Last weekend, Answers in Genesis — the ministry behind the Creation Museum — hosted a women’s conference focusing on modesty, marriage, and Creation. Unbeknownst to the organizers, I sent Kate (a contributor to this site) and Louise Kellar to the conference. The opinions expressed below are entirely their own. They wrote about their experiences separately and I have combined them into the narrative below. Since there was a lot of overlap, I’ve used Kate’s writing as the basis for the post with Louise’s observations in red.
Last Thursday, I packed my bags, plunked myself on a Megabus seat, and headed to Petersburg, Kentucky to get answers. Answers for Women, that is. I was ready to repent of my sins, recognize the scientific impossibility of evolution, and figure out God’s plan for my marriage. Or something like that.
The town consists of this ginormous museum and a B&B that seems pretty sketchy.
The conference started on Friday morning, but as part of the conference fee, we were given tickets to the Creation Museum, so Louise and I decided to spend the morning getting used to the museum and grounds. I definitely needed caffeine to get started. Unfortunately, the hotel we picked was also home to many of the other conference attendees, and in my sleep-fogged state, I accidentally wandered down to the continental breakfast area in shorts. After collecting two dirty looks for my bare legs (the horror!) I headed back to my room, feeling properly cowed, and changed into an appropriately long skirt.
Bibles in hand, we headed off to the museum. This was my first time there, and I was unnecessarily jumpy. Did we look too skeptical? What if my long skirt wasn’t long enough? Though I didn’t relax until we were halfway through the exhibits, I was put at ease when I was directed to sign in for the women’s conference.
The conference description included lines such as “Sadly, teachings like evolution, feminism, and others are becoming more prominent in the church. Are you equipped to respond to these challenges?” Yep, those feminists: always ruining the good word of God.
Five steps from the front desk, we were encouraged to take a picture against a green screen (which would later be filled in with hungry-looking dinosaurs). They told us to look scared… which turned out not to require a lot of acting on our parts:
Off to the exhibits!
Actually, before we talk exhibits, a word about animatronic humans. They’re creepy. For the first hour, I was fighting the urge to say a chipper hello to the children playing near the dinosaurs… who turned out to be the product of gears and disturbingly realistic skin. By the second hour, I was jumping any time the actual museum visitors turned out to be breathing.
We started with a short movie called Men in White. An animatronic girl named Wendy sat on the stage next to her campfire and pondered God and evolution. BAM! Enter Gabe and Mike, angels in white overalls and wraparound sunglasses, there to convince Wendy (and those wacky evolution-accepting professors) that the truth lies in Creationism. We were also in the “special effects” theater, which meant we got shaky seats, surround sound, and — my least favorite — water sprayed in our faces. Properly educated and showered, we headed to the entrance of the museum exhibits — but not before passing a skeleton reading a Bible!
The museum was organized around the “Seven C’s” — that is, Creation, Corruption, Catastrophe, Confusion, Christ, Cross, and Consummation. Louise and I only made it through the first three — the place is huge.
Some highlights: Graffiti Alley (which explains how our secular culture is responsible for much of the evil in society) has little video clips on the wall. In one, a teenager is watching “pornography” and looking awfully bored while his brother is in the same room playing violent video games.
Creationists really don’t understand what people do while watching porn…
Speaking of animals, many of the displays had live ones, including chameleons, bright Amazonian frogs, and, of course, finches.
There was incest, too. In a display I certainly wasn’t expecting, the Creation Museum conceded that incest had to have occurred between Adam and Eve’s children. However, at the time, incest was totally okay; it wasn’t until later, they said, that genetic mutations came into being and incest became bad.
Overwhelmed with the anti-science, Louise and I decided to take a break to recharge and gather ourselves before heading to conference registration. So we headed into the basement, picked up our nametags and giftbags, and browsed the selection of books. I noticed many women examining copies of Atheism Remix, a response to New Atheism by the husband of one of the conference speakers. There were a lot of homeschool materials and almost as many books on becoming a good woman or wife.
The last time I saw so many books and DVDs by the same person (Ken Ham), I had unknowingly wandered into a Nuwaubian Nation bookstore where everything was written by Malachi York.
The conference (finally) started, albeit unofficially, at 3:00p, with Dr. Georgia Purdom.
Dr. Georgia Purdom: “The Genetic and Theological Reality of Adam and Eve”
This talk was open to the public and announced over the loudspeakers to the entire museum, but it was also the first event of the conference. About 200 people showed up, mainly women. The few men who were in the audience had their arms around spouses.
