Trouble in Paradise
As of 2004, the US market for creationism was at least $22 million — as measured by adding up donations to and purchases of products and services from ten of the largest creationist groups. Of that amount, Answers in Genesis accounted for 59%, making it clearly the dominant player in US creationism (Lippard 2007). But in October 2005, Answers in Genesis (AiG) suffered a schism. This became public at the end of February 2006, when the groups in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa that had operated under the AiG name rebranded as Creation Ministries International (CMI), while the US and UK groups continued as AiG. (As the naming gets complicated, I will refer to the different countries' groups as AiG–US, AiG–UK, and AiG–Australia to distinguish them from the overall AiG organization prior to the split.)
The reasons for this division were not entirely clear at the time to anyone but insiders — and may not have been clear to some who were insiders. Ronald L Numbers writes in the new expanded version of his book The Creationists, "Despite my best efforts, I was unable to pin down the exact cause of the split" (Numbers 2006: 558). As of November 20, 2006, however, through documents posted on CMI's website, the causes of the split have now become known — revealing Machiavellian maneuvering by Ken Ham and AiG–US as they fought measures to distribute power and add accountability (successfully), attempted to seize the assets of AiG–Australia (partly successfully), and tried to gain complete control of AiG–Australia (unsuccessfully). These documents also reveal surprising details of the Australian group's 1987 split with co-founder John Mackay, which include accusations of demonic possession and necrophilia.
There were a few clues available about the AiG/CMI split in early 2006 — on the groups' respective websites, in a mailing from CMI, and in the AiG–US Form 990 filings with the IRS, which I noted on my blog in a March 3, 2006, posting about the split (Lippard 2006a). The biggest change on the websites was that information critical of certain other creationists (such as Kent Hovind and Dennis Petersen) disappeared from the AiG website, but re-appeared on the CMI website. The CMI mailing stated that "the US ministry withdrew themselves [sic] from the international ministry group (with the exception of the UK) with an expressed desire to operate autonomously, without e.g. website content being subject to an international representative system of checks/balances/peer review involving all the other offices bearing the same 'brand name'." The most notable change between the AiG–US's 2003 and 2004 Form 990 filings was the disappearance of several Australians from the board — Carl Wieland, Greg Peacock, and Paul Salmon. Also notable in hindsight is that Brandon Vallorani, AiG–US's Chief Operating Officer and second-in-command to Ken Ham, received a dramatic increase in salary between the 2003 and 2004 filings (more on this below).
These clues suggested that CMI was interested in distributing editorial powers internationally and in being able to criticize fellow creationists for inaccuracy, while AiG–US was interested in maintaining control of content, not being subject to peer review by its international brethren, and refraining from criticism of the work of other young-earth creationists — perhaps because it was selling copies of at least one such CMI-criticized work, Dennis Petersen's Unlocking the Mysteries of Creation.
Struggling for market share
The documents on the CMI website confirm that AiG–Australia was seeking a more equitable distribution of control over content published under the AiG name and distributed internationally, including website content, as well as a decentralization of power in AiG–US. A chronology of events on the CMI site (CMI 2006b) identifies the initial source of friction as a 2004 letter from AiG–Australia's CEO, Carl Wieland, to the AiG–US board, recommending that hiring and firing capability be taken out of the hands of Ken Ham and that he [Ham] be put into "a senior distinguished role as adviser/consultant/speaker, etc." (CMI 2006b: 1). Although Wieland volunteered to make the same change to his own role in Australia, this letter seems to have been taken as a direct personal assault by Ken Ham. AiG–US Chief Operating Officer Brandon Vallorani made the mistake of supporting the Wieland proposal in a letter to the AiG–US board, which Ham then showed to other AiG–US vice presidents. These VPs interpreted the letter as "treason" and "wanting to dethrone Ken", and Vallorani left the organization. According to the CMI chronology, "Brandon [Vallorani] is given a hefty payout, but on the condition that he sign [a confidentiality agreement]" (CMI 2006b: 2). AiG–US's Forms 990 confirm that Vallorani's salary went from $74 432 in 2003 to $90 344 in 2004, despite the fact that he worked less than nine months of 2004. He left the organization in September to become an executive vice president at American Vision, a Christian nonprofit devoted to "equipping and empowering Christians to restore America's biblical foundation."
