She’s a popular Christian author, speaker, and professor at Liberty University. But according to some bloggers and critics, she’s also a liberal, a feminist, an animal rights activist, and gay-affirming destroyer of the faith!
This week on The Roys Report, I talk with Karen Swallow Prior about what she really believes (she’s none of those things)—and why it’s important for readers to discern what the “discernment bloggers” are saying. We also talk about spiritual warfare and whether the bus that hit Prior in 2018, after she spoke out about misogyny in her denomination, was a spiritual attack.
I thoroughly enjoyed this insightful conversation and believe you will too!
Karen Swallow Prior
(PhD, SUNY Buffalo) is an award-winning professor of English at Liberty University. She is the author of On Reading Well, Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me and Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist. Prior has written for Christianity Today, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, First Things, Vox, Think Christian, and The Gospel Coalition. She is a senior fellow with Liberty University’s Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement, a senior fellow with The Trinity Forum, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States
Note: This transcript has been edited slightly for continuity.
JULIE ROYS: She’s a popular Christian author, speaker and professor at Liberty University and come fall, she’ll become the first ever research professor at the [College at] Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. But she’s also a liberal, a feminist and gay affirming. At least, that’s what some bloggers and critics would have you believe. Well, welcome to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And today I’m going to be speaking with Karen swallow prior a fascinating Christian personality, but also a controversial one. And I’m really looking forward to talking with her about her views on some things about smear campaigns. I really think she’s been a target of some very vicious ones, and also delve into some of the issues that she’s passionate about issues like misogyny in the church, gay Christians, and pro-life advocacy. But before I do that, I want to just take a minute to mention the sponsors of this podcast, Judson University, a university shaping lives that shape the world and Marquardt of Barrington. And I want to let you know that Judson has just announced its speaker for its next World Leaders Forum, which will be held October 20. At the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center. That speaker will be someone who’s seen a bit of controversy himself, General Howell Petraeus. He’s also a four-star general and a former director of the CIA and I know it’s going to be a fascinating event. So, for more information on that, just go to JudsonU.edu. Also, if you’re in the market for a new or used car, I encourage you to check out my friends at MarquardtBuick.com. As I’ve mentioned before, Dan Marquardt is a friend but he’s also a whistleblower. He stood up to power and corruption within the church and he’s someone I can fully recommend without any reservation. If you want a car dealership where you can expect honesty, integrity and transparency. Just go to MarquardtBuick.com. Well, I am so excited to have Professor and author Karen Swallow Prior with me today and I know she’s just gotten out of class and gotten to on her phone so that she can be with us. So, Karen, welcome such a pleasure to have you.
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: Thank you, Julie. Boy, that was quite an introduction.
JULIE ROYS: Well, and you have been a lightning rod of sorts, I think because you’re willing to go across the aisle and make friends. And I think that makes you a target. And I know that you and I probably disagree on some issues. But I’m committed as a journalist to representing you fairly on those things. And what I’ve seen is that people don’t always represent you fairly. And so, I wanted to give you a chance to come on. Also, because I love the stuff that you write. I love engaging with you. And I love engaging with people who are very gracious in their engagements. So, I’m really looking forward to this podcast and I hope you are too. So you’re a professor at Liberty University. And that’s a school that’s had some controversy as well. But what I want to talk about is you just recently took this professorship at Southeastern. And when you did, boy, the internet erupted with people saying all sorts of things about you. And I know just this last weekend, we were doing some Facebook interaction and, and someone got on there was a guy by the name of Jordan Hall—does a blog called Pulpit and Pen—and started calling you things that I’m like, well wait a second. That’s not really who I know, Karen to be. And so, again, I would love to talk about some of these things. But why don’t we just start with, you know, a piece that was done a while ago, saying that you’re, for example, a liberal. That you’ve written for Sojourners magazine, and this proves that you’re a liberal. Are you a liberal?
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: Not by any definition of the word. So no, no. Just asked my liberal friends. I am a theological conservative. I’m a political conservative. Of course, those terms are always understood in context and our relative. I mean, I’m probably not as conservative as some people and more conservative than others. And so, we of course have to understand what the terms mean. But here I am, I’m finishing my 21st year teaching at Liberty University founded by Jerry Falwell who began the Moral Majority. This has been my home. I have always been in Baptist churches. Grew up for the most part Baptist and Southern Baptist. There are so many people out there in my world that would just laugh think that anyone would consider me liberal. Now, do I have some views that people more conservative server than me don’t have? Sure. I do. And I do write for secular, liberal progressive publications. And very intentionally so because I want to take my message to those places and do more than preach to the choirs.
JULIE ROYS: Well, and I think the first time that I talked to you and had you on a radio program, it was my previous program called Up For Debate, and I think we were discussing animal rights. And you happen to be with the humane—was it the Humane Society, I believe?
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: Yes.
JULIE ROYS: And I, you know, I’d done some research on the Humane Society. They spent a lot of money on lobbying and lobbying for causes that you know, as Christians, I’m like, yeah, I’m not sure I really agree with that. And so I kind of, when I read that I thought, well, Karen Swallow Prior is going to be representing this viewpoint where, you know, people just don’t have a distinction between human beings and animals and, you know, not understanding that we’re—as human beings—the pinnacle of creation. Well, then I get to talk to you and I realize, no, you’re a part of the Humane Society for a very targeted sort of strategic reason. So, talk about that. Because I think that’s almost a great just an example of how you do sort of walk this line of trying to befriend somebody that might be a little bit different yet finding some common ground.
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: Oh, yes. This is actually a great example to use. So I believe in animal welfare, not in animal rights. And I am following a long tradition that began with evangelicals in the early 18th and late 18th, 19th centuries, including William Wilberforce who at the very same time he was working to abolish human slavery, also founded the first society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, because the evangelicals of that time understood that being cruel to God’s creatures, needlessly, coarsens in human hearts and leads to other kinds of sins and vices. So they have this sort of holistic view, of stewardship of all of creation. And animal welfare was part of that. And so I had written a number of pieces on that talking about animal welfare as a stewardship issue for Christians. And got the attention of the Humane Society which was just beginning a faith Advisory Council, because it is a very secular worldly organization. But they saw the opportunity to have common ground with people of faith and so yeah, that’s how I became kind acted with them. And it’s a way of just—you put it perfectly—it’s not that I’m in total agreement with everything that they do. But they’re a big umbrella kind of organization, and they wanted to hear from people of faith. Why would I turn them down? And it’s been a really wonderful experience. And I don’t want to share personal stories, but I know that God has used me to help people in that organization, find Him return to Him and grow in Him. And it’s just a huge blessing.
JULIE ROYS: I think the fear often is that you know, who’s using whom in organizations like that, right? I mean, there’s a concern that sometimes if we come on and we give our credence to what they’re doing, then really, they’re just using us to get to the clientele that follows us, right. Did you ever feel like that might be happening?
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: I mean, that’s definitely a legitimate concern with any kind of organization that we would partner with. And it’s something to be aware of and be cautious about. But no, I never felt that way. I mean, really, I think it’s the opposite. I mean, they elevated my voice, I think, by supporting my work on evangelicals and animals. And so, it just expanded what for me is this more holistic view of what it means to be a Christian and a good steward of God’s creation. And so, it’s been a mutually beneficial relationship, I think.
JULIE ROYS: Now, I think something that probably made you even more controversial perhaps, is back in 2018, when Paige Patterson and the whole controversy hit about that. And for those of you listening if you’re not familiar with this, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary at the time was Paige Patterson who was sort of the leader of this conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention. And yet, there were some videos that came out and some audio and it was some of it was shocking, you know of Paige Patterson defending encouraging a wife to stay in a physically abusive marriage because, “hey, it brought her husband to church so it was worth it.” Or calling this 16 year old, “built,” in this sermon illustration that just I mean, I listened to it—just sounded kind of creepy and doing things that were just really inappropriate. Here’s this hero of conservatives in one sense of, you know, the word. I mean, Paige Patterson had stood for inerrancy and brought those things back and at the same time, you’re hearing things that just sound horribly misogynistic. And so, there were conservative women who came forward and said, we’re going to stand against this. And I spoke out against Paige Patterson at the time I thought it was just indefensible stuff that he had said. And yet you did that it was I thought it was courageous to do because you’re a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, you’ve been part of Southern Baptists. You’re here you are at Liberty University, a Southern Baptist school, and yet you’re speaking very boldly on it. Pretty controversial stand yet. It really had an impact. I mean, talk about that, from your perspective, being on the inside and deciding to take a stand what that was like.
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: Well, thank you that really was a good recap of those events. And, you know, just to bring a little bit of perspective, more of a perspective where I’m coming from, I mean, when I was growing up, Independent Bible Churches and Baptist churches—the Southern Baptist Convention was too liberal for us. You know, this is a pretty conservative resurgence. And so, I watched myself and my family really come into and be part of the Southern Baptist Convention because of the conservative resurgence, because that reflects our views of inerrancy and gender roles and family and culture. And so, I only knew Paige Patterson really from that background like so many kind of a hero. And so when these video clips and audio clips from the past came out, yes, I was shocked as well. And I just believe that something like that is disqualifying for a leader. And I was approached by someone who was a victim. And because of that, was not in a place to speak out. And I have this platform. I have this visibility and I believe before God, again to go back to stewardship, that I need to steward that well. And so I said, “I will speak up for you and for others. And so I thought I could take a leading role, because I am not a victim. I have some vulnerabilities, obviously with my employment and my connections and so forth. But really, I felt I’m in a place where I can do what others cannot and I’m going to speak up so that’s what I did.
JULIE ROYS: And as fate would have it, or God’s sovereignty or Satan was against you, I don’t know how you put all those things together, but an awful thing happened. Yet something that you know, well, I’m really curious on your perspective of just how God has even used this event. But on May 23 2018, the same day that then president of Southwestern Baptist, Paige Patterson was asked to step down for these misogynistic statements he had made, you stepped in front of a bus in Nashville, Tennessee, and you were almost killed. And so, you made a statement. You said, “I believe this whole issue about women in the church and the treatment of women and the treatment of minorities, that is such an evil in the church and that those who are speaking out against it are vulnerable to the works of the enemy.” Did you feel like that was the enemy coming against you?
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: Well, I am a good Baptist. And I really don’t think and talk about spiritual warfare a lot except with my more charismatic brothers and sisters might do. So, I really do not speak in these terms often. But it felt very bizarre. It felt very mystical and strange. And I don’t mean to say when I talk about spiritual warfare that, “Oh, God is on my side and Satan is on someone else’s side.” It’s not that clear cut. But we know that we are fighting powers and principalities. And that Satan is sowing confusion towards one another and towards God, and just what we should be doing. And so, it was actually, I had been up all night that night doing interviews, waiting for Southwestern’s decision. Got up that morning, had done some interviews. So this was very much in my mind. I got lost and distracted and that’s when I stepped in front of the bus because I couldn’t find my way. I was turning back to go to my hotel. And you know, I don’t know on this side of heaven, what was happening in the spiritual realm. But I also know that [when] I was released from the hospital, eight days later, I was strapped to a gurney going on medical transport to head back to Virginia. And that’s when someone sent me the news that the board had removed Paige Patterson. And those two coincidences are just seemed like more than coincidence. And what someone told me—I didn’t come up with this myself—I’m too Baptist to think in these terms—but a woman friend of mine who had been attending the same conference, I was there to go to just talked about how all of those broken bones in my body were kind of a symbol for the brokenness of women in the church. And you know, whether that’s what God intended it to be or not, it is that. We can see it that way. And I felt very much like that is how God has been using me in this issue and others. And it’s not easy. And it’s obviously painful in that circumstance. But I just, that’s all I want. If God is using me to reveal things, and to reveal hearts and expose what needs to be exposed. I’m here for it.
JULIE ROYS: And God has been doing so much in this area. This whole #ChurchToo movement. We’re seeing women who have been victims speaking and people believing them—people in power believing them. And it’s been, you know, honestly, I’ve just been dumbfounded, as I’ve seen, you know, just recently what happened at Willow Creek. And not just what happened with Bill Hybels but more recently with the other co-founder Gilbert Bilezikian and several people alleging sexual misconduct by him. And speaking. And almost immediately the church saying, “Yeah, we believe the victim. And we should have done something years ago.” And so we’re seeing just a real change in the church. And yet at the same time, I just heard recently Paige Patterson starting a new conservative group within the Southern Baptists. I’m like, really, this is who’s going to be leading? You know, a conserv . . . really? What is that conservative group about really? Do you know much about this?
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: I don’t know more than what’s been on Twitter and Social Media. So, I don’t. I just, it is an opportunity. Again, I think the lines are being drawn more clearly. And it’s hard and painful to see it. But it’s also I think, a blessing because we can see, again, hearts are being revealed. And God is dealing with us and we have to choose sides, I guess. And we need his wisdom and discernment more than ever.
JULIE ROYS: Well, I mentioned this at the top and we’ve been talking about a couple, a few other things, but I want to come back to it. And that is some of the stuff that is being put out by so called discernment bloggers. And last weekend, I was on Facebook and happened to have written a story about Mark MacArthur who’s the son of John MacArthur—a member of the board of his Dad’s radio ministry Grace to You. Well, this Mark MacArthur just got charged by the SEC for fraud. And it’s a major story. We were talking about it on Facebook. Someone gets on there. I mentioned his name before, Jordan Hall, and somebody had mentioned on Facebook that MacArthur’s Masters University has been put on probation by its accreditor. And Jordan Hall responded, “MacArthur made a menopausal feminist accreditation hack angry and got dinged for it. It’s hardly a controversy.” And I was just, my breath was taken away. I’m like, “You did not just say that. You did not just say that.” This is a pastor and a blogger. And he’s calling somebody—well he’s deriding somebody for being biologically female by calling her menopausal. And so I said something about it. I was like, “That’s not okay. You can’t cut people down just because they’re biologically female.” And then he came back at me and deriding me as a feminist, which you’ve read my book, Karen. I mean, “a feminist?” I mean, there’s a lot of feminist Christians who are angry with me for some of the things I write, but I’ve never been called a feminist before. It was just so shocking. He wrote, “You’ve basically become a poor man’s feminist, liberal version of Janet Mefford. It’s been sad to watch your woke rebirth from afar.” And I said to my husband, I said, “Neal, watch, he’s gonna write a hit piece on me.” I’ve never had a hit piece before. This was kind of a new—I’ve had a lot of people mad at me for what I write. I get that. Because I report on things that people would rather not hear. But I’ve never been called, you know, I’ve never had a hit piece that just I mean, I read it and it was calling my journalistic integrity into question simply because I called Wade Burleson a, I think I called him a “Southern Baptist insider.” We can argue whether he’s a Southern Baptists insider. He’s been a pastor and a Southern Baptist Church for 28 years, was on a missions board of the Southern Baptist Convention. He may be on the outs more now, but he still gets contacts and he still gets me information. So, he seems to be. But that and calling me a feminist, and I’m like, “Really?” This is the most disingenuous post I’ve ever seen. I was just I mean, my breath was taken away. I was just like, this is ridiculous. It’s just not true. It’s a mischaracterization. This is my thing with being a journalist. I report on a lot of people I disagree with. But my goal is always if they read my piece, I want them to say when they read how I’ve represented them for them to say, “Yeah, that’s really what I believe.” And then we can argue whether or not that’s the right belief or not. But to misrepresent, that’s what really bothers me. And so, I want to look at a piece that was done about you. And you know what, I don’t have the date on this. This was put out a couple of years ago. It was 2015 right? This was the first time this was done on you. 2015. And in it, it says okay, it has a lot of things we mentioned. You know whether or not you’re liberal because you write for Sojourners magazine but let me look. I just want to even just dig into some of these things. So, it was said here that you did a glowing book review of Loving My LGBT Neighbor for Christianity Today that says, “The LGBT movement is much like the Christian community, in that it draws from diverse backgrounds and moral beliefs.” That’s a quote from you. In the article, Swallow Prior lauds the author for being or for arguing for nuanced positions of LGBT questions and, “a sympathetic portrayal of same sex attraction. For example, Swallow Prior writes, ‘The book also addresses some trickier issues with wisdom, humility and generosity. For example, Stanton’s call to accommodate transgender persons in their use of public restrooms is as commonsensical as it is refreshing.’” Now, you and I might disagree about that. I do want to say, Glenn Stanton is with Focus on the Family. He is not a liberal at all. I mean, if I were reading this and I didn’t know better, I would say, “Oh, that Glenn Stanton, that Loving My LGBT Neighbor. That sounds like a liberal book.” It’s not. Glenn Stanton actually has—I know Glenn a little bit. And he has a very orthodox view on this.
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: But and the article doesn’t mention what Stanton’s solution was. The solution, the accommodation he was asking for is single stall bathrooms for everyone.
JULIE ROYS: So, he’s not, And what else it sound like is he’s for transgender men going in, you know, the opposite gender bathroom, right?
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: Right, right. Exactly. Exactly. So, someone else did a follow up blog too, because he couldn’t believe that Stanton and I would support what it sounded like. Because that’s what he was calling for. That was his accommodation which I even before the transgender issue, I always thought that, you know, single stall bathrooms would be my preference anyway, so.
JULIE ROYS: Well, and so let’s go over some of these other things. Because one of the things I’d like to do, I think, as we go through some of these is to help people become discerning consumers of the news. Because we do have—I really actually hate the term fake news because I think it’s so abused as just, you know, it’s a derogatory term we use whenever somebody publishes something we don’t like, we call it fake news, right? But there is so much out there on the internet that may be true, may be false. And so, I want to go through this. And I want people to see how things are done. And I also want you to give you an opportunity to respond to some of these things. The Atlantic, he writes that the Atlantic ran an article entitled Being Gay at Jerry Falwell’s University, and alleged that Liberty University has backed away from its vocal opposition to gay marriage. As he came out he lists Karen Swallow Prior, a professor at Liberty—this is the author of the article—as one who was sympathetic and supportive of his decision. I sensed, at least this was my sense reading it, that that you were wanting to love people who identified as gay at Liberty yet. Would you say liberty is becoming, is dropping its vocal opposition to gay marriage?
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: No, it’s not. Not gay marriage or homosexual behavior. We still have the same Code of Conduct rules that have always been in place. So, I really have no idea where that charge comes from at all. So.
JULIE ROYS: And yet, you’re friends with the author who wrote a piece that was quite critical of Jerry Falwell Jr. You’re friends with him, you know him. And he is openly gay. Why? Why do you have friends like that? Why do you associate with people like that?
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: Well, this particular person was a student of mine, here at Liberty. And that was the piece that he wrote long ago that that article refers to—when he was here as a student at Liberty—and was gay. And I was one of the first adults that he told. And I referred him to a counselor here on campus who holds to a biblical view of sexuality and who counseled the student and over the years. He tried to not be gay, but then decided to be gay, just as you know, it’s a long, complicated history. And he knows that I disagree with him. You knows that I believe that homosexual behavior is a sin. But he also knows that I love him and he’s a person in my life who I keep in my life. And he has no doubt about either one of those things, what my beliefs about sexuality are, and that I love him.
JULIE ROYS: I have a friend like that. Brandon Robertson. He was a Moody graduate. And I remember being at National Religious Broadcasters convention and seeing him. He was on a panel and I just felt sorry for him. He’s like, 200-some. And he’s up there in what seemed like a pretty hostile environment. And they came at him pretty strong. And I remember afterwards, I just came up to him, and I’m like, “I’m so sorry.” Because I just didn’t feel it was hospitable the way he was treated. I disagree with Brandon. I really do. My heart breaks for him. Because I think he’s making a choice that will be for his own destruction, Yet I love Brandon. I care about Brandon. And I just, I remember when I just said that to him, he gave me this huge hug. And we ended up praying together. And we’ve since gotten together numerous times for coffee. When we’re at similar conferences. We don’t live in the same city or anything. But, you know, even to this day, if I reach out to him, he’ll always respond. He’s always gracious and kind and I care about him. And I think it’s important that we care about people and yet, what I see happening with you here, you attended, it looks like an LGBT Film Festival. You got your picture taken with a lot of people who identify as gay and what was said about you as a result?
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: Yeah, the irony of that is that that film festival was sponsored by an organization called Level Ground, which seeks to bring together different people at different faith backgrounds. It’s primarily Christian, but some who are affirming of the homosexual behavior and others who aren’t. And they invited me specifically to come—twice—to come and share the traditional biblical sexual ethic. And they have a difficult time finding people who will. So I came. And I was there to present that biblical view. And yet that part of the story is not shared. It’s just the picture as though I’m there approving that. Of course, I love these people and I, you know, and I’m there to enjoy the event. I was always there to do this specific thing. And I did. I’ve been twice. And others won’t go, but I will.
JULIE ROYS: And I can understand those who won’t go, I don’t know if I go, you know? I just sit there and think, “Oh, boy, I cannot be partners with them. Do I agree with what they’re doing?” And I can certainly understand those. And I might put myself in that group who would say I think what they’re doing is destructive. I don’t I think it’s helpful. I’m not going to be a part of it. At the same time,
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: I can respect that. Yeah.
JULIE ROYS: Yeah. I mean, and we can have that conversation. “Is that really a healthy thing to do?” Because, I mean, “Either you’re for me or you’re against me.” And what? Are they for Jesus? And what they’re doing, does it help to be there? But here’s what I really don’t like. And I see this a ton with discernment blogs, is they get a picture of people together. And then they say—this is just, to me, it’s the biggest leap of logic—, “because so and so is in a picture with so and so, they must endorse everything that this person believes.” I mean, where do we get that? That is just the worst journalism possible. And yet people are getting away with it. And it’s not okay. When you see those pictures, I wish people would say, “Okay does this person really endorse him? Is that why they’re there?” And here’s a really, really radical idea. How about reaching out to that person and asking for their comment on why they were there and hearing their point of view? Has anybody from you know, some of these blogs that have been so vitriolic against you, have they ever reached out and tried to have a conversation with you?
