Karen Swallow Prior leaving Liberty after 21 years to join SEBTS faculty

Karen Swallow Prior poses for portraits at DeMoss Hall at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, on April 18, 2013. | Liberty Univeristy / Ty Hester

Beloved Liberty University English professor Karen Swallow Prior plans to leave the school she has served since 1999 to join the faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina, beginning in the fall of 2020.

Prior will become the full-time research professor of English and Christianity & Culture at the Southern Baptist Convention-affiliated institution. 

According to SEBTS, she will be the first research professor in the history of The College at Southeastern. She will primarily teach undergraduates but will also teach at the graduate and doctorate levels. 

“.@LibertyU has played one of the most significant roles in my life in making me who I am today,” Prior tweeted Thursday. “I have loved teaching and here and continue to love the ministry here. What a bittersweet day! (But you are still stuck with me until the end of the school year!)”

In a tweet, Liberty University praised Prior for her “21 years of Training Champions for Christ.” 

“And we wish her many years of fruitful ministry, teaching the students at @SEBTS,” the tweet reads. 

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. offered his best wishes in a tweet

“You will be greatly missed, Karen,” Falwell wrote. “I was hoping you’d stay until I converted you into a Trump supporter! Oh well. You always made LU proud by pouring your life into your students. Thank you for that.”

Prior is also a senior fellow with the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States. 

Prior has expertise in 18th century British literature. She has written three books, including On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Literature, Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me and Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More — Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist.

"I am delighted to have Karen join our faculty," SEBTS President Danny Akin said in a statement. "She is a gifted teacher in the field of English and literature who loves Christ, the Gospel and the Great Commission. Our students will be blessed to sit under her instruction. She is a wonderful addition to the outstanding faculty of Southeastern."

Through its Kingdom Diversity Initiative, SEBTS is trying to increase its “historically underrepresented voices on campus.” The institution’s goal is to have 20 percent “culturally diverse faculty, staff, and students” and 35 percent female by 2022. 

Scott Pace, dean of The College at Southeastern, said he could not be more excited to have Prior join the staff. 

“As a conservative evangelical and cultural ambassador, Karen brings a unique combination of skills and expertise that will help train our students through a Christian liberal arts education and equip them to give their lives for the cause of Christ in the church, among the nations, and in every aspect of society,” Pace said in a statement. 

Prior also has a strong presence on social media as she regularly tweets in response to news and current events. 

Prior opposes abortion and homosexuality but has taken a stand as a “Never Trump” evangelical over her opposition to the president’s positions on issues such as immigration, as noted by The New Yorker

She also wrote an essay that was published in the 2018 book Still Evangelical? Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning

Prior has become a leading voice within SBC on the issue of sexual abuse. She was among several women who called on Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to take action against then President Paige Patterson over his past handling of a student who alleged she was sexually assaulted by another student. 

In 2018, Prior was hit by a bus in Tennessee. She suffered multiple fractures and a collapsed lung. Two days after the accident, she wrote on Facebook that her survival was “nothing short of miraculous.” 

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