Dr. Purdom’s talk had two parts: (1) Explaining that scientists are wrong when they say that Genesis isn’t literally true and (2) saying that science proves that Adam and Eve were real. Confused? Yeah, me too. However, Purdom is one of two Answers in Genesis staffers with PhDs from secular universities (hers is in molecular genetics from Ohio State), so I was interested to hear how she would connect her training to her talk. (***Edit*** 5/16/13): Purdom points out that several AiG staffers have PhDs from secular universities. We apologize for the error.)
So, about those Adam and Eve characters — were they real people? Dr. Purdom seemed to take serious issue with this article from 2011 in Christianity Today and opened with some quotes from Christian scientists who argued that the Creation story was… well… a story. Her main argument seemed to be that it was a “matter of starting points,” and that the scientists were starting from a secular place, rather than the Bible. (Starting points would, unfortunately, be a running theme throughout the conference.) To prove her point, Dr. Purdom took us through a dizzying array of scripture that mentioned things real humans do: breathing, living, uniting in one flesh — the usual. She argued that since the verses mentioned real people doing real things, it was clearly not an allegory… which left me wondering, what does Dr. Purdom think an allegory would look like? For that matter, what about any work of fiction?
To prove Adam and Eve existed, Purdom just kept quoting Genesis, as if the attributes assigned to them could only happen to “real historical people.” She continued by showing and reading quotations from atheists about how Adam and Eve weren’t real people… which I concluded were the most accurate quotes of the entire conference.
Dr. Purdom also emphasized that because Jesus is supposed to be the “second Adam,” that proving Adam didn’t exist meant that Jesus wasn’t real either. Therefore, there was no way to give up ground to proponents of evolution — if you admit doubt anywhere, you’re bound to lose faith in everything. At this point, our friends from American Atheists made a surprise visit on the screen, thanks to their You Know It’s a Myth campaign. Purdom said, “It’s a problem when the atheists get it, and the Christians don’t.” In other words, atheists knew the connection and they didn’t believe in any of it, which was more intellectually honest, so to speak, than Christians who denied a literal Adam but believed in Christ. Vaguely affronted, I was glad when we moved on to the genetics.
Basically, Dr. Purdom had three points:
- Scientists say that chimps and humans share 98% percent of their DNA, but that’s only because they compare parts of DNA that line up. It’s really more like 76% (Which strikes me as still being pretty high, but apparently disproves evolution.)
- Scientists say that humans and chimps must have diverged from a common ancestor. We have 46 chromosomes and chimps have 48. There’s a theory that two chromosomes must have fused to become, in humans, Chromosome 2. This would be proven by finding telomere-like patterns within the center of our Chromosome 2. And we do! But we only find hundreds (which Dr. Purdom described as too few) instead of thousands. (Dr. Purdom offered up no proof, though, that thousands of telomeres were what secular scientists were expecting in the first place.)
- Scientists are wrong to say that we descended from a group of people since we only separated from the Tower of Babel 4,500 years ago. At this point, Dr. Purdom had blinded me with too much (pseudo-)science to sift through her explanation of the Institute for Creation Research’s work with single nucleotide polymorphisms.
Really, the entire talk boiled down to one idea: evolutionists are highly prejudiced, and Creation Scientists are starting from an objectively true point: the Bible.
At this point, we had a break and Louise began talking to one of the greeters. I notice that there was security everywhere in the museum. There were even concrete blockades at the entrance to the museum, spaced just close enough together to prevent an automobile from squeezing between any two of them.
As the conversation with the greeter continued, I finally asked her if the museum had a drug problem. She looked somewhat shocked that I had asked that, but I was referring to one of the security guards who had a dog with him. She told me very nonchalantly that it was not a drug dog, but a bomb-sniffing dog. “We get lots of bomb threats here!… In fact, when Ken Ham is around, he usually has a guard or two with him.” WTF Hemant? Sending us to a place with bomb scares?
[Hemant’s note: For Science!]
Finally, the next talk — the first official talk of the conference — began.
Matthew Moore: “John’s Gospel: So That You May Believe”
Matthew was from Lamp and Light Productions, a company that re-enacts sections of the Bible for churches and religious colleges and, now, us. Really, there’s not much more I can add. It was word-for-word what you can find in the Gospel of John and it was certainly more entertaining than trying to read it on my own or listening to a monotone speaker in church, but I found myself waiting for the “real conference” to start. At the beginning of the presentation, Matthew said his hope was that we would come face to face with what we believed about Jesus Christ.
My conclusion? Still not God.