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: At one point, I believe that particular blog did. There was a claim that they called my office and that there was no message. But at that point, I probably would not have spoken to in anyway because it’s very clear to me, without getting into all the details, that I am being lied about intentionally and misrepresented. And that’s what’s not excusable. I mean, clearly, we can agree on whether we should go to this event or partner with this organization. Those are legitimate areas of disagreement. But what cannot ever happen is for intentional misrepresentation to take place. And that is what’s happening. And who that really hurts is not so much me although, you know, it does sometimes hurt, but it hurts the people who are being misled and who are believing things about the world and about the church and the state of things that are not true. That’s very, very grievous.
JULIE ROYS: While we’re on the topic of LGBT issues, I do want to ask you about Revoice. This is a conference where you’ve also spoken, where you’ve endorsed. And one where quite frankly, we disagree. We’ve disagreed on this. I don’t know if we disagreed openly on Facebook or whether we’ve, whether that’s been in private message. I can’t remember. But I know we’ve discussed it. And yet, we can disagree agreeably on this. I don’t think because you showed up at Revoice that you are necessarily endorsing everything at Revoice. But If you would, I mean, I don’t want to state what the conference you are there. I’ve only seen what’s what’s been written about it. I’ve never attended one. What is the purpose of Revoice?
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: Yeah, well, just one minor correction. I didn’t attend the conference. Before the conference was being organized . . .
JULIE ROYS: You didn’t speak?
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: No.
JULIE ROYS: My bad. Okay.
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: No, I just had an endorsement of the conference. I am friends with the main organizer and a couple of the other organizers. They are Southern, fellow Southern Baptists, who believe in the traditional biblical sexual ethic. They have same-sex attraction. In one case, he is married to a woman and they have children. He’s still open and honest about his same-sex attraction. Another friend who has helped to organize it is single and celibate. And the mission of the organization—and I’m just paraphrasing—but the mission is to help those who are same-sex attracted to live out the traditional biblical sexual ethic, whether in biblical marriage or in singleness. Now the difference, the thing that people have trouble with—and I understand this is an area of disagreement—is that these people have not abandoned the labels. They are open about their struggle. They in some cases have just simply—God has not removed that struggle from them. He does sometimes and sometimes it takes longer. Or sometimes that struggle will always be there. And so, they are open and honest about their attraction and their struggle. Yet they want to be and to help others adhere to the biblical sexual ethic. And so, I am in support of that mission. So, I offered an endorsement of the conference. I had a time to go on their website. And I think they’ve had two different conferences. And the first one did not require the speakers to be in support of the biblical sexual ethic. So, they had some different speakers there of different views. And I believe in the second one, or the one coming up, they have made that requirement, because they’re learning. And, again, it’s a mission that I support. I think that the conference and the organization has had some growing and some learning to do. But the mission has remained the same and that’s one that I still believe that we need to help our same-sex attracted brothers and sisters live biblically faithful lives. And there is no one size fits all for all of them in that struggle. And the church needs so much more conversation in that area. And they are going to make mistakes. We are all going to make mistakes. And we’ve made mistakes in the past. I’ve known so many Christians who had this struggle. And in previous decades, the approach was to be quiet about it, pretend otherwise, get married, don’t tell anyone. And I’ve seen that backfire so many times that I’m willing to take the risk to support my brothers and sisters who are trying a different way but still want to be faithful.
JULIE ROYS: By the way, I want to mention, the Illinois Family Institute is having a worldview event. I promised them I would mention this. But it’s coming up March 7. Saturday, March 7 10am, to 3:30pm at the Village Church of Barrington, Illinois. If you’re listening and you’re in the Chicago area, I encourage you to go to this. Dr. Michael Brown, who is a leading apologist has written some books about this actual issue and also answering your toughest questions. Always a great radio interview, by the way. And Dr. Robert Gagnon who’s a professor of New Testament theology at Houston Baptist University. He’s going to be there. So if you’re interested in that, I really encourage you go to IllinoisFamily.org and find out about that event. But speaking of same-sex attraction, gay identity, the one problem I had with that conference—is what you mentioned—is about embracing gay identity. And I feel like there’s a there’s a—what did I call it? It’s almost like just despair that God can do anything about that. And that it’s okay to embrace this identity that seems rooted in our, our sinfulness. And my passion in this area is—because I go to a church that has dozens of people, literally dozens of people that have come out of that. And have come out of it for 20, 30 years. Is it a place where they can’t talk about it? Now, actually, it’s a place where they can talk about it and it’s like, “Yeah, that’s fine. You know, we have other people that had that that struggle too.” The taboo is gone. And I love that. I feel like it’s one of the most healthy environments. But it’s also a place where there’s faith for transformation. Now, does that mean that God’s gonna make you straight? You know, that’s where I feel like when we’re talking about mischaracterizing people, I feel like the whole entire community that believes in transformation gets painted as, “pray the gay away.” Right?” And that’s not them. I’ve been to Restored Hope Network’s conference. And I’ve spoken at the conference. And this is a group that believes in transformation. But it is anything but, “pray the gay away.” I mean, these are people that live with the reality of how difficult this struggle is and yet have seen people transformed over time. And you know, the degree of that transformation is different in different people and but we have to believe in God’s ability to change, don’t we? I mean, isn’t that as Christians we have to say . . .
