Karen Swallow Prior Says More About Why She Left Liberty University

Author and educator Karen Swallow Prior. Courtesy photo

Background here and here.

Here is a taste of Richard Chumney’s piece at the Lynchburg News & Advance:

Karen Swallow Prior, a longtime English professor at Liberty University and a high-profile voice in the evangelical movement, will leave the school next year due to mounting frustrations over what she said is an administration-led campaign toward standardization that limits academic independence.

“For me, teaching is an art and I need the freedom to express that art,” Prior, who has accepted a position at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, said in an interview this week.

“A smaller school like Southeastern — that’s even more traditional in its curriculum and in its classroom methods — is a better fit for me now and my teaching style,” she added.

At the heart of Prior’s concern is what she called Liberty’s growing emphasis on “a business model of education,” in which university administrators have demanded greater standardization and an increasing level of oversight of instructors.

“A lot of these changes, especially as they trickle down, end up requiring me to check more boxes, to teach different classes outside my expertise and to follow along with new regulations and policies that make me less freer to practice this art,” she said.

Scott Lamb, Liberty’s senior vice president for communications and public engagement, declined to discuss Prior’s resignation, calling it is a personnel matter. He did, however, say that recent academic changes have been made with an eye toward cultivating student success. 

“In a system this big, we’re constantly looking for ways to improve the student experience,” Lamb said. “We’re focused on student success and the professors, I think, understand that. We haven’t gotten complaints from the professors.”

Read the entire piece here.

Does Jerry Falwell Jr. Care That He Just Lost a Star Faculty Member?

Liberty Campus

Karen Swallow Prior recently announced that she is leaving Liberty University for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.  Thus far I have heard nothing from university president Jerry Falwell Jr. about her departure.  Granted, university presidents do not usually comment on the loss of faculty members, but Falwell Jr. seems to have an opinion about everything.

Did the university president want to keep his star never-Trumper English professor?  Did he make a counter-offer?  Was he glad to see her go?  I am guessing that Falwell Jr. is not losing sleep over Prior’s departure.  This, it seems, has less to do with Prior’s quiet and understated anti-Trumpism and more to do with the fact that Falwell Jr. does not think faculty members are as important as football coaches, athletic directors, or those at his university who are engaged in the front lines of the culture wars.

What does Prior’s leaving tell us about the current state of Liberty University?  Did Southeastern Baptist Seminary lure her away?  Or was she desperately trying to get out?

ADDENDUM (1:16pm):

I just learned that Falwell Jr. tweeted about this last night.  (Falwell Jr. blocked me a long time ago).  He wrote:

“You will be greatly missed, Karen. I was hoping you’d stay until I converted you into a Trump supporter! Oh well. You always made LU proud by pouring your life into your students. Thank you for that.”

Karen Swallow Prior Leaves Liberty University

Author and educator Karen Swallow Prior. Courtesy photo

Photo courtesy of Religion News Service

I am glad to see that schools like the college at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina have research professors and I am happy that Karen Swallow Prior will be holding one of these positions beginning in the Fall of 2020. This is book news in evangelical circles.

According to Kate Shellnut’s piece at Christianity Today, she will be one of the only female faculty members at the Southern Baptist school.

Here is the press release from Southeastern:

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) is excited to announce that Karen Swallow Prior will be joining the faculty as full-time research professor of English and Christianity & Culture beginning in the fall semester of 2020. She will be the first research professor in the history of The College at Southeastern.

“I am delighted to have Karen join our faculty,” said SEBTS President Danny Akin. “She is a gifted teacher in the field of English and literature who loves Christ, the gospel and the Great Commission. Our students will be blessed to sit under her instruction. She is a wonderful addition to the outstanding faculty of Southeastern.”

Prior has served for more than two decades as professor of English at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she is also a senior fellow with Liberty University’s Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement. She received both her M.A. and Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo, and she earned a B.A. from Daemen College. Prior and her husband, Roy, are members of Thomas Road Baptist Church. 

Prior is an accomplished author and speaker with an expertise in 18th century British literature. She has published three books: “On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life in Great Books”, which was named a Top Religion Book of 2018 by Publisher’s Weekly, and a literary and spiritual memoir, “Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me.” Her book, “Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More – Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist” was chosen for a Christianity Today Book Award in 2015. Likewise, she has written numerous articles in publications such as Christianity Today, The Washington Post, Books & Culture, The Atlantic and The Gospel Coalition.