The documents show that this initial friction in 2004 was followed by a continuing refusal on the part of Ken Ham and AiG–US to interact with Carl Wieland, whom they apparently regarded as attempting to seize control of the US group, and by a growing number of conflicts between the groups over control of website and magazine content. AiG–Australia produced the magazine Creation, while AiG–US managed the website content, and expressed the desire to be able to change the on-line content without prior approval of the Australian (or other) authors. AiG–US (temporarily) abandoned this goal when AiG–Australia emphasized that it owned the copyrights. Intellectual property and US distribution became key points of contention — AiG–Australia owned the Creation magazine content, the domain name "answersingenesis.org", and the AiG trademarks in Australia, but AiG–US controlled the website and distribution of the magazine in the United States — the largest audience for AiG's content. As the groups contended over these issues, AiG–US attempted to register "Creation" as a US trademark in April 2005 without informing AiG– Australia.
As the conflict intensified, interactions between the AiG–Australia and the AiG–US boards increased, but without the participation of Wieland on the Australian side. The AiG–Australia board began to side with Ham's position, apparently fearing the loss of US distribution of the magazine and failing to recognize the value of the intellectual property rights they owned. At an AiG–Australia board and senior staff retreat in June 2005, the AiG–Australia board asked Wieland to step down as CEO in order to put an end to the conflict — with no corresponding offer by Ham to do the same in the US. But when many staff members at the retreat threatened to resign, the board withdrew the directive a day later. To bring the dispute to an end, Wieland and the senior staff agreed to withdraw in writing any recommendations, concerns, or interest in the internal operations of AiG–US.
This agreement was, however, to no avail. The chronology reports that when Wieland was able to interact directly with Ham in Australia, Ham stated "that there is no way that the US ministry will accept in principle any system of voting whereby other countries could outvote AiG–USA on anything" (CMI 2006b: 4). But Wieland and AiG–Australia's senior staff considered this a minimum requirement for a continued relationship with AiG–US. The AiG–Australia board, on the other hand, continued to want peace at any cost, leading to a crisis of confidence in the board on the part of the senior staff. When the AiG–Australia board prepared to travel to the US in October 2005, the group's staff provided directors with a letter, the content of which is on the CMI website (CMI 2005). This letter called for the creation of a class of independent non-director membership in the organization. These members would outnumber the board of directors and have the power to adjudicate any unresolvable disputes between the CEO and the board (a system that has been put in place today at CMI). The Australian board members stated that they would not sign anything in the US without first consulting the Australian staff, but proceeded to do just that.
The document the AiG–Australia board signed was an agreement that gave AiG–US the right to use the content produced by the Australians under the AiG name without cost and to modify it without author approval, and it further guaranteed that authors had consented to such modification (which consent CMI says had not been obtained). Furthermore, the agreement indemnified AiG–US if any author sued for infringement of copyright or moral rights, allowed all fees and charges for use of the respective groups' materials to be set unilaterally by AiG–US, gave ownership of the domain name "answersingenesis.org" (previously owned by AiG–Australia) to AiG–US without any compensation, and stipulated that the Australian trademark on "Answers in Genesis" be transferred to AiG–US if the Australian group were to rebrand (an interpretation asserted by AiG–US, but disputed by CMI).
Wieland and the Australian group's senior staff interpreted this agreement as having "sold the ministry down the river" (CMI 2006b: 5), while the directors on the Australian board saw it as the only way to separate amicably and have AiG–US continue to distribute Creation magazine in the United States. Wieland and senior staff requested a meeting with their board to discuss the matter, but instead, one of the board directors came to their offices on November 7, 2005, to inform Wieland that he had removed as CEO, and asked Wieland to give his approval for him (the director) to become the new CEO. Wieland asked for time to think about it, only to be told that he was immediately suspended from employment and required to leave the premises. The same director entered Don Batten's office and asked him to sign a written "unswerving oath of allegiance" (CMI 2006b: 6) to the new organization. Batten declined, and was likewise suspended and asked to leave. Speaker Peter Sparrow likewise declined such an oath and was suspended, as were several other of the organization's public speakers. Two part-time speakers, Mark Harwood and John Hartnett, contacted the director to ask why their colleagues had been suspended, and failing to get answers to their satisfaction, declined to participate in further work until their colleagues were reinstated. Similar actions were taken by the volunteer leaders of the organization in each Australian state.
In November 2005, Carl Wieland received a telephone call from AiG–Australia's attorney, who had met with the Australian board members and suggested that their best course of action was to offer their immediate resignations and hand control of the organization over to Wieland. At about the same time, Wieland learned that Ham family members in Brisbane had approached various persons to form a substitute board in order to hand over control to them. AiG–Australia's attorney, upon learning of this, spoke with the Australian chairman of the board and persuaded him and the rest of the board to go with his original handover proposal, in exchange for indemnification for their actions with respect to the one-sided agreement. This handover took place on November 14, 2005.
