Ken Hutcherson, Anniston-born pastor and social activist, dies of cancer at 61
by Tim Lockette
Dec 20, 2013 | 6420 views |  0 comments | 89 89 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ken Hutcherson
Ken Hutcherson
Ken Hutcherson, the Anniston-born pro football player who founded a racially diverse church — and led it in the fight against same-sex marriage — died Wednesday after a long struggle with cancer. He was 61.

"He believed the church should not be passive," said Gerald Lewis, the pastor of administration at Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland, Wash. "If you're going to believe it, you have to stand up, you live it and express it."

In Anniston, Hutcherson is primarily known as a local kid who made good, turning his skill as a linebacker into a college scholarship and later a career in the NFL.

In Washington, he's best known as one of the state's most persistent voices against gay marriage, organizing stadium-sized rallies against efforts to recognize same-sex partnerships. Those efforts made Hutcherson a celebrity in conservative talk-show circles, putting him elbow-to-elbow with Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

"I thought, I really thought that Hutch could be the next Martin Luther King," Beck said in a webcast Thursday morning.

Hutcherson was born in an Alabama that didn't yet know Martin Luther King Jr.'s name. When he was five, his uncle took him into the back yard, crouched in a football stance and tackled the young Hutcherson as hard as he could.

"I could not believe he had hurt me so badly," Hutcherson said in a widely-circulated Web video.

The uncle told him it was to demonstrate how hard his life would be as a black man in Alabama.

Hutcherson went on to become one of the first black students at Anniston High School, and a standout on the football team, known for his bristling self-confidence.

Teammate Tim Crowe said there was no great secret to Hutcherson's success, just lots of hard work.

"He would work harder in class and on the football field than anybody else," Crowe said. "He got going and kept going. He was like a snowball rolling downhill."

In webcasts and books, Hutcherson would later say that he was fueled by an anger that ended only after he became a born-again Christian. He told newspaper reporters he developed an interest in football because it allowed him to hit white people.

Those revelations shocked Crowe, who said he'd always found Hutcherson to be a pleasant person.

"He was a good guy even before his conversion," Crowe said. "I think he had a worse image of himself than everybody else did."

Hutcherson's gridiron skills won him a scholarship to Livingston University — now the University of West Alabama. The Dallas Cowboys drafted him in 1974, and he would play for the San Diego Chargers and the Seattle Seahawks over the course of his five-year career.

Friends say he was already deep into Bible study while in the NFL, and transitioned into Bible college when his football career ended.

"I never got the sense that he wanted to go farther with it," Lewis said of Hutcherson's sports career. Hutcherson knew the scores but didn't always watch the games, Lewis said, and he had to write stats down on sticky-notes before doing his annual pre-Super Bowl chat on Rush Limbaugh's radio program.

He was more focused on integrating America's most segregated hour. Lewis said Hutcherson founded Antioch Bible Church to be a multicultural congregation. In interviews with news outlets in recent years, Hutcherson said the church was 65 percent white, with 35 percent of its members from other racial groups.

He believed it took a diverse staff to attract a diverse congregation, Lewis said. And Hutcherson had little sympathy for pastors who said they just couldn't find minority staff members.

"He'd say, 'If you're doing a men's retreat, and you need a cook, would it be OK to come back and say, well, he couldn't find a cook?’" Lewis said. Hutcherson saw a diverse staff as a need, like cooks at a campout, Lewis said.

Still, the gay community didn't figure into Hutcherson's vision of diversity. He threatened to organize a boycott of Microsoft because of its support for a Washington bill to ban job discrimination based on sexual orientation, according to The Seattle Times. He was one of the organizers of a rally against gay marriage that brought 20,000 people to Safeco Field in Seattle.

"I don't think I've ever seen a homosexual that had to ride in the back of the bus," he told a Seattle TV station.

That event, Lewis said, sparked the interest of Beck, Limbaugh and others in the conservative media. Hutcherson also penned columns for the conservative website WorldNetDaily. Incendiary snippets from those appearances — such as an August 2013 column headlined "Turning Dr. King into a Queen" — were widely circulated by bloggers on both the left and the right.

Gay rights activist Charlene Strong has long been puzzled by Hutcherson's positions on same-sex marriage. He spoke movingly about racism, she said, but couldn't seem to grasp that his positions on gay rights were causing real harm.

"It broke my heart," she said.

Years ago, Hutcherson agreed to an interview for a documentary Strong was producing. The pair hit it off, laughing and joking. Still, Strong said, Hutcherson wouldn't give clear answers to most of her questions.

“It wasn't like we had a revelation of what his motivations were," Strong said.

Same-sex marriage wasn't Hutcherson's only foray into public policy. A decade ago, troubled by the fact that Washington state charged different prices for adoptions based on the race of the child, Hutcherson decided to campaign for adoption reform.

"He felt very strongly that adoption should not be a profit center," Lewis said. "He decided that we as a church would start a fee-free adoption center."

He turned to church members to fund the project. At a church service, Hutcherson gave every church member some cash — Lewis can't remember whether it was $10 or $15 — and told them to invest it and bring back twice as much in a year.

"We more than doubled the money," Lewis said.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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