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: Oh. Absolutely. I mean, I don’t think that, yeah, I don’t think that the people in Revoice necessarily don’t agree with that. I think they’re mischaracterized a great deal too. Now there are some of the presenters at that original conference that definitely were problematic. And I would have very different views. But in terms of the mission and the organizers of the event, I think that they have been mischaracterized. And I don’t think that they embrace this identity. That’s language that their critics use, not that they use.
JULIE ROYS: Well, what I would love to see, I would love to see Revoice invite some of these people from say Restored Hope Network that believe in transformation strongly. I wish, I would love to see a conference where these two sides come together and really debate it and talk about it. Because I think there are different camps and they’re nuanced. And I think they often don’t get characterized as nuanced. But I would love to see some healthy debate and these different sides brought together. That’s just my two cents on that one. But . . .
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: No, I think that’s a great idea, Julie. I think that that could happen. And I think the biggest obstacle to things like that happening is the kind of attacks and mischaracterizations that make people afraid and vulnerable when they shouldn’t be because we’re having honest discussions about these things. And that’s why I’m having this conversation with you. I think it’s so important. Because there’s plenty of room for Christians to disagree with one another. But what I’m seeing happening more and more is that we actually don’t even know what we disagree about because there’s so much misrepresentation, mischaracterization going on, whether intentional or not. But that’s what we’ve got to get past.
JULIE ROYS: Agreed. Well, I wanted to get to one of the accusations against you which is—and this one floors me. Because I do know a little bit of your background. I want you to talk about your background with this issue. But you’re extremely pro-life. And this is something that you’re passionate about. And yet, because you wrote I guess at one-point you talked about a certain person’s book as “refreshing and hopeful.” And he’s pro-choice. And you said abortion is “radically complex, and there’s no conservative position or liberal position.” I’m not really sure what you meant by that, but I want to give you a chance to explain it. But then it was kind of said that you’re not really pro-life. How do you respond to that?
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: Yeah, I don’t know what either of those quotes or books are talking about. They may be distorted, or misrepresenting. I don’t know. I think the first one was a book by a pro-life person, actually, who was writing about pro-choice people. So no, I can’t explain. It was it was it
JULIE ROYS: It was Charles, I don’t know this guy.
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: Charles Camosy. Yeah, he’s very pro-life. He’s Catholic. He’s very pro-life. But he wrote a book looking for common ground between pro-life and pro-choice as a pro-lifer. Okay, so because he was doing that, somehow that’s compromise. No, I am very pro-life. I stood outside abortion clinics as a sidewalk counselor for 10 years and I was arrested a few times for doing that as well as for sitting in. This is all in the late 80s, early 90s. In my previous city, I’ve served as a volunteer in crisis pregnancy centers for years, I served on the board of directors. I’m a faculty advisor for the pro-life student club here at Liberty University. I write frequently on abortion. I tend to be compassionate about it and I’ve done post abortion counseling with women at crisis pregnancy centers. And so I don’t know what to say about that other than it’s just this complete misrepresentation. And I don’t know why. But again the result is that it is confusing people and sowing needless confusion and chaos within the church. Because people who are not doing their due diligence and checking out the facts are just simply believing that that the churches in the Southern Baptist Convention is being overrun by people who don’t share beliefs when we do.
JULIE ROYS: And you’ve been—I know you’re a part or you were a research fellow. Are you still a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission?
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: No. I resigned last year
JULIE ROYS: Okay. And but I’m guessing you’re resigned amicably?
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: Yeah. We we basically have some different strategic approaches to issues and so we’ve just, yeah, parted ways. But I love the work of the ERLC. And actually, that is, to be completely honest, it was becoming a fellow with the ERLC that put me on the radar for these discernment blogs. And that was something I walked into not really knowing that the ERLC is viewed as liberal by some Southern Baptists. And so, their attempt to attack me was really an attempt to attack the ERLC, which is, again, very grievous.
