A Woman Apart 

How a Nashville academic, born poor and black, has become a conservative mouthpiece ‘speaking truth to a world that doesn’t want to hear it’

In western Virginia, tucked in a clearing amid dense woods, are the decaying ruins of a house where nightmares were made. Carol Swain and her 11 brothers and sisters called it home.

In western Virginia, tucked in a clearing amid dense woods, are the decaying ruins of a house where nightmares were made. The place was never much to begin with, more of a shanty than anything else. It lacked running water, and only the kitchen and living room had electricity. No one has lived there for years, though for more than a decade of her childhood, Carol Swain and her 11 brothers and sisters called it home. The structure still stands, though there’s nothing much left but a battered tin roof and the stark silhouette of rotting beams in Virginia dirt. A bare, hollow structure, it is now the front entrance to memories best forgotten.

But Swain and her two sisters do remember.

They remember how their mother, Dorothy Henderson, known to all as “Mama Dot,” married a violent drunk who moved them, along with his nine children, into that two-bedroom hovel deep in the woods. They remember savage beatings, backbreaking chores and sleeping on the kitchen floor. They remember their mother’s disability, how she spent a lifetime crippled with infantile paralysis suffered during early childhood. One side of Mama Dot’s body was smaller than the other, and she limped. This did not spare her from her husband’s savagery.

“He used to beat her up,” recalls Swain’s sister, Maxine Miller. “I used to fight for her, and then I would get beat up.”

Meanwhile, her sister Carol, who decades hence would become one of the most successful and controversial figures in modern academia, sat in the corner and wept. When the beatings started, she quietly withdrew into her own mind, like a rabbit seeking its burrow when the hard rain comes.

Swain would “get back in the corner, in her own world,” Miller says. “Even then I knew that she was thinking of a better place to live. Of getting away.”

Eventually, she would escape and reach heights unimaginable to the girl who sobbed as her mother got whipped. But things would get much worse for Swain before they got better. She dropped out of the ninth grade, married at 16 and had three children by the time she was 20. Her youngest child, a daughter, would die in her crib, and Swain became tortured by depression. Then her marriage ended.

But the nighttime of her life would slowly give way to a breaking dawn that even now is not fully realized. She got a GED, enrolled in community college, and in a matter of years graduated from Roanoke College in Virginia.

Now 54, she teaches at Vanderbilt University Law School, collects academic awards like children do Halloween candy and is a regular on cable news programs.

She has become a talking head. See her on CNN—where she’s a paid contributor—exchanging populist banter with Lou Dobbs or dispensing legal opinions to Anderson Cooper. Hear her on National Public Radio, tearing into politically correct preconceptions and the unfortunate guests who hold them. Read her op-eds in The Tennessean, The Washington Post, The Washington Times or The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“She is one of our most liked personalities,” Dobbs tells the Scene. The audience “really respects what she has to say, and they like her on the air.”

Her hyper-opinionated books cover topics ranging from immigration to white nationalism to the effectiveness of black representation in Congress. Her ideas are strident, uncompromising, counterintuitive.

Last December, when a British schoolteacher was jailed in Sudan for naming a class teddy bear Mohammed, the Western media raged at the seemingly incomprehensible intolerance of that nation. Swain, not so much. While she called the Sudanese goverment’s actions “astonishing,” in a Tennessean editorial she asked, “Would a conservative Christian like me be offended if a Muslim schoolteacher in the U.S. allowed or encouraged her first-grade students to name a stuffed animal Jesus Christ?”

“Yes, I think I would be offended…. I might view the naming situation as further evidence of the disrespect that secular humanists often display toward Christian believers.”

Opinions like these cut to the quick of the culture wars and often stand at odds with academic orthodoxy. This may explain Swain’s uneasy relationship with peers at Vanderbilt, but it has made her a media commodity. It also got her noticed by President Bush.

This year, Bush nominated Swain to the National Endowment for the Humanities advisory council. As a member, Swain will help decide how the endowment’s massive $144 million-plus budget is disseminated among American thinkers, educators and artists.

In 2007, she was appointed to the Tennessee Advisory Committee of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. The state advisory committees act as the local eyes and ears of the federal commission, which examines possible civil rights violations ranging from voter disenfranchisement to employment discrimination.

She has professional plaudits to go with these appointments. Swain was a tenured professor at Princeton by the age of 40. She has written five books—three published by Cambridge, one by Harvard, which received a major award. In addition to her Ph.D., she has a Master of Legal Studies from Yale Law School, has been mentored by some of the greatest names in the history of her field, sits on the board of Roanoke College—where she received one of her five degrees—and founded and directs her own think tank, the Veritas Institute.

But her meteoric rise has also led to complex feelings of guilt and regret surrounding her relationship with her large, extended family. Though proud that she’s managed to pull herself from the thorny tendrils of poverty’s grasp, in many ways Swain had to distance herself from her family, whose troubles and poverty persist, to excel.

Her extraordinary, self-propelled achievement has also left her with a glacier-sized chip on her shoulder when it comes to other academics, many of whom she views as privileged elites.

“I think that a lot of the problems that we have in society are caused by people in the academy,” Swain says, sitting in her second-floor office at Vanderbilt Law School. “They come up with these ideas, and they filter them to the public and they’re very destructive.” Ideas, she says laughing, “like multiculturalism.”

Not surprisingly, the feeling among some in “the academy” is mutual.

Professor Ron Walters, a political scientist at the University of Maryland-College Park and a distinguished black scholar in his own right, calls her “a spear-carrier for the conservative movement.” He attributes her popularity to novelty. “She belongs to a group of American conservative scholars who have gained unusual status and projection in the public sphere simply because they were black conservatives,” Walters says. “So to that extent, Lou Dobbs, Bill O’Reilly and some of the others have picked these people, exalted them and given them an extraordinary platform.”

If, as Walters says, Swain has been handpicked by conservative media ideologues, it is not difficult to surmise why. Swain’s biography makes her Exhibit A in any argument against racial quotas and government handouts. If William F. Buckley Jr. were still alive and single, Swain would be the perfect addition to his dance card.

Born poor and black, Swain advocates for the abolition of race-based affirmative action. An academic, she believes that universities should do away with black and women’s studies departments. She frequently rails against the mere existence of the Congressional Black Caucus—a predominantly Democratic body—characterizing the group of legislators as a pack of do-nothings, more interested in shoring up their own political bases than winning tangible gains for blacks.

She has spent her entire professional life in the most rarefied academic settings, yet seems to hate every aspect of the modern academy except the students.

And then there is her stance on immigration.

In many ways, she is most well known for her complex restrictionist position on immigration to the U.S. In explaining her position to The Nation magazine in August 2006, she demonstrated how her thinking defies categorization.

“When I see how poor black and white people are treated,” she told the magazine, “I can’t hold out any hope that millions of working-poor Hispanic people are going to receive better treatment.”

She presents the issue in relatively stark terms: Most immigration into the U.S. today negatively impacts poor Americans. Since a disproportionate number of blacks fall into that category, immigration hurts blacks the most. This opinion is far from the generally accepted orthodoxy—especially among the social scientists at Vanderbilt—but Swain has worked hard to spread her gospel. She has held conferences, written extensively and debated the issue publicly.

Last year she edited the book Debating Immigration, a collection of essays exploring different aspects of the immigration question. Swain’s contribution to the book is an essay on how immigration hurts African Americans, while the Congressional Black Caucus essentially sits on its hands and holds cocktail parties. She also says that employers who hire undocumented immigrants should be held accountable. “If people are not authorized to work in this country and you know they’re not authorized to work,” she tells the Scene, “then I think there should be some penalty for the employer.”

Yet when Swain began an extensive remodeling project on her home in Nashville’s 12 South neighborhood, she didn’t scrutinize the workers too closely.

“As a homeowner that has a construction project, and the crews that come, I’m not out there checking immigration papers. I don’t want to know. I don’t think it should be the responsibility of ordinary people to check immigration status…. It could even be dangerous.”

Indeed, when the Scene stopped by Swain’s house and spoke to a half-dozen Hispanic workers there, none of them had more than a simple grasp of English. It is unclear whether these workers are in the country legally. A call to Eric Gonzales, whom one of the men identified as the group’s foreman, reveals that he doesn’t check the legal status of all his employees. Gonzales says that some of his workers have shown him green cards, but if they don’t have them he will hire them anyway.

When asked directly about the workers, Swain says, “I’m not going to lose sleep over it. I do feel like that it’s not the place of the homeowner,” to check immigration status. I don’t even think it’s safe for me as a single woman to be asking.”

She says that her experiences with these workers have only strengthened her opinions about the immigration question.

“It’s not always this perspective that they’re always hard workers,” says Swain. “I’ve found that many of them do poor jobs that have to be redone. They’ll cheat you just as quickly as an American.”

This seeming incongruity between her public opinion regarding immigration’s negative impact on the black community and her choice of contractor are among the many dualities in Swain’s crazy-quilt life of extraordinary accomplishment and tribulation. Some of her ideas could charitably be called unique, and some of her comments are caustic. But her conviction in the rightness of her own opinion and action is built on the foundation of her past.

“I was a high school dropout,” she once railed at a radio host who disagreed with her. “I have worked very hard to earn my degrees, to earn my rank. With,” she added, “almost no help.”

Last November, Swain’s 41-year-old stepbrother Kevin Henderson was doing some repairs outside of a house in Roanoke, Va. A group of teenage boys from the neighborhood approached him. Soon he was surrounded. They attacked the 116-pound man as he lay prone in a fetal position, futilely attempting to cover himself as the blows rained down on his head. After the stomping, he went home and collapsed into unconsciousness. An ambulance took him to the hospital, where he died the next day of a brain injury.

At trial, it was revealed that the boys beat Henderson over an unpaid loan of $5 in beer money. This is the world into which Carol Swain was born.

As a child, she lived in that tin-roofed hovel with 11 siblings, practically one on top of the other, but still she felt a strange dissonance from those around her.

“I never felt I was supposed to be with them,” she says of her family. “I never felt I was supposed to be poor. I always felt like I had been dropped from outer space into this strange environment…. It was like I was a participant observer of these people, and they didn’t seem to….” She pauses, and stares off behind her listener, thinking. “I knew,” she continues, “I wasn’t like them. All I can remember is just watching them and thinking, ‘I don’t see the world the way they do. I don’t share their values.’ I was different.”

This feeling of being separate from her own blood persists. “I’m the only one that reached college,” she says. “I’m the only one that’s out of poverty. I don’t think it’s fair. It used to bother me, I used to feel guilty because I didn’t understand. ‘Why me? Why?’ Now it’s not like, ‘Why me?’ It’s like, ‘Thank God me.’ ”

As a young girl, Swain became a devout Jehovah’s Witness. At the time, many in that church believed that the world would end in 1975. Swain was among them. She reasoned that there wouldn’t be much need for a formal education, so by age 16, she had married and dropped out of the ninth grade. She’d given birth to her first child by age 17 and would have two more by age 20, two boys and a girl.

By 1975, the world hadn’t ended, but Swain’s was about to. That year her daughter Tracy died in her crib. Depressed, Swain would take entire bottles of pills to escape the pain. After one such episode she ended up in the hospital where a doctor told her that she was attractive, intelligent and could do more with her life. She listened, and by 1976 she had a GED, a job and a divorce.

Before long, Swain, who remains unmarried, was enrolled at Virginia Western Community College and from there was accepted to Roanoke, where she zipped to the head of the class.

“She was very surprising,” says Bill Hill, a political science professor at Roanoke who served as Swain’s advisor there. Hill describes her as a shy student who “sat in the back of the class and had very little, if anything, to say.”

But after the first exam, Hill knew she was paying attention. “She was clearly in command of the material more than any other student in the room,” Hill says. “And as I remember, that class included the person who was going to be valedictorian of [Swain’s] graduating class.”

As a junior, Swain solicited donations from one of the richest men in Virginia to start a merit-based scholarship fund for minorities. “I thought it sounded like something terribly ambitious for an undergraduate to start,” Hill recalls. “By God she delivered, and we still have that scholarship here.”

During this period, Swain was working full time at the school’s library and raising her two sons, Benjamin and Reggie.

Her youngest son, Reggie, now 34 and CEO of a Manhattan PR firm he founded during the dot com boom, remembers being shuttled between relatives’ houses as his mom worked to make the grade.

“She was working at the library, going to school and raising us,” he recalls. “We spent a lot of time at our aunts’ houses.” Swain graduated Roanoke Magna Cum Laude and went on to receive her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Her dissertation there challenged the notion that black politicians best represented black interests and that Americans should recognize the “substantive representation of blacks coming from white members [of Congress].” That work became the foundation for her first book of note, Black Faces, Black Interests. In 1994, the book won the Woodrow Wilson award, among others, and has been cited by two U.S. Supreme Court justices in decisions handed down by the court.

Almost immediately, the book stirred controversy.

“She makes the argument that whites are able to represent blacks better than blacks,” says Maryland’s Professor Walters, who calls her thesis “weird.” “The logical extension of her argument is, you wouldn’t need any blacks in the Congress,” he says. “What is she arguing here?”

By 1990, before the book was even published, Swain was on the tenure track at Princeton. Four years later, she would make tenure, a remarkable achievement for any academic, much less one whose career started with a GED and community college.

In 2002, she released her next book, The New White Nationalism in America: Its Challenge to Integration.

The book is a 475-page treatise on affirmative action, immigration and the relationship between religion and racial tension and, of course, includes a detailed dissection of the modern white nationalist movement in the U.S. In it, Swain essentially argues that well-intentioned policies like affirmative action do little to help the poorest of blacks and, worse, swell the ranks of so-called white nationalist groups who oppose race mixing. Because of these negative consequences, Swain says that affirmative action programs shouldn’t be based on race but, rather, class.

Robert Smith, a professor of political science at San Francisco State University, has critiqued Swain’s work in academic journals but praises the Vanderbilt professor. “She’s highly regarded as a scholar,” he says, “particularly her work on the Congress.”

But Smith takes issue with both Swain’s thesis and method. “I thought the book was misguided in two ways,” Smith says. “First, it exaggerated the significance of those [white nationalist] groups. I think she thinks they’re much more influential than they actually are. And second, I think that she capitulated to their interests by saying, well, the way to satisfy them is to abandon affirmative action and take a much more restrictive view on immigration.”

What makes The New White Nationalism a fascinating read is Swain’s decision to inject her own history into the argument from the very first page. She begins the preface by saying that affirmative action actually hurts blacks and that she is living proof of it.

Swain writes that affirmative action gave her a creeping self-doubt about her qualifications and right to be at Princeton, despite prestigious awards and publications. She also notes the patronizing tone that white, liberal colleagues took when talking about the progressive social policy.

Next, Swain skewers “affluent African Americans” she’s met in academia who “act as if all academic positions and awards should go to their group as some kind of special entitlement.”

While admitting that total objectivity is a bridge too far, Smith says that this kind of personalized editorializing in a scholarly text is unorthodox. “We’re trained not to do that. You’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to maintain a distance or kind of objectivity…to treat political behavior in the same way a biologist treats the behavior of ants.”

Swain stands by her style and method. “A lot of what I’m putting together is intuition,” she says of the way she approaches her work. “You know, we’re not supposed to acknowledge intuition and talk about spiritual things.” Swain derides peers who look at the social sciences as, well, science. “The very fact that some of the social sciences try hard to be science is almost ridiculous,” she says. “We know that there is so much we cannot quantify.”

Swain also uses her family history as a launching point for compelling media sound bites.

Last September, Swain wrote an editorial that appeared The Tennessean, describing, in detail, the brutal death of her brother. She used the anecdote as a point of departure for commentary on the Jena 6 case. In that case, six young black males were charged with attempted murder in Louisiana for getting into a fight with another white teenager. Many viewed the charges as excessive, given that the white teen wasn’t seriously injured.

Swain used the death of her brother as a chance to give the white district attorney who brought the charges a pass. “I offer this story of a senseless killing to provide another perspective on what might have been going on in the head of the Jena district attorney,” Swain writes, intimating that black teens do this sort of thing regularly, and should be taught a lesson. In another editorial, she writes that it’s “a stretch” to classify the display of a noose as a hate crime.

She also uses her family as proof that conservative social policies work, referring to them as being “like a laboratory” for social science. “With welfare reform,” she says, “I can look at my family and say, ‘Welfare reform was very successful because I see my nieces, not so much my nephews, but nieces that normally would just have children and be on welfare, they have jobs, they have cars, they have apartments…. I don’t think that would have been the case if they could have just stayed on welfare and had babies.’”

CNN’s Dobbs says that when Swain opens up her personal story for public consumption, it makes for powerful arguments and great television. “She is willing to talk about her own faith,” he says, “and put forward a sense of ethics and morality…. It’s just an example of the breadth of this woman and how important her voice is on our show.”

As Swain’s fortunes have risen, the connection to her family seems to have been strengthened. She took in her mother, who suffers from dementia