SEATTLE – There’s at least one thing that friends and foes of Rev. Ken Hutcherson should agree on: Whether as an NFL linebacker, a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a defender of the unborn, an advocate of traditional marriage or a target of cancer, the man was fearless.
Hutcherson – the senior pastor at Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, Wash., near Seattle, for nearly three decades – had called the cancer that took his life today at the age of 61 “one of the greatest things that ever happened to me.”
His church announced on its website that shortly before noon today, Pacific Time, “our Senior Pastor Dr. Ken Hutcherson was ushered into the presence of the Lord.”
“[God] trusts me to suffer for him,” Hutcherson said in a recent interview. “There’s nothing that can touch me that’s not filtered through the hands of God.”
Hutcherson said the prostate cancer he battled for 13 years gave him “an absolute focus on Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.”
He is survived by his wife, Pat, and four children.
While media dubbed him “anti-gay” and a “spiritual bulldozer,” he was known simply as “Hutch” to his congregation and to many who knew him in the Pacific Northwest and nationally as an infectiously vibrant and fiercely unapologetic defender of the faith.
His non-denominational church’s motto, “black and white in a grey world,” speaks not only of its mixed-race composition but also of a confidence in its beliefs that rubs against modern sensibilities.
On its website, the church states: “Despite what the world would like to say, there is such a thing as absolute truth, coming straight out of the Word of God, and people ultimately act on what they really think is true, whatever they may say.”
Hutcherson acknowledged that many people thought him egotistical.
“There’s a fine line between being so confident in God and being totally egotistical,” he said in a 2005 interview with the Seattle Times. “Those who don’t know me think I’m so egotistical. Those who know me know I love God and just want to do his will.”
‘Cancer became my discipler’
He frequently was at the center of public controversy as an opponent of homosexual activism. He organized a “Mayday for Marriage” rally in Seattle in 2004 that drew 20,000 participants and spearheaded a similar event in Washington, D.C., later that year that attracted 140,000. A year later, he mobilized citizens to oppose state legislation that would have made it illegal to fire an employee due to their “sexual orientation.” He vowed to organize a national boycott of Microsoft products if the locally headquartered software giant didn’t withdraw its support, sparking protests.
A close friend of family advocate Dr. James Dobson, Hutcherson raised his voice when he saw Dobson’s successor at Focus on the Family, Jim Daly, signal a more conciliatory approach to social issues.
Daly, who became president in 2005 and took over as host of the radio show in 2010, indicated in a Los Angeles Times interview after the Nov. 6, 2012, elections that evangelicals should have a more bipartisan appeal, stressing the good works of Christians, rather than their condemnation of sinful behavior, and maintaining civil discourse with opponents.
In an interview with WND at the time, Hutcherson summed up his response with an allusion to Jesus’ sheep-and-wolves metaphor in the Gospel of John, Chapter 10.
“Those who are supposed to be shepherds of the flock end up being just hirelings. And when the wolf comes and things get tough, they run and hide behind compromise,” Hutcherson told WND.
Two years earlier, as WND reported, he didn’t hesitate to air his belief, despite Focus on the Family’s denials, that Dobson was being pushed out of his 33-year-old radio program as part of an alleged effort to become more acceptable to mainstream society.
Hutcherson also was known for his occasional calls on-air to talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh, a personal friend. In 2010, Hutcherson officiated at Limbaugh’s wedding in Palm Beach, Fla.
Last month, as it became increasingly clear that his battle with cancer was coming to a close, he was featured in a series of programs on Glenn Beck’s television network, TheBlaze.
He told TheBlaze his cancer had become invaluable.
“It taught me how to live … cancer became my pastor, cancer became my discipler,” he said. “It has taught me to face death with courage, with laughter – with all the power that God has given me.”
Beck, on his daily show Tuesday, spoke emotionally about his friendship with Hutcherson.
“It’s been an honor. He’s made me a better man in the short time that I’ve known him,” Beck said, holding back tears.
Back of the bus
Hutcherson was an occasional columnist for WND and the author of four books, “Hope is Contagious: Trusting God in the Face of Any Obstacle,” “Here Comes the Bride: The Church: What We Are Meant to Be,” “Before All Hell Breaks Loose: Preparing for the Coming Perilous Times” and “Enough Faith: You’ve Already Got What It Takes to Make a Difference.”
Born in Anniston, Ala., July 14, 1952, he grew up an illegitimate child in a poor home.
He recalled riding in the back of buses and drinking from separate water fountains. He said he hated whites before becoming a Christian, noting he despised Martin Luther King Jr.’s non-violent philosophy.
He summarized his attitude toward whites in February 2012 testimony before the Washington state House Judiciary Committee against a bill to make same-sex marriage legal.
“I was born and raised in Alabama where blacks and whites didn’t get along very well, and I tried being one of the main reasons they didn’t. I was extremely discriminatory toward whites,” he said.
“The only reason I played football was so I could hurt white people legally.”
Hutcherson often said, with a hearty laugh, he ended up marrying the “whitest of white women in the world.” Pat, of German descent, worked for Microsoft before they had their four children — “German chocolate kids,” as he called them.
As a pastor, he frequently pushed back against homosexual-rights advocates who equated their plight with the racial civil-rights struggle.
“I’ve never run into an ex-black,” he said, noting there were several ex-gays in his church.
In a Family Talk Radio interview with Dobson in 2010, Hutcherson recalled that he was “viciously angry” at whites in his youth.
“Every day you were reminded you weren’t a first-class citizen,” he said.
He had to make numerous trips to the doctor to be treated, because as long as there were white patients waiting, the doctor wouldn’t see blacks.
His uncle, he said, told him, “There’s no good white person except a dead one.”
Hatred was his greatest motivation, spilling over into every area of his life to the point that he hated even himself.
Dobson asked Hutcherson: “How do we get from this bitter, angry black young man … to the loving guy I see today, the man I consider to be one of my very best friends, a man that I admire as much as anybody I know?”
Hutcherson replied that he remembered at the age of 5 watching Roy Rogers and Dale Evans on their television show talk about the death of their daughter and their belief that she was in heaven.
He was profoundly impacted by the thought that everyone is going to meet God and will have to decide whether they accept him or reject him.
The thought scared him, but he didn’t go to church growing up, explaining he didn’t “trust” it and had a hard time believing in a loving God.
At the age of 16, as he sat in a high school assembly, “life was just terrible, and I remembered back to what Roy Rogers and Dale Evans said.”
“I said, ‘God, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans said I’ve gotta face you one day, and this is going to be the day. If you’re real, here I am. I’m yours. And you’ve got a chance to do whatever you want with me.'”
Hutcherson told Dobson he picked up a Bible and spent the next five years studying it four to six hours a day.
After high school, Hutcherson was a starting outside linebacker for Livingston University, now the University of West Alabama, when it won the 1971 NAIA National Championship.
In 1974, he was drafted in the fourth round by the Dallas Cowboys. He later played for the San Diego Chargers and the Seattle Seahawks, where his five-year career ended with a knee injury.
He stayed in the Seattle area and prepared for ministry at Cascade Bible College in Bellevue, Wash. He served eight years as director of high school ministries at Westminster Chapel in Bellevue. In 1984, he helped start Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland and became senior pastor in 1985.
In the 2005 Seattle Times feature, the paper garnered the opinion of another prominent local pastor who shared Hutcherson’s views and had come to respect his integrity and character but wondered whether Hutcherson might be more effective if he toned down his approach.
Hutcherson wasn’t convinced.
“If God’s down there,” he said, pointing toward the distance, “I’m going to go. Join in, or get run over by me.”