We specifically picked a row that only had three seats in hopes that no prying Creationist’s eyes would see our notes. Our hopes of that were quickly dashed when a lady, whom Kate had complimented on her sweater earlier, asked if the seat was taken. “Yes!” I wanted to scream. But, alas, maybe this woman would have something interesting to say.
The small talk between us began. After Kate mentioned she was from Chicago, the sweater lady explained, “I was listening to NPR and they said 50 schools were closing in Chicago; could they really to afford to close 50 schools?” Wait, what? This woman listened to NPR? Had we found another infiltrator at this conference? Nope. That theory fell after she went on a tirade about how Jon Stewart had offended her, so she quit watching The Daily Show. I felt there could still be a glimmer of hope for her, but nope, nope, nope. Turns out she wrote a children’s book for Creationist kids.
Steve Ham: “Created in the Image of God”
The last talk of the night came from Steve Ham (Ken Ham’s brother) and it was about how everyone was created in the image of God. (It’s what makes us human!)
At this point I was really dumbfounded that the first two speakers of the night were men.
In a twist I wasn’t anticipating, Ham conceded that while some of the Founding Fathers were clearly Christian, others may or may not have been, but that they said all men were created equal. This, somehow, tied into how evolution and millions of years and apemen were “barraging” against scripture and how we couldn’t believe that history. It was a “revisionist” history being taught against the scripture. Children were learning a philosophy and not a real history! At this point, communications broke down somewhat and I really had no idea what train of thought I was supposed to be following. The gist seemed to be that the worldly people were teaching history based on things people said, rather than things the people who wrote the Bible said.
Next we moved on to one of the more creative arguments for Creationism I’d ever heard: The fossil record shows destruction (floods, volcanoes, etc.) and we know that destruction isn’t possible without sin. Since humans didn’t exist millions of years ago, sin couldn’t have existed millions of years ago, so the fossil record is incorrect. Checkmate, evolutionists!
We wrapped up our first night with more about the importance of valuing human life. (Interestingly, though Steve Ham talked about the horrors of suicide, euthanasia, abortion, and murder, Answers in Genesis is perfectly fine with the death penalty.) Finally, we received a reminder that our sons and daughters were failures — made in the image of God, but failed image bearers. So, don’t forget to look at your children as failures.
Ham also talked about how his daughter has an “evil dimple” and how his son has the “Ham thinking face.” What that looks like, I’ll leave to your imagination. Ham continued on about how his kids are created in the image of him and his wife and how he and his wife are created in God’s image. He soon catapulted into discussing the value of human life and how abortion and murder are wrong, invoking Hitler and eugenics and why Darwin is terrible and let’s not forget how Margaret Sanger loved abortion!
On that cheerful note, we were released.
Day Two! I definitely needed more caffeine for this one. Unfortunately, when I went downstairs, I found an impromptu worship service in the lobby and that the hotel was completely out of coffee. I beat a hasty retreat.
Mary Mohler: “Modeling Modesty”
The first speaker of the day was Mary Mohler, wife of Atheism Remix author Albert Mohler, who came here to teach us to be modest. She opened by pointing out that the world would think we were out of our minds to be at the Creation Museum on a Saturday morning talking about modesty.
Yes, yes I believe that…
Sadly, it was all downhill from there. Mohler opened by critiquing the fashion industry, which never talks about modesty, and unbelievers, who don’t have any intuition about how to dress themselves modestly.
Though Mohler was clearly a comfortable and confident speaker, she seemed to have little grasp of her audience, emphasizing twice that we didn’t need to dress like the people on “Little House on the Prairie” while more than a few Mennonite women sat in the room.
Mohler also concluded that the problem threatening Christian men and women is really “accidental immodesty.” To illustrate this, she referred to fictional characters (PDF) who wouldn’t be out of place in elementary school: Disorganized Delores, Frugal Frances, Bargain-Hunting Barbie, Dieting Diane, Hannah and her husband Hank, Postpartum Polly, Clueless Clarice, Stylish Steffie, and Pressured Priscilla.
The common theme seemed to be mocking plus-sized women: Dieting Diane is funny because she thinks she can fit into those jeans, Frugal Frances is ridiculous for trying to fit into that bargain top, and Postpartum Polly just doesn’t understand that she’s still too heavy to wear those clothes she used to fit into! Ha. Ha. Ha. This would resurface when bikinis came up; when pictures of celebrities with larger stomachs came on screen, there was an audible “ugh” from the audience.
It appeared most of these stereotypes were about body shaming plus-size women and letting us know that men are visual and we shouldn’t tempt them. I felt she was really saying that if you’re fat, wear a burka, and if you dress provocatively, all men will probably rape you.
