Karen Swallow Prior: Civil Disobedience and Cultural Engagement

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Christ and Culture · Karen Swallow Prior: Civil Disobedience and Cultural Engagement – EP09

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In Christ & Culture podcast with Dr. Ken Keathley, we explore how the Christian faith intersects all avenues of today’s culture through conversations with leading thinkers.

Today’s Episode: How can we be compassionately convictional and confrontational? On today’s episode, Dr. Karen Swallow Prior shares her faith story, her experiences with civil disobedience, and the inspiration behind her book Cultural Engagement: A Crash Course in Contemporary Issues.

Listen to the podcast above. Read a few exercepts below (edited for clarity).

We can be convictional and confrontational and stand up for what’s right in ways that take great risks.

On being arrested while protesting abortion.

“The [Operation Rescue] movement was one that was really based the protest of the civil rights movement. It was a kind of nonviolence, civil disobedience that was intended to interrupt abortion services, the abortion industry, in a peaceful, nonviolent way — not only in hopes of preventing abortions in that time and place…, but also because it was nonviolent civil disobedience. We would get arrested and therefore clog up the court system with our cases as a way of raising political and social consciousness about the abortion issue. It was very controversial, as you can imagine: a bunch of Baptist, Catholic, charismatic and evangelical Christians sitting in front of an abortion [clinic], blocking the doors and being literally carried away by police officers, put in buses and taken away to be processed. I was arrested 3 times that way, and also a couple of times when I was simply sidewalk counseling, not intending to be arrested, but just simply offering help going into the clinic. We would sometimes be accused of trespassing…”

How we can be convictional yet friendly.

“The way that I am with people now with whom I strongly disagree on these major social and political issues was formed during those years. It may be hard for people to put together, but standing out there at least once a week for 10 years at the clinics, talking to women and men going into the clinics, talking to counter protesters, those people then would tell you that I was the same then as I am now. I engaged in dialogue and conversation with so many different people. I’m actually still friends on Facebook with a counter protester who was one of the most vicious ones out there; [he] actually assaulted one of the pro-life protestors at that time. I have still maintained a friendship with him, or tried to. So there is a way that we can be convictional and confrontational and stand up for what’s right in ways that take great risks (like being arrested), and for me that has made me more understanding and compassionate to those I think are wrong.

“There are many ways we can engage the culture and engage those we disagree with. I think these rescues were very important and crucial for raising awareness in our culture. We are seeing the abortion rate drastically decline since they reached their peak in the mid-80s, that’s for a number of reasons for sure. But this movement was an important way for our country to confront what abortion had become… in our culture. There are different times for different strategies, but the truth never changes.”

Christians should be the ones who are leading the way in making culture.

What is cultural engagement?

“Culture cultivates. Culture is the thing that fosters and develops who we are as individuals, and a society and a community. Of course if we think about the ways that the church is a part of the culture, we can look throughout church history and there are a number of ways the church has envisioned itself or pictured itself in relationship to culture — whether over, or against or part of. Actually the phrase engaging culture… I actually do not like that phrase because we cannot live apart from culture. We are born in culture, we’re a part of culture, and actually there are many cultures in a society. So to talk about ‘engaging the culture’ is similar to saying ‘engaging the air’ — there’s no avoiding it.

“But within evangelicalism, particularly 21st century conservative evangelicalism, we use that phrase because many of us have come out of an era or are descended from people who tried to separate from culture. For many of us, that’s our heritage. We live now in a time when more of us are trying have a more constructive way of engaging the culture rather than being separatists….

Christians should be the ones who are leading the way in making culture rather than just simply reacting, debating or opposing.”

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