Evangelicals making tracks in Hot Springs 

click to enlarge JUDGE RALPH OHM: His presiding over drug court is a "calling."
  • JUDGE RALPH OHM: His presiding over drug court is a "calling."

Hot Springs is the town where you gamble on the ponies, tread in the steps of gangsters taking the waters, and where a club on one of its most busy streets advertises "Strip Karaoke." Hot baths, massages, the pleasures of the body are part of its soul; "Prairie Home Companion" humorist Garrison Keillor called it the "loose buckle on the Bible Belt."

But there's another spring bubbling up in the so-called Spa City, one that's bringing holy water to the surface. The Tea Party is steeping its message in it; the Republicans are sipping it, the court system is awash in it. When an anti-Semitic remark was casually tossed off in a recent election, many shoulders simply shrugged.

When a Republican like Cliff Jackson, raised in the Assembly of God Church, and best known as Bill Clinton's nemesis, thinks Hot Springs is moving toward theocracy, you've got to wonder. Is he right?

Jackson believes what's happening in Hot Springs, which has a thriving evangelical community, is part of a larger movement to "usher in Jesus Christ" to take dominion over secular government, to use holy writ as overriding law — a goal not dissimilar, he said, to the Taliban's.

"Goggle-eyed" was the way Jackson described his reaction to Mayor Ruth Carney's remarks after a day spent last fall with Republican theologian David Barton. Asked by a reporter from the Hot Springs Sentinel Record what she'd taken away from Barton's address to Republican elected officials, Carney, the wife of the Nazarene pastor who had invited Barton to town, said she'd learned that where the Bible had spoken, there was no need for man to create law. "Marriage was from the Bible, so when man takes it and re-creates the marriage statute, then it's against what was biblical-based," she told Hot Springs' daily newspaper. "That was just one little example of making laws to define something that has already been defined."

She was no doubt thinking of laws that allow same-sex marriage. But Jackson, in a letter to the editor of the Sentinel Record that the paper decided not to publish, wrote, "Which Biblical verses would she have us follow? Polygamy? Women as chattel? Divorce only for adultery? Gays an 'abomination'? Verses where God approves concubines? Women being silent and submissive to men? Having sex with one's daughters?"

To a reporter, he said, "I asked her who's going to do the concubinage dissolution?" Where are the ecclesiastical courts?

The answer to that last question might be at the Garland County Courthouse. More on that later.

Not a single Democrat won in Garland County's House and county races last November. It was a clean sweep, turning out, for example, incumbent state Rep. Gene Shelby, a leader in the hospital trauma system movement in 2009 who was seeking a seat in the Senate. Voters even chose a dead Republican over a living Democrat in a race for the House District 24 seat.

Elected by a wide margin to represent House District 26 — one that encompasses a part of Garland County south of Hot Springs — was Loy Mauch, an Abraham Lincoln-despising secessionist who believes the government will one day dose our water supply with lithium to lift our spirits and statin drugs to lower our cholesterol.

It was a bad year for Democrats the state and nation over, but Garland County's most conservative organizations — the Tea Party, the Watchmen, the Garland Good Government Group — are organized, active and can take a good part of the credit. Their number, some suggest, includes the many well-off retirees that move to Hot Springs and Garland County and believe they know what's best for the community, which largely parallels what's best for them personally. Or at least that's how some people see it, though they declined to be quoted. Of the conservative groups, only the Watchmen of Garland County is overtly religious. The group was founded in 2008, according to its mission statement, "for the purpose of educating the citizens of Garland County, Arkansas as to the objectiveness of the Pro-Gambling, Abortionists, and Homosexual communities in Hot Springs, Arkansas and Garland County Arkansas." Two of the founders of the Watchmen were Ken Carney, the mayor's husband and pastor of First Church of the Nazarene, and Hettie Lou Brooks, owner of Brookhill Ranch Summer Christian Camp. (As it happens, David Barton — whose vision of a Christian nation, former Gov. Mike Huckabee famously said, we should be forced to learn "at gunpoint" — sent his children to Brookhill, where every camper is "saved" at the conclusion of camp.)


Comments (36)

Showing 1-25 of 36

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-25 of 36

Add a comment

More by Leslie Newell Peacock

  • Metroplan advisory panel says no to waiver of six-lane limit

    By a vote of 20-3, Metroplan's Regional Planning Advisory Committee today voted against lifting the Central Arkansas transit plan's limit of six through-lanes on interstates to accommodate the state highway department's plan to widen Interstate 30.
    • Aug 24, 2016
  • AAC: In the black

    The leadership of the Arkansas Arts Center announced at its annual meeting and luncheon today that it has just completed its sixth year in the black, continuing its recovery from a budget black hole created by an expensive blockbuster exhibition, "World of the Pharaohs."
    • Aug 22, 2016
  • New curator of contemporary art at Crystal Bridges

    Lauren Haynes, an associate curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem, has been hired as curator of contemporary art at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the museum announced today. Haynes is a specialist in African-American modern and contemporary art and has curated a number of exhibitions for the Studio Museum, including the current exhibit on Alma Thomas. She holds a BA from Oberlin College.
    • Aug 16, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • A child left unprotected

    State Rep. Justin Harris and his wife adopted a young girl through the state Department of Human Services. How did she, six months later, end up in the care of a man who sexually abused her?
    • Mar 5, 2015
  • Ruth Coker Burks, the cemetery angel

    In the darkest hour of the AIDS epidemic, Ruth Coker Burks cared for hundreds of people whose families had abandoned them. Courage, love and the 30-year secret of one little graveyard in Hot Springs. 
    • Jan 8, 2015
  • Casting out demons: why Justin Harris got rid of kids he applied pressure to adopt

    Rep. Justin Harris blames DHS for the fallout related to his adoption of three young girls, but sources familiar with the situation contradict his story and paint a troubling picture of the adoption process and the girls' time in the Harris household.
    • Mar 12, 2015

Most Shared

Latest in Cover Stories

  • Arkansas trauma system takes a hit

    Doctors worry about impact of canceled contract with educational arm, loss of funds.
    • Aug 25, 2016
  • The return of Kaleidoscope

    The LGBT Film Festival kicks off in North Little Rock.
    • Aug 17, 2016
  • Seven to watch

    At the Kaleidoscope LGBT Film Festival.
    • Aug 17, 2016
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »


  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31  

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments


© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation