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Lying Down with Dogs and Waking Up with Fleas: A Case Study in Karen Swallow Prior and Good Communication

News Division

On Karen Swallow Prior

If you’re like me, you are very likely to be found, on any given Sunday afternoon, sprawled out upon your mother’s or grandmother’s couch, half-awake, stuffed full of meat-and-three, and flipping through the Sunday paper or watching Yankee football (also known as NFL football ).  This was the position in which I found myself about two hours ago.  I was skimming through the Lifestyle section of the Cartersville Daily Tribune.  The feature story was about an upcoming revival week at Taylorsville Baptist Church.   A less prominent article told the tale of some senior adults from Raccoon Creek Baptist who had recently taken a trip to apple country.  On down the page were some dates for various events at churches around town.  One of the events was a “Blessing of the Pets Service” at Oak Grove United Methodist.  I made a “can ya believe this” type of comment to my parents about it.  My mother responded, “That’s not biblical.”  I let my mother know that the United Methodists probably didn’t care as long as it got people to show up.  On the way home, I had another thought.  “I bet if I Google ‘Pet Blessings Karen Swallow Prior’ I’ll find something similarly unbiblical.”  I did….and I did.

I found an offer from the Humane Society for a “Free St. Francis Day in a Box” which was advertised as follows:

“In celebration of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals, The Humane Society of the United States is offering a Free St. Francis Day in a Box that they will mail to you, absolutely free of charge. Whether you are planning a special service for St. Francis Sunday (October 4th), a pet blessing ceremony, or other event, the St. Francis Day in a Box is sure to help engage and inspire your community. It’s only available for a limited time so order yours today!”

The box included resources from:

  •  Christine Gutleben, the senior director of the Humane Society Faith Outreach Program. She is apparently a Roman Catholic in the employee of Georgetown University’s Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.
  • Dr. Norman Wirzba, professor of Theology, Ecology, and Agrarian Studies at the Duke Divinity School.  (translation: liberal theologian with degrees from liberal schools teaching at a liberal school)
  • Karen Swallow Prior, English Professor and Liberty University and ERLC Research Fellow
  • This woman who has a problem with 90% of the meat sold at grocery stores (like what my parents served my kids today for Sunday Dinner)…

My Christian Ethics professor taught me a game called “Ice Cream or Insulin” that helps people think through moral decisions.  It’s a simple game.  A statement is given and the hearer must label it “ice cream” or “insulin.”  For example, the statement “The Atlanta Falcons have better uniforms than the New Orleans Saints” is an ice cream statement because it’s a subjective opinion.  The statement “It is wrong to murder Drew Brees” is an insulin statement because it’s an objective moral fact.  I’m sure you get the point.

I like to play a similar game to help identify bad things at church from good things at church.  I call it “Charles or Andy.”  It, too, is a simple game.  If someone suggests playing secular rock music to get God-hating lost people to come to church, that’s “Andy.”  If someone suggests preaching that the precious blood of Christ atoned for our sins, that’s “Charles.”   I’m sure you get the point.

Now, let’s play my game.  Ask yourself, “Would I expect to find, along with liberal theologians and Roman Catholics, Charles Stanley or Andy Stanley in the pet blessing resource kit from the Humane Society?”  I think you know the answer.  It’s patently obvious that a Google Search for “Pet Blessing Charles Stanley” would be as fruitless as an revival service with no Bible.  Karen Swallow Prior is exactly the kind of author one would expect to find listed in a Humane Society resource kit.  The questions to ask yourself now are:

  1. “Why is Karen Swallow Prior a Southern Baptist ERLC fellow?”
  2. “Shouldn’t conservative Baptist Theologians be staking out ethical positions for Southern Baptists?”
  3. “Why is an Baptist English teacher in the same company as liberal theologians?”

I think can answer #1 for you…leaders in Southern Baptist Convention, in order to stay relevant in a pagan culture, don’t want Charles anymore…they want Andy…and Karen Swallow Prior.

On Good Communication

Do you see what I did above?  Writing in the second person I was folksy, not formal.  Furthermore, I endeared my target audience to myself.  Like them:

  • I eat 1 o’clock “dinner” with my whole family after church.
  • I eat a good southern meal of meat and vegetables.  (I didn’t want to go over-the-top and mention a big, tall glass of sweet tea but I did drink such today)
  • I value college football over pro football.
  • I’ve grown up watching Charles Stanley sermons.

I made an authority by association case for myself and I then made a guilt by association case against Karen Swallow Prior.  I didn’t even have to make any arguments.  I watch football and have a Christian Ethics professor; that kind of thing just goes over hook, line, and sinker. Christians…this type of communication is the very thing of which we have to be wary.  We’ve heard evangelists and preachers use it our whole lives.  Andy Stanley, for example is a great communicator.  It’s undeniable.  Pastors study him so they can learn to communicate like he does.   Yet, his brand of seeker-sensitive church should be avoided like the plauge.  Andy Stanley is a purveyor of the “Miller Lite” gospel; it tastes great and it’s less filling.  However, for all the rock music and laser light shows, people don’t notice that there is no substance…just good communicating.

I think this explains the meteoric rise of Karen Swallow Prior in the evangelical intelligentsia community.  She’s a good writer.  It doesn’t matter that what she writes doesn’t always seem to square biblically or that her theological pedigree is as nonexistent as that of factory farm animal.  Take the humane society group, for example.  Look up the curriculum vitae of each.  The liberal theologians are theologians.  Karen Swallow Prior is writer, an English teacher with no formal theological background.  Look up the curriculum vitae of any individual with whom she has dialogued at the Level Ground “Gay Christian” Art Festival.  They are liberal theologians; Karen Swallow Prior is an English teacher.  Look up the other Research Fellows at the ERLC.  They are theologians; Karen Swallow Prior is an English teacher.  Do you notice the pattern?

I’m afraid the broader evangelical culture has traded biblically prophetic voices for palatable word-smiths.  The emperors have no clothes, just empty words in their latest book.  As we’ve seen, some of these books are so devoid of biblical conviction that the lost idolaters at the Humane Society want to send them to churches.  It’s not Karen Swallow Prior’s fault that she is a good writer.  She’s not really the problem, only a symptom of it.  Like the world, even today’s church culture, doesn’t want to consume truth.  They just like a good story.

It’s a pity.  That whole creation, fall, redemption told in the Bible is a pretty good one.

[Contributed by G. Seth Dunn]

*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.