Deuteronomy 22:5 also came up (“A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this”). Mohler explained that while this might sound like an argument against wearing pants, it was actually an argument against wearing boy-cut jeans. But, of course, make sure your girl jeans aren’t too tight! She gave the example of her husband, who owns jeans and a pink polo shirt, just as she does. But, when they wear them at the same time, you can tell who’s the wife and who’s the husband.
Joy Fagan: “Vessels of Honor: Our Identity and Calling”
The next speaker was Joy Fagan, a professor at Cedarville University. She started out with some jokes about how men and women are like objects.
Women are like egg-timers because, over time, all the weight shifts to the bottom!
Men are like trains because they always use the same old lines!
Freezer bags are male because they hold everything in and you can see through them.
Tires are male because they easily go bald and are often over-inflated.
Hot air balloons are male because, to get them going, you have to light fire under their derrière.
Web pages are female because they are constantly getting looked at and hit on.
Hammers are male because over the last 5,000 years they’ve changed very little and are occasionally handy to have around.
Women are like sponges because they’re “soft, squeezable, and retain water!” (Seriously, what was it with making fun of women and their weight? This hardly seemed like an affirming conference.)
So men are lazy and sort of useless, while women gain weight. Yep. Hilarious.
Joy’s main focus was the calling of women. We, women, are the vessels within the home of God, and we’re supposed to make ourselves valuable and useful. In order to become the most useful vessels, we’re supposed to heal ourselves, focus on our inner beauty, and complement the men in our lives.
Interestingly enough, she mentioned that she was very proud that she was a 45-year-old single female who had never been married. Her other comments also focused on how she didn’t like children very much. At this point, I was very confused because she seemed like an anomaly compared to all the other women at the conference.
Though Joy was a powerful speaker, her talk seemed a touch disorganized — wandering from how gender diversity was the most important kind of diversity (but only if it involved cisgender men and women) to how it’s not judgmental if you’re telling someone how making changes in their life would make them more godly. She finished her talk by talking about her work at Safe Harbor House, a safe house for women leaving sex work or fighting drug and alcohol abuse. I don’t actually want to snark about this — there’s little long term housing and support available for women in these positions. In fact, I wish atheists provided more institutions like these.
Lunch was salad and fruit — at a women’s conference? Really? Must all stereotypes be fulfilled? — followed by cupcakes. (The Creation Museum makes damn good cupcakes, y’all.) We accidentally ended up sitting at the same table as Joy Fagan and her mother, something I was really excited about. I wanted to know how Joy had gotten into running Safe Harbor House. After all, as an unmarried 45-year-old woman in a church focused largely on marriage and raising children, life couldn’t be easy. Unfortunately, when I tried to ask, Joy responded obliquely, telling me about the date she bought Safe Haven House and when they took in their first women. It’s easy to get burned out at conferences, but I was disappointed that Joy didn’t seem interested in interacting with anyone at the table.
Mary Mohler: “Embracing God’s Plan for Marriage in a World that Makes Up Its Own Rules”
Mary Mohler was back, this time to tell us about God’s plan for marriage. The first half of the talk seemed to be less about God’s plan and more about how those darn gays and secularists kept ruining marriage. Christians will soon find themselves on the edge of society, labeled as bigots, if they keep promoting what God wants for us! The horror! (Okay, okay, I’m editorializing a touch, but really, it was hard to keep a straight face.)
Mohler ranted about how cohabitation is the new normal. “Cohabitation = fornication and is sexually immoral.” She continued on by saying men need to love their wives like Christ loves the church. I’ve heard that many times but it still doesn’t really make sense to me. It seems like a circle jerk of illogical thinking.
Mohler emphasized that men and women are equal in value and worth, but have different form and function. Even though the Bible says that women are to submit to their husbands, it also says that husbands have to love their wives. She explained that the really difficult challenge was for men — they have to love their wives no matter what. And nobody ever talks about how hard that is for men!
We also heard about the two positions within the church on the relationship between men and women. One camp, headed by Christians For Biblical Equality, is all about egalitarianism (we’re all equal). However, they’re misinterpreting scripture because they’re ignoring the parts of scripture where men and women are given different roles. CBE also promotes marriage as a partnership, where spouses divide responsibilities by their expertise and availability — for example, if mom makes enough money for the family, dad can stay at home with the children. This sounded completely logical to me, but apparently it’s defying God’s will and therefore blasphemous.
