Adapted from an earlier post on Sojourners’ God’s Politics blog.
America is a nation established on certain inalienable rights. The right to life. The right to liberty. The right to pursue happiness as one sees fit. The right, as a religious organization, to sue a government and its officials whenever you don’t get what you want.
You may not remember that last one from social studies class — and to be honest, I don’t recall Jefferson expounding upon it, either — but it is nevertheless a right the fundamentalist group Answers in Genesis and its president, Ken Ham, availed themselves of this week with the announcement of their forthcoming lawsuit against the state of Kentucky, its governor and its tourism secretary.
The kerfuffle is over AiG’s Ark Encounter — the “creationist theme park” complete with a 510-foot wooden replica of Noah’s floating barn (except this one won’t float, plus it costs 70 million bucks) — and specifically, the $18 million in special tax incentives the Commonwealth’s tourism department had initially approved in 2011 before retracting them last year.
The goal of the incentives is to promote the construction of job-creating tourist attractions in Kentucky, and AiG’s little project initially held water. What caused it to fall out of favor with the Bluegrass State was the group’s increasingly vocal insistence that it intended to: 1) require its employees to sign a statement of faith affirming, among other things, their devotion to the idea that the universe was created sometime more recently than the invention of beer by the Mesopotamians, and 2) operate the park pretty much like its Creation Museum — i.e., as an unabashed evangelistic outreach to the legions of heathen sinners who desperately need AiG’s message.
According to the state, this represented a “changed position” from AiG’s initial communications about the project, and it could not lend public funds toward the advancement of a particular religion (I think there might be something about that in the First Amendment).
I don’t know if I actually believe Kentucky officials were naïve enough to have ever thought a project operated by a group like Answers in Genesis would be, you know, anything other than explicitly religious, but it doesn’t really matter. The point is that they came to their senses and withdrew the incentives, as they should have done.
But AiG doesn’t see it that way, and they’ve hired two nonprofit, religiously minded legal outfits to help them make their case in federal court.
I have no real interest in arguing the legal merits of the case here, though it will be amusing to see their attorneys attempt to explain how it’s discriminatory for the state to not let them discriminate. (“Your honor, this case is very simple. Accepting millions in tax dollars while discriminating against those who believe differently than us is a constitutionally protected right. It’s what this great nation was founded upon. I’m sure it’s in the Federalist Papers somewhere…”)
My goal is more to ask whether AiG’s splashy litigiousness (its nationwide press release was accompanied by a slick YouTube video laying out its case) is in line with the Bible — you know, that book whose teachings the group claims is at the core of everything it does.
I wonder how, for example, the group understands its decision in light of 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, a passage in which the Apostle Paul, in no uncertain terms, tells followers of Christ to stay out of the courtroom.
“The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already,” verse 7 reads in the NIV. “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?”
Or what about the Sermon on the Mount, in which Christ admonished his listeners to give a gift to anyone who brought legal action against them? (Matthew 5:40) What about Romans 12:18’s direction to “if possible … be at peace with all men,” or 1 Thessalonians 4:11’s exhortation to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life”?
In what world could a nationwide, animated press release announcing a federal lawsuit be construed as an effort to “be at peace” or “live quietly”?
Now, I realize these biblical directives don’t jibe with this situation exactly. 1 Cor. 6, for example, mostly discusses lawsuits between believers, and the state of Kentucky isn’t exactly “a fellow Christian.” And some would say Matt. 5 doesn’t apply, because Ham and AiG are the plaintiffs in this suit, not the defendants.
But remember also that these are just a small sampling of an undeniable scriptural theme: That we Christians are no longer part of this world, nor is the kingdom to which we belong. If we really believe that, we should not care about earthly “rights,” or privileges or what we are or aren’t due in this life.
That’s why we’re instructed to turn the other cheek, to give more to those who take from us, to heap blessings on those who wish us ill. That’s why Jesus rebuked the disciple who tried to fight to save his life. That’s why Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9 about giving up every one of his rights for the sake of the gospel.
If this life is all there is, then turning the other cheek is indefensible nonsense. Get yours, and get all you can, for tomorrow we die.
But if this life is just a vapor, a vanishing mist in the light of an eternity with God in heaven, then it makes a lot of sense to ignore these trifling wrongs. Because nothing in this life matters, and nothing we do matters, except that which serves to point others to the exceeding joy of knowing Christ Jesus.
I don’t know how this teaching could really be any more clear or consistent in the New Testament, and I don’t see how it squares with AiG’s decision to sue over some money it believes it’s entitled to. Nor do I understand how a man who takes the Bible as literally as Ken Ham claims to could have missed this little discrepancy.
Additional media (for your reading pleasure):
AiG’s complete complaint against the Commonwealth of Kentucky, filed in U.S. district court Feb. 5, 2015.
A letter from Kentucky’s Tourism, Arts and Heritage Secretary Bob Stewart to AiG, explaining the state’s position, dated Dec. 10, 2014.
A letter from James Parsons, an attorney for AiG, explaining his client’s position, dated Dec. 8, 2014.