8).

But let’s be honest, none of this is really surprising, not in the least. I’ve been saying for the past two years that Ham’s continual condemnation of any Christian or Christian organization that doesn’t agree with his YEC worldview reflects more “the works of the flesh” than the fruit of the Spirit.” And you really do reap whatever you sow.

Follow Up
As it turns out, because he is now claiming the Ark Encounter is a ministry, Ham has now lost the tax rebates he had been granted when he claimed the Ark Encounter was a for-profit business.

The People’s Judean Front: “No Blackmail!”

Ham has also taken to Facebook to respond to his critics in this matter. He objected to the fact that because of the safety tax, the Ark Encounter would “shoulder nearly all the burden for additional safety services that will benefit the entire community and not just the Ark.” He also said he was upset that the city of Williamstown didn’t consult him first, before they implemented the tax: “We are saddened that the city council did not extend the courtesy of discussing this ordinance with us before passing it and taking it public, and was not willing to negotiate further.”

So that’s where everything stands…you be the judge. In regard to Ken Ham and the recent maneuverings by AiG over this tax issue, What Would Jesus Do?

I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t do this.

3 Comments

  1. The “my little tribe, right or wrong” mentality is one of the more unsavory aspects of the culture war. And some “Bible believing Christians” were quick to adopt situation ethics when it favored them. But I think this is probably more a political statement and a way to rally support than just something over money (of course, it is super awesome when you can play the moral victim and grab for money at the same time).

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