The other camp (which, of course, is what Mohler promotes) is the complementarian position, lead by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. This theory suggests that men and women are equal in front of God, but have different roles and functions (i.e. women = housewives, men = breadwinners). Women aren’t supposed to disrespect the role of men and cause them to abuse their role. But everybody’s still equal! (Hemant’s note: Hello, Pastor Steven Anderson)
Mohler emphasized that this wasn’t a matter of becoming a “timid wallflower,” but about accepting the leadership of your husband without complaining. Also, even if your husband isn’t religious, you can convert him by submitting to him.
Dr. Georgia Purdom: “Biblical Authority in the Marketplace of Ideas”
Last on the agenda was another talk from Georgia Purdom. At this point, I was pretty disappointed by the lack of variety in speakers. Two days of lectures, but only five speakers, two of whom were men?
Dr. Purdom’s main argument seemed to be that Christians weren’t arguing enough using the Bible. (Which, I would think, is the least useful way to bring opponents to your way of thinking.)
To demonstrate that, we watched a clip of The O’Reilly Factor where Bill O’Reilly disdainfully says that the anti-gay-marriage side “hasn’t been able to do anything but thump the Bible!” It turns out nobody likes Bill O’Reilly, not even Creationists.
Opinions, we learned, are the problem. Leaving the Bible out of conversation is what’s getting the anti-abortion, anti-evolution, anti-marriage-equality crowd into trouble. In fact, Purdom doesn’t even want to hear your opinion! She wants to hear what scripture your opinion is based on. Also, the opposition can quote the Bible, too, but they’re doing it wrong and twisting it.
So, as I understand it, to argue with scripture you have to be right in the first place, and to be right in the first place you have to be arguing from scripture. What matters, we were told again, is your starting point.
She explained that “If we leave the Bible out of it, all we end up doing is sharing our opinion, without explaining its biblical basis.” Oops, I almost forgot this whole conference was about the Bible being the ultimate authority in everything. I hope she didn’t judge me for wearing a cotton/poly-blend sweater.
Then, it was on to moralism — the apparently seductive Gospel of Making Arguments Without Including Bible Verses. Enter an example from the Berenstain Bears (yes, the happy children’s books). Dr. Purdom seemed pretty ticked that there wasn’t any scripture in there either (I guess no one told her the Berenstain Bears were now Christian). The whole thing was just like the atheists!
She pulled up the American Humanist Association’s Kids Without God website, which uses Darwin the Dog to tell kids to be nice to people.
There’s no basis for that — evolution is all about survival of the fittest! Atheists don’t have to be nice, so they must be borrowing from the Bible! Checkmate, atheists! Meanwhile, my neighbors in the auditorium were nodding along.
At this point, I was still not sure how this talk had anything to do with social media, but then Purdom explained her rules about proper conduct on Facebook. She’ll ban you for crude language, ad hominem attacks, and if you are asking questions worded in such a way to be facetious. [Insert some Bible quotes here about what Jesus says about Facebook.]
She then read a long passage by Albert Mohler in which he asks: “If we remove morals from law, then how do we govern?” Purdom added on: “It’s a slippery slope. What’s next incest? Polygamy? Bestiality? You name it.”
Purdom closed her talk with a trailer for AiG’s summer Bible school. Though the clip is obviously melodramatic, I found myself squirming in my seat as she tearfully explained that it made her think of her young daughter because there will be very real and difficult consequences for Christians for speaking about their religion.
“There is a very real chance that my daughter will face imprisonment or worse for her faith. I honestly believe that. If it doesn’t happen to me first. [Cynical laugh] It may happen to her.”
A few uncomfortable moments later, after being told about the discounts available in the bookstore, we were finally — finally! — released.
A few final notes:
- The conference and the museum staff were nearly all white. I ran into exactly one African-American woman working there and one African-American conference attendee.
- There were lots and lots of kids walking around with their parents at the museum — most of them under the age of ten. The Creation Museum has really become a Christian family destination.
- Louise and I had made a policy of not lying during the entire conference, which meant that we had a lot of conversations that went like this:
Conference-goer: Are you enjoying the conference so far?
Me: You know, I had no idea the Creation Museum was so big! I’d never been before! [Cue unnecessarily large grin.]
Conference-goer: Yeah, it’s so great! I bring my kids here all the time.
Me: [Cue unnecessarily larger grin.]
- Though Louise and I don’t look as though we could pass for sisters, nobody ever asked how we knew each other or why we came to the conference together.
- There was never any time set aside for Q&A after any of the talks — very disappointing.
I want to thank Hemant for this great opportunity. I know it has provided me with stories for years to come. Also, to Kate for agreeing to attend this conference with me. I really don’t think I would have left with a shred of sanity if not for her.