Meanwhile, however, AiG–US considered the agreement to be a separation, and Ken Ham sent out a memo to that effect on November 1, 2006. The CMI chronology states: "in another email we were forwarded that was not intended for us, Ken Ham stated that henceforth only the UK AiG office would be regarded as a 'sister ministry' of AiG–USA, not the other four" (CMI 2006b: 5).
On November 30, AiG–US board chairman Don Landis responded to a letter from the new Australian board chairman Kerry Boettcher, stating that the October 2005 agreement is a "godly" agreement that will not be renegotiated, alleging that the Australian group has engaged in "gossip" and "rumors," and suggesting that the Australians "consider setting up [their] own website" (CMI 2006b: 7).
In December 2005, the Australians learned of a web survey of Creation magazine subscribers in the US conducted by AiG–US, stating that an "upgrade" of the magazine was being considered. The Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa boards of directors consulted with one another and decided to rebrand, effective on March 1, 2006, and drafted a legal letter announcing the decision. Their new name decision leaked out, however, and Paul Taylor of AiG–UK registered the names "CreationOnTheWeb" and "CreationMinistriesInternational" in both the .co.uk and .org.uk top-level domains in February — though he was apparently acting on his own, and he relinquished the domain names when CMI protested after learning of it in late 2006. CMI planned to put an offer of a free booklet, 15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History, in the March 2006 issue of Creation in order to obtain e-mail addresses for US prospects. AiG–US thwarted this, however, by announcing in February that it has dropped Creation magazine and that it is "not possible" for them to distribute it, giving readers the impression that the magazine is no longer available in the United States. AiG–US started its own magazine in June 2006, calling it Answers after failing to get approval for a trademark of either "Creation" or "Creation Answers" in the US.
The lasting divide
The new Australian board made multiple efforts in 2006 to resolve its main concerns with the October 2005 agreement, but were rebuffed because AiG–US continued to refuse to have any interactions with Carl Wieland. In August 2006, AiG–US announced visits to Australia under the Answers in Genesis name, in violation of the Australian group's trademarks. Australian creationist John Mackay, who split from the Australian group when it was still run by Ken Ham in 1987, announced in his newsletter that "Ken Ham re-launches ministry in Australia." AiG–US issued a demand that CMI hand over the Australian trademarks for Answers in Genesis, while CMI issued a legal demand that AiG–US cease its infringement of them.
On November 1, 2006, AiG–US sent a letter to CMI indicating that they are ceasing all contact due to "factious and unbiblical conduct" and "spiritual problems" at CMI; a shorter version of the letter was also distributed by John Mackay in his newsletter. CMI asked AiG–US to withdraw this letter, but after getting no response, decided to go public with the dispute on November 21. CMI published on its website the following documents:
- A letter dated November 15, 2006, from CMI to AiG–US complaining about the November 1 letter.
- An e-mail of November 15, 2006, announcing that letter.
- A summary of the October 2005 agreement, explaining how it disadvantages the Australian group and why it attempted to reject or renegotiate it.
- An excerpt from the "Deed of Copyright License," which was signed as part of the October 2005 agreement, with comments pointing out the unreasonable terms.
- A detailed chronology of events involving the split between the groups (CMI 2006b).
- The text of the October 2005 letter (CMI 2005) given to the Australian board before its trip to the US, calling for the creation of a class of non-director members.
- Several documents pertaining to John Mackay's departure from the Australian organization in 1987 (CMI 2006c), including a manuscript entitled "Salem Revisited" by Carl Wieland's wife, Margaret Buchanan, and a collection of letters from leaders of various Australian churches and other individuals regarding accusations made by John Mackay against her.
These last items, CMI contends, show that John Mackay had accused Margaret Buchanan, who at the time was Ken Ham's widowed personal secretary, of being a demonically possessed practitioner of witchcraft attempting to undermine the Australian organization and Mackay in particular, as well as of practicing necrophilia. Buchanan was placed on leave for several weeks as the organization initially took Mackay's claims seriously and ultimately rejected them, which led to Mackay's departure. CMI apparently regards AiG–US as now being willing to work with Mackay in order to rebuild its support in Australia, despite the fact that Ham had previously cut all ties with him over his accusations.
AiG and CMI do not appear to be close to a peaceful resolution of their dispute. AiG appears to have the upper hand in terms of resources and the content of the October 2005 agreement, but CMI appears to me to have the moral high ground. It remains to be seen how this schism and the subsequent public exposure of its details will affect the respective groups financially, but one thing that is clear is that creationism continues to evolve in fascinating ways.
[As this issue was in layout, CMI released a detailed complaint against Ham and AiG–US, including its intended lawsuit. The case has since been settled.]
Title: Trouble in Paradise: Answers in Genesis Splinters Volume: 26 Issue: 6 Year: 2006 Date: November–December Page(s): 4–7