FeaturedThe Pen

A Prior Conviction: A Minimal Facts Case for the ERLC’s Progressivism as Demonstrated by Its Association with Karen Swallow Prior

Some months ago, I authored a post about Beth Moore which readers could use to lead their friends out from under the influence of that popular but disturbing author. I did not present a detailed argument about why Beth Moore should be avoided, rather I listed a number of minimal facts which indicated that Beth Moore was unsound and kept unsound company. Here, I build a minimum facts case concerned readers can present  to the stakeholders of the Ethics and Religious Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). To do so, I will examine some of the statements made and actions taken by ERLC fellow Dr. Karen Swallow Prior.  Dr. Prior’s bent is, I believe, indicative of the  direction of the ERLC under the leadership of its President, Russell Moore. My contention is that many Southern Baptists, if they understood some of the viewpoints expressed by the ERLC, would demand change in that organization.

Minimal Facts about Dr. Prior

Please examine the following facts about Dr. Prior:

  • She wrote an article in which she stated, “As a matter of fact, unlike my opposition to capital punishment, which is rooted in Christian mercy, my opposition to abortion—under any circumstances except those rare times when it is necessary to save the life of the mother—is rooted in social justice, not Christian belief. Although my Christian faith compels me to act in accordance to that sense of social justice, it is not the origin of my pro-life ethic.” Can social justice be accurately grounded outside of a Christian worldview?
  • She praised the participation of United States President, Barack Obama, in the pro-homosexual “It Gets Better Campaign”. Referring to a promotional video the campaign produced, Prior indicated that “the church should be thrilled” if only because the campaign discouraged self-harm. However, the bible is clear that a homosexual lifestyle does not get better over time, plain and simple.
  • She participated in the “Level Ground Film Fest” which is “the world’s first film festival connecting lesbian, gay, and transgender sexuality with faith and evangelical Christianity.” (She was invited as a speaker who viewed homosexuality as a sin. She seemed to have a good time on the red carpet despite opposing the gay lifestyle that the festival seemed to affirm.) Some of the homosexuals at this festival claimed to be Christian. Should other Christians associate with them?Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 11.06.53 PM
  • She wrote in Christianity today that homosexual marriage (which she is against) was “an act rooted in love.”  Biblically, it’s an act rooted in being given over to depravity.
    She also wrote in Christianity today that “We must now repent of the injustices we have perpetrated on LGBT people.”
  • As recently as Easter 2015, Dr. Prior was a member of a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Church. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship split from the Southern Baptist Convention some years ago over the issues of female eldership and biblical inerrancy. Prior left her Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to join Thomas Road Baptist Church. Thomas Road was the church of the late Jerry Falwell, who founded Liberty University, and is now pastored by his son, Jonathan. Liberty University is headed by another of Fallwell’s sons. Prior is employed at Liberty University as an English teacher.

Cutting to the Quick

These statements have been reported in other posts. After the publication of those posts, Twitter was alight with defenses of Prior and accusations that her statements have been taken out of context or not appreciated for their nuance. In examining Prior’s actions and statements, the reader should ask himself if they seem like things Charles Stanley, Adrian Rogers, Richard Land, or Voddie Baucham would do or say. These men are baptists with undeniable conservative credentials who have very clearly operated with a biblical ethic. Can one even imagine these men making a statement that, even if taken out of context, could be mistaken for liberalism or out of step with a biblical ethic? These men, like many other conservative baptists before them, proclaim (or have proclaimed) a biblical worldview devoid of nuance and subtlety. They proclaim the gospel clearly in a way that cuts an unbelieving world to the quick. It’s hard to imagine these men writing an article for The Atlantic entitled “Before We Saw Your Boobs.” Karen Swallow Prior did. It’s also worth noting that those who have come to Prior’s defense do not seem to be conservative baptist people. Her defenders are more representative of folks like Rachel Held Evans than Dorothy Patterson.

Who Cares what Karen Swallow Prior Writes?

Karen Swallow Prior is not Beth Moore. Many people have never heard of her. She is an English Teacher at Liberty University who writes articles than many conservative Christians will never read and teaches English classes that no students outside of Liberty University will ever take. Why is what she says important? Most Southern Baptists couldn’t name three ERLC fellows. Many couldn’t even name the president of the ERLC, Russell Moore, who has “wished for a 1,000 Karen Swallow Priors in evangelicalism today”.

Therein lies the problem. The Southern Baptist Convention spends millions to support the ERLC. These millions come from churches whose members would likely recoil at many of the things Dr. Prior or Dr. Moore have written. The ERLC supports Karen Swallow Prior and Southern Baptists support the ERLC. Should they? That’s up for the individual baptist and his church to decide. Any baptist who reads this article and answers “no” to that question can now make a minimal facts case to his pastor that his church should not partner with an organization that partners with someone like Karen Swallow Prior. Any non-baptist or theological liberal who reads this article should be less concerned with another denomination’s politics and more concerned with their eternal soul.

[Contributed by Seth Dunn]

For information on how to support Southern Baptist Convention causes but not the ERLC, see my free e-book, The Cooperative Program at the Road to Serfdom.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.


Seth Dunn

Masters of Divinity in Christian Apologetics, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Member of the Evangelical Theological Society Certified Public Accountant