How do those on the right open lines of communication with those on the far left? It’s an important question for the church to wrestle with in the age of “shut up.” Hatred fuels disagreement and most conversations devolve into name calling and a refusal to listen. We need a better model, and that’s why I am so thankful to the Lord for the example of Karen Swallow Prior. Karen knows how to cross divides without compromising truth.
Dr. Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University, and research fellow for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Council. These are extremely conservative institutions and yet Dr. Prior recently found herself at the heart of a controversy that labeled her a secret liberal. How does someone who works for strong conservative groups, and publicly commits herself to strong conservative work, find herself accused of “shocking liberalism”? The answer is found in her willingness to build bridges for dialogue with those on the far left.
Karen had demonstrated a willingness to dialogue with just about anyone. She has sat on a panel with atheist moral philosopher Peter Singer to discuss abortion and animal rights. She sat on another at a LGBT Film Festival. She was also a featured guest on a pro-choice blog. In each case, however, Dr. Prior has been able to use love and compassion to build a bridge for the truth. She speaks clearly about her convictions, about the ethics of Scripture, and about the gospel. She imitates our Lord Jesus who spent his days being accused of drunkenness and immorality because He was willing to befriend drunkards, prostitutes, and tax collectors (Matt. 11:19). It is Karen’s dual convictions for love and truth that we ought to celebrate and imitate.
Reaching those on the far left is increasingly difficult for conservatives. In many cases we have taken our stand for truth without the corresponding Biblical requirement of love (Eph. 4:15). We are inclined to say simply, “speaking the truth is loving.” That is true enough, a failure to be honest about the fate of those far from Christ or the destruction of their immoral choices would not be loving. But such language betrays the grammar of Paul’s words: he does not say be loving by speaking the truth, but rather speak the truth in a loving way. The failure of so much of the culture war, from a Christian perspective, is not that we don’t speak the truth, but rather that we don’t speak it in a loving way. We yell it, we blast people with it, we hate with it. Karen offers us a more Christ-like model. Like the incarnation, she steps into the lives and world of others and cares for them as people. She models compassion and love and interest in them. She attempts to see things from their perspective, and ultimately she speaks the truth to them. It is this type of bridge building that we desperately need.
Karen Swallow Prior is thoroughly Evangelical, and yet she does not “toe the party line” the way some expect. She challenges us as one of us. She challenges our perspectives on creation care and animal rights. She challenges some conservative views even on things like Common Core. But she challenges many of us by her demonstration of compassionate care for those with whom she disagrees. That is a challenge we desperately need. Her example has brought her no small amount of attack and accusation, but still she perseveres in love and truth. The combination of those two things is what God’s Word calls us to, and Karen models for us well what that looks like in our age of division. I am personally thankful for Dr. Prior who has been a great blessing to me and I commend her to you all as a stellar bridge builder to be supported, prayed for, and imitated.