An Ethical Disaster: Woe to Karen Swallow Prior

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” Isaiah 5:20

Abortion is an unjustified killing of a human being; abortion is murder.  The medical practitioner who performs an abortion is a murderer and the mother who obtains the barbarous procedure is a murderer just the same.  Southern Baptist ERLC Research Fellow and Liberty University Professor, Karen Swallow Prior, doesn’t agree.  This self-proclaimed pro-life activist, in a recent article in Christianity Today entitledLoving Our Pro-Choice Neighbors in Word and Deed,” denied that abortion is murder.  Furthermore, she wrote in the same article that those who call mothers who kill their own children via abortion “murderers” are being “unchristlike.”  Woe to Karen Swallow Prior, for she has called that which is good evil.  Those Baptists who unwittingly fund her wicked work are worthy of pity.  Those Baptist leaders who have irresponsibly placed her in a position of leadership are worthy of scorn.  The status of Karen Swallow Prior as an officially recognized Southern Baptist ethicist is unacceptable and demands action.  That an editor at Christianity Today, which was founded by Billy Graham, let the content of Prior’s article be published at all is similarly unacceptable and demands action as well.  Why Liberty University employs an individual such as Prior to teach and influence young people it intends to train as “Champions for Christ”, God only knows.

Misunderstanding Murder

It is clear from Prior’s afore mentioned article in Christianity Today that she does not believe that a certain type killing can be universally defined as “murder” unless a government has made a law declaring is such.  According to Prior, since abortion is legal in the United States, it cannot truthfully be called murder.  According to Prior, anyone who calls an American woman who obtains an abortion a “murder” is a liar.  Those who call women seeking abortions to repentance by calling abortion murder do something good.  Those who tell women who have terminated the life of their own children through abortion that Jesus Christ offers forgiveness for their sinful murder do something good.  Yet, Prior has boldly, for all the honest world to see, called such actions dishonest, “inflammatory”, and unchristlike. She has called good evil on the pages of Christianity TodayThis is tragic for any Christian woman to do.  It’s mind-boggling that a person touted as a Southern Baptist ethicist would make such statements and hold to such beliefs.

By Prior’s logic, Cain did not murder Abel since at the time of his sinful and unjustified killing of his brother, there was no government to have made a law against murder.  By Prior’s logic, Herod did not murder the Apostle James since he had governmental authority to do so.  By Prior’s logic, the Nazi’s did not murder Jews in their concentration camps because it was legal, under their governmental rule, to do so.  By Prior’s logic, the Chinesse government does not murder those children whom it aborts because their parents have surpassed their mandated breeding limit.  In her article Prior makes a weak distinction between “civil” and “church” contexts.  Certainly, the God of Heaven and Earth, to whom Abel’s blood cried from the ground, does not make such a distinction in His creation with regards to defining murder as an unjust killing.  Murder, to use a tautology, is murder.  God knows it and every Bible believing Christian knows it.  Yet Prior, a biblical ethicist, can’t look her collective audience in the eye and honestly tell it what every five-year-old in Baptist Sunday School knows, Cain murdered Abel.

Funding the Wicked Work of Karen Swallow Prior

Interestingly enough, Karen Swallow Prior’s academic resume does not indicate that she has received any formal training in Christian Ethics or theology whatsoever (this is of course, very apparent by a survey of her writings).  Other ERLC Research Fellows, almost to a man, are Baptist theologians with formal training in biblical ethics.  Prior, a feminist and former Episcopalian and Cooperative Baptist from well outside the Bible belt, seems to be the exception.  She was trained in the Liberal Arts departments of secular universities in Buffalo, NY.  What little Baptist education she has is in modern and postmodern philosophy.  Her appointment at the ERLC and her employment at Liberty University are perplexing.  Her gross theological incompetence is to be expected in the Liberal Arts Department of the University of New York at Buffalo.  It is unfitting of someone professionally involved in Southern Baptist life.  One is left to wonder if her days as a pot-smoking English student may have permanently affected her reasoning ability.   Figuratively speaking, whoever propelled this woman to the forefront of evangelical media and a position at an SBC entity must be “on dope.”  Karen Swallow Prior’s exceedingly liberal work has been documented extensively by the Pulpit and Pen

The reader should not be mistaken; Karen Swallow prior is doing work.  She receives money to write articles such as Loving Our Pro-Choice Neighbors in Word and Deed.”  She gets paid to call good evil.  She gets compensated to write “damn the economy” with regards to animal welfare concerns.  She gets compensated to appear and speak at “gay Christian” festivals. Her notoriety as an ERLC research fellow enables her to receive speaking invitations and the honorariums that go along with them.  Karen Swallow Prior is a progressive, liberal, social justice extremist.  Southern Baptists enable her work through the Ethics and Religious Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Most pew-sitting Baptists have never heard of this institution but they fund it with their own tithes and offerings (through the giving of their own churches).  Most pew-sitting Southern Baptists would be appalled if they knew what Prior believed and communicated.   Southern Baptists should demand that their churches defund the wicked work of Karen Prior and the ERLC.  They should also demand changes from the nominally Christian publication, Christianity Today.  Though, they should not be surprised by articles such as those put forth by Prior.  Christianity Today, in 1968 published an article proclaiming that life began at birth.  Even the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution affirming abortion in 1971.  The SBC called evil good and it had to repent.  It’s time for SBC leadership to repent of promoting Karen Swallow Prior.  It’s time for every day Southern Baptists to repent of funding her work and that of the ERLC.

Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  Southern Baptists need to understand who Karen Swallow as well as what she is.  They need to have the same understanding of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Suggested Actions

  • Contact your pastor about Karen Swallow Prior and the ERLC
  • Contact your state Baptist convention about Karen Swallow Prior and the ERLC
  • Withhold donations to SBC entities until the ERLC is disbanded or corrected
  • Pray for change in Karen Swallow Prior’s Heart

(Editor’s Update: After this article was originally published Karen Swallow Prior update the Christianity Today article critiqued here with a parenthetical remark about her view of murder.)

[Contributed by 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.

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Seth Dunn

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