“I could not be more excited about this announcement,” said Scott Pace, dean of The College at Southeastern and Johnny Hunt chair of biblical preaching. “Karen Prior is a welcomed addition to our already stellar faculty at The College of Southeastern. As a conservative evangelical and cultural ambassador, Karen brings a unique combination of skills and expertise that will help train our students through a Christian liberal arts education and equip them to give their lives for the cause of Christ in the church, among the nations, and in every aspect of society.”

While Prior will primarily teach undergraduates at The College at Southeastern, she will also regularly teach at the graduate and doctoral level.

Prior has also served as a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and is currently a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

“I’m looking forward to being able to join with Southeastern in its exciting mission of sending students, future pastors and future scholars across the globe according to God’s calling on their lives and the Great Commission,” said Prior.

“At Liberty, I have been privileged to disciple Christian young people for 21 years, primarily in my discipline of English,” she said. “My mission in teaching has always been to have students leaving my classroom loving life, literature and God more than when they came in. I look forward to continuing in that mission as I move into this new assignment at Southeastern.” 

What Will Future Historians Say About Abortion?

abortion

I hate the term “right side” and “wrong side” of history.  No historian should use these phrases. They are moral, not historical, phrases.  When people use them they are usually saying more about their own politics or religion than the patterns of history.  When Martin Luther King Jr. said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” he was making a theological statement.  It is a theological statement that I affirm because I am a Christian who hopes in a coming Kingdom where justice will prevail, and not because I wholeheartedly embrace the Enlightenment idea of progress.

Historians know that the story of humanity does not always bend toward justice.  Usually those who reference the right and wrong sides of history have a political axe to grind.  Historians, of course, are not prophets.  We cannot predict the direction history will move.  Christian historians should have eschatological hope, but we cannot pretend to claim that we know all that God is doing.  This is why we talk about humility and mystery.  We see through a glass darkly.

In her recent piece on abortion at VOX, evangelical feminist Karen Swallow Prior does not use the phrase “right side of history” or “wrong side of history,” but she does invoke a kind of ethical trajectory–a teleology if you will– that is born out of her Christian convictions and her belief in moral progress.  As a historian, I am trained to treat her predictions with caution.  As a Christian who believes we must reduce the number of abortions in the United States, I say let’s hope she is correct.

Here is a taste of her piece, “Abortion Will Be Considered Unthinkable 50 Years from Now.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year that abortion hit its lowest rate since Roe v. Wade11.8 per 1,000 women ages 15-44, a dramatic decline from a peak in the early 1980s that approached 30 per 1,000 women. It’s unclear whether this decrease is owing to increased use of contraceptives; delayed sexual activity among young people; the declining number of doctors willing to participate in abortions; a growing inability to deny — thanks to ultrasound technology, prenatal surgical interventions, and extravagant gender reveal parties — the insuppressible personality of the child in the womb; or a combination of all these factors.

Whatever the cause, however, abortion is becoming less necessary and less desirable. Recent attempts in several states to expand access to late-term abortions in anticipation of the possible overturning of Roe not only violate the view of the majority (who support greater restrictions after the first trimester) but will be seen by future generations as a last, desperate show of stubbornness in the face of human progress.

Every age has its blinders, constructed, usually, through a combination of ignorance and self-interest. Many things such as bloodletting and wet nurses that are seen as good or indispensable in one age are unthinkable in another.

Our modern-day willingness to settle for sex apart from commitment, to accept the dereliction of duty by men who impregnate women (for men are the primary beneficiaries of liberal abortion laws), and to uphold the systematic suppression of sex’s creative energy and function are practices that people of other ages would have considered bizarre. As we enter late modernity and recognize the limits of the radical autonomy and individualism which have defined it, the pendulum will correct itself with a swing toward more communitarian and humane values that recognize the interdependency of all humans.

When we do, we will look back at elective abortion and wonder — as we do now with polluting and smoking — why we so wholeheartedly embraced it. We will look at those ultrasound images of 11-week old fetuses somersaulting in the waters of the womb and lack words to explain to our grandchildren why we ever defended their willful destruction in the name of personal choice and why we harmed so many women to do so.

Read the entire piece here.

This reminds me of what I wrote earlier this week about Jimmy Carter’s suggestion that the Democratic Party change its views on abortion:

I think there are a lot of pro-life Democrats out there who would agree with Carter, but they do not make their voices heard for several reasons:

  1. They do not want to be ostracized by the Democratic Party.
  2. They are afraid that if they defend the unborn they will be accused of not caring about women’s rights.  (This, I believe, is a false dichotomy).
  3. They do not want to be associated with the divisive and unhelpful “baby-killing” culture war rhetoric of the Right.
  4. They do not endorse the Christian Right/GOP playbook that teaches the only way to reduce abortions is to overturn Roe. v. Wade.

Quote of the Day

Dante

Liberty University English professor and author Karen Swallow Prior on the Kavanaugh nomination and the Blasey Ford accusations:

“I don’t expect we will ever know the truth about what did or did not happen. But as an evangelical Christian, I am convinced Dante himself could not have devised a more fitting circle of hell for my faith community than the one in which we find ourselves: being destroyed from the inside out by the sexual sin we spent decades pointing out everywhere but in our own house. For us, this is the real trial.”

Source

The Southern Baptist Story That Will Not Go Away

PaigePatterson(2)

Paige Patterson loyalists are looking for payback.  Some big donors to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary are threatening to withhold their donations unless the Patterson case is reopened.  Not familiar with the Patterson case?  Get up to speed with these posts.

Julie Zauzmer has the story at The Washington Post.  Here is a taste:

Thousands of Southern Baptist women decried the way Paige Patterson, for decades a revered leader in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, talked about women from the pulpit. Then two allegations came to light that Patterson had not gone to police when a rape was reported to him, and the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary fired him from his post as president of the seminary.

But Patterson’s defenders are still numerous in this conservative evangelical denomination. At the denomination’s annual meeting last month, they made a resolution — which was soundly defeated — to fire all the trustees who had fired Patterson.

Now, they have fired their latest salvo: a letter from more than two dozen major donors, claiming the trustees acted improperly in ousting Patterson and vowing to withhold their donations from the seminary unless the decision to fire Patterson is reopened.

Read the entire piece here.

Karen Swallow Prior is quoted in the piece.  She is on the mark:

What we’re seeing is people who are committed to a person rather than to an institution or to the convention, putting their loyalty to a person ahead of their adherence to the principles of the institution,” said Karen Swallow Prior, a professor at Liberty University.

She said she wasn’t surprised to see the fight continuing but that the defeated resolution at the annual meeting should have put an end to it.

“It’s ironic, actually, that this letter, which is making complaints about alleged lack of due process, is also failing to follow due process within the Southern Baptist Convention. Due process in the Southern Baptist Convention looks like what happened at the annual meeting a few weeks ago, when a motion was brought before the convention to remove the executive committee for its decision about Paige Patterson, and that motion did not pass,” she said. “Since that was defeated, now we see something else enter into the picture, which is huge amounts of money. And there’s nothing Baptist or Christian about that.”

Southern Baptist Women Have Had Enough of Paige Patterson

PaigePatterson(2)

A group of Southern Baptist women (937 and counting) have signed a letter to the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Board of Trustees urging the board to remove seminary president Paige Patterson from his post.  As I said last week, Patterson’s world is collapsing all around him.  Read our coverage here and here and here.

Here is the letter:

Dear Pastor Ueckert and Board of Trustees,

We are concerned Southern Baptist women who affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, including its statements on the roles of men and women in the family and in the church. We urge you to exercise the authority you have been given by the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention and to take a strong stand against unbiblical teaching regarding womanhood, sexuality, and domestic violence. 

We are shocked by the video that has surfaced showing Dr. Paige Patterson objectify a teenage girl and then suggest this as behavior that is biblical. We are further grieved by the dangerous and unwise counsel given by Dr. Patterson to women in abusive situations. His recent remarks of clarification do not repudiate his unwise counsel in the past; nor has he offered explanation or repentance for inappropriate comments regarding a teenage girl, the unbiblical teaching he offered on the biblical meaning of womanhood in that objectification, and the inappropriate nature of his own observations of her body.

This pattern of discourse is unbefitting the sober, wise, and sound character required of an elder, pastor, and leader. It fails in the call to protect the helpless, the call of Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves, and the biblical standard of sexual purity. These comments are damaging, sinful, and necessitate a decisive response. It seems inevitable, for instance, that a youth pastor in any of our churches would be removed from his position if he made the comments that Dr. Patterson made at the Awaken Conference in 2014.

The world is watching us all, brothers. They wonder how we could possibly be part of a denomination that counts Dr. Patterson as a leader. They wonder if all Southern Baptist men believe that the biblical view of a sixteen-year-old girl is that she is “built” and “fine” —an object to be viewed sexually. They wonder if all Southern Baptist pastors believe it is acceptable to counsel an abused woman in the way that Dr. Patterson has done in the past. They wonder if the Jesus of the Bible is like such men. We declare that Jesus is nothing like this and that our first duty as Southern Baptists is to present a true picture of Jesus to the world.

We cannot defend or support Dr. Patterson’s past remarks. No one should. The fact that he has not fully repudiated his earlier counsel or apologized for his inappropriate words indicates that he continues to maintain positions that are at odds with Southern Baptists and, more importantly, the Bible’s elevated view of womanhood. The Southern Baptist Convention cannot allow the biblical view of leadership to be misused in such a way that a leader with an unbiblical view of authority, womanhood, and sexuality be allowed to continue in leadership.

This is a somber time. This is an important time. We are praying for you to have wisdom, discernment, and courage.

Here is the video referenced:

I first learned about this letter from the excellent reporting of Kate Shellnut of Christianity Today.   Here is a taste of her piece:

The letter comes from scores of Southern Baptist women, including leaders such as: Karen Swallow Prior, a Liberty University professor and research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Convention; Lauren Chandler, an author, worship singer, and wife of The Village Church pastor Matt Chandler; Jennifer Lyell, a vice president at SBC-affiliated B&H Publishing Group; and Amanda Jones, a Houston church planter and daughter of Bible teacher Beth Moore. (Victims’ advocates such as Rachael Denhollander and Mary DeMuth also signed on, as did some men, though the petition is intended for women at SBC churches.)

Signatories hail from a wide array of noteworthy congregations including Bellevue Baptist Church, Capitol Hill Baptist, Cross Church, First Baptist Church of Dallas, Houston’s First Baptist Church, Long Hollow Baptist Church, Prestonwood Baptist Church, Saddleback Church, Thomas Road Baptist Church, and The Village Church.

Shellnut reports that a special meeting of the Southwestern board of trustees will take place, at Patterson’s request, on May 22, 2018.

White Evangelical Leaders Talk Trump

d2ad3-liberty-university

Sarah McCammon, our favorite National Public Radio employee (see Episode 13), talks to court evangelical Johnnie Moore, Liberty University professor Karen Swallow Prior, and evangelical social activist Shane Claiborne.

Here is a taste of their conversation:

MCCAMMON: Karen Swallow Prior, you’re at Liberty University, of course, a place where the president, Jerry Falwell Jr., is a supporter of Trump. You know, I’m curious. You spend time around millennial and even younger evangelicals. What are their priorities when it comes to interaction with politics and culture?

PRIOR: Sure. I think the students at Liberty University really reflect what’s happening with the millennial generation and in general, and that is simply that there is sort of a disillusionment and disengagement from the political process. I think some of that is born of disappointment and from the past election and just distrust of the political process in general. And I see that as probably a healthy counterbalance to the generation that I came up in. I was part of the religious right and part of the culture wars, ethos from a few decades ago where we probably did place too much faith in politics, and we’re bearing the fruit of that now. And this is just a counterbalance that I see, and it’s healthy and corrective and good.

Read the rest here.  It would have been nice to see these folks talk to each other.  For example, Shane Claiborne is planning a “Red Letter Revival” this weekend in Lynchburg, the home of Liberty University.  Swallow teaches at Liberty.  Moore used to work for fellow court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr.

Three Cheers for Bob Casey Jr. and His Vote on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

Casey

Today I am proud of my Senator, Robert Casey Jr.

I have long argued that a pro-life position on abortion should be embraced by any political party that cares about the weakest and most vulnerable human beings. (See my criticism of Bernie Sanders on this front in the September 9, 2015 edition of USA Today).

Last night the Senate failed to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.  The bill reads:

This bill amends the federal criminal code to make it a crime for any person to perform or attempt to perform an abortion if the probable post-fertilization age of the fetus is 20 weeks or more.

A violator is subject to criminal penalties—a fine, up to five years in prison, or both.

The bill provides exceptions for an abortion: (1) that is necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman, or (2) when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. A physician who performs or attempts to perform an abortion under an exception must comply with specified requirements.

A woman who undergoes a prohibited abortion may not be prosecuted for violating or conspiring to violate the provisions of this bill.

The bill never reached a final floor vote.  Bob Casey Jr joined two other pro-life Democratic Senators–Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana–in support of the bill.  If understand it correctly, the bill was based on scientific evidence showing that fetuses have the capacity to feel pain beginning at 20-weeks.

I am with Karen Swallow Prior on this one:

I appreciate Bob Casey Jr.’s moral courage on this vote.

For some great historical context on the pro-life movement check out our interview with Daniel K. Williams in Episode 2 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  Williams is the author of Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade.

Pro-Life Feminists

Pro Life Feminists

Over at Religion and Politics, Ellen Duffer asks “Where Do Pro-Life Feminists Belong?” It’s a great piece.  It reminds me a lot of Emma Green’s article at The Atlantic written a few days before the Women’s March on Washington.

I must admit I felt a little uneasy about the title of Duffer’s piece.  (I realize that she may not be responsible for the title).  It seems to imply that pro-life feminists need to be defined by a political affiliation or by a particular side in the culture wars. (Are they Democrats or Republicans?  Liberals or Conservatives?).  Most pro-life feminists I know do not like labels because they see little separation between their feminism and their defense of a culture of life. (And Duffer makes this clear in her piece).  In other words, they do not necessary fit into a category.

Perhaps some of the pro-life feminists who read this blog can help me with this one.  I am guessing that the word “belong” in the title could also have something to do with the loneliness pro-life feminists might feel.  As Duffer points out, they have been marginalized by the larger feminist community.  At the same time, many of them who are part of conservative religious communities have also felt or been isolated.  This certainly seems to be the case with Karen Swallow Prior (see the excerpt below).

Here is a taste of Duffer’s piece:

These younger Christian feminists—including those coming from communities that have been intricately linked to the pro-life movement for decades—are eager to have a conversation about abortion (which 57 percent of Americans believe should be legal in most cases), especially if it means becoming closer to the feminist movement overall.

Historically, feminist voices have often been religious, according to Kristin Kobes Du Mez, chair of the history department at Calvin College, and author of A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism. She credits religious women with pushing through the suffrage movement and assisting in the creation of the National Organization for Women. Christian feminism “helped transform” the suffrage movement to a mainstream movement, she said. Cochran agrees, having written at length about the theology of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Both sides of the abortion debate have, in the past, tried to have an open dialogue. Karen Swallow Prior, a writer and English professor at Liberty University in Virginia once worked with the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue, and she served as president of Feminists for Life. She was also involved with the Common Ground Network for Life and Choice, which tried to bridge the gap between the pro-life and pro-choice movements in the 1990s. The group held formal conversations between pro-choice advocates and ardent pro-lifers until each side came to some sort of understanding. Finding “common ground” was and continues to be a big part of Swallow Prior’s perspective on abortion. “Most pro-life people and most pro-choice people care about women and children,” she said, and focusing on what benefits woman and children and families provides the foundation for a conversation.

In practical terms, this emphasis has often meant supporting welfare programs meant to reduce the economic burden of child-rearing for women, increasing access to childcare, and, most controversially for some Christians, advocating for sex education and an array of contraception options. But Swallow Prior is uncertain about how attaining policies that appease both sides would go over now. “The political climate today is like nothing I’ve ever seen,” she said. “It is so fractured and filled with animosity and division.” She added, “Vigorous debate and vigorous disagreement is based on at least an acknowledgement of the other. I don’t even think we have that in common anymore, in culture in general.”

Within the Christian feminist movement, these contentious debates are often made more fraught, since many of the women involved are having to relearn decades of religious and social teachings. Micah, who wrote her master’s thesis on women in leadership roles in the Christian Church, now believes, “The Bible has to be read in proper context.” She said, “We see Jesus do some pretty radical things to empower women in a culture that was extremely patriarchal.”

Read the entire piece here.