JULIE ROYS: And that’s headed by Russell Moore, who was an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump. I haven’t heard him be as critical—because I mean, he got so much backlash. I haven’t heard him be so critical, although I think things he said beforehand, some of them needed to be said, And you know, we can disagree about whether that means you still vote for Trump or not. But he’s been outspoken on that. But, you know, his social justice issues, I think some people would say ERLC has been pushing more of a liberal agenda with that. Do you think that’s fair or not?
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: Well again, we kind of go back to the beginning of our conversation where these terms liberal and conservative, really only have meaning when it who’s to the left of me and who’s to the right of me, right? Because they don’t, they’re not really tied to very objective absolute definitions. And I think we’re living in a time where some of the old categories and the old systems are falling away. And that is a good and beautiful thing because we have inherited a cultural Christianity, especially in the Southern Baptist Convention, if I can say that. I mean, every denomination has but there are certain cultural traditions, history and baggage that comes with our denomination just like with any other. And we’re living in a time in history where some of those are falling away and most of us are striving to see the biblical truth apart from our culture. It’s very hard. It’s been hard for every generation and every part of the world. We’re living through a particular moment. And so we would say, I think we could say that the categories of liberal and conservative Republican and Democrat that was true in the second half of the 20th century are not true now. And we all need to—and we’re not going to do this in total agreement—but we all need to get past the partisanship, past the political parties, past liberal conservative labels that are tied to American political culture and not biblical Christianity. And we need to find that consistent thread of biblical Christianity no matter which party or which side it falls on. Because that’s the thread that we need to follow and our culture does not match up. It never has, it never will. But for far too long, we have been making our allegiance based on these cultural categories.
JULIE ROYS: Amen. Let me just ask you this. We’re running out of our time together, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. But as Christians who represent Jesus in this current cultural era, and I think especially with the divisions within the church, how can we, as ambassadors for Christ, reach out and how can we really address those within the church? Who might disagree with us? What advice would you have?
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: Wow, I mean, so much of this does take place on social media. And that that caused more harm than good, I think. But it is a mission field and it can be used for good. So I just urge every Christian who’s on social media to act on social media the way you would in person. Don’t say something on social media that you would not say to them in person. And if you are in person, and you have a question, or you don’t understand something that’s been said, you would say, “Oh, I don’t understand. Can you explain more?” We need to do more and more of that. We need to not believe every source that we see whether you know, I mean, we don’t believe CNN, or the New York Times, is giving us the entire truth or an unbiased perspective. Well, neither should we assume that the discernment blogs are doing that. We need to go back to the original sources. We need to not believe a picture or a meme or quote that might be taken out of context, but we have to be circumspect and sometimes we just have to be a little bit skeptical too. And the verse that just kept coming to me, as we were talking, Julie about all these issues, is one of my favorites is from the book of Zechariah. And it’s in chapter eight. “Speak the truth to one another. Render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your heart against one another. And love no false oath. For all these things I hate declares the Lord.” That verse covers so much of what we’ve been talking about this hour.
JULIE ROYS: You know, and I think in the New Testament, when it says to always have an answer for the hope that you have within you, but do that with gentleness and respect. And if we’re supposed to treat non-Christians with gentleness and respect, how much more within the church should we be treating each other with that kind of respect that we want to be treated? It’s the Golden Rule right. Treat one another with that assuming the best. At the same time, there’s a time to be prophetic. There’s a time to speak out, there’s a time—and I will say, I love social media, because with the investigations I’ve done, and just seeing the change that comes as a result of people having power to speak. And I think that’s what social media has given the public, a place to speak, who don’t have platforms who aren’t, you know, the gatekeepers, and they get to speak and so, I love that, but we still need to do it with gentleness and respect. So, Karen, you’re somebody who does that extremely well. I appreciate you. And I appreciate talking. And I wish we—I would love to do it more. Talking about things on that we disagree about but doing it in a way that hopefully brings more light than heat. So, thank you, and thank you for your ministry and what you’re doing and just really Blessings to you as you go to Southeastern next year.
KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR Ph.D.: Well, thank you, Julie. I so appreciate your work. It is an honor to be talking with you on your program.
JULIE ROYS: Oh, well thank you. And thanks so much for listening to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And if you’d like to find me online, just go to JulieRoys.com Hope you have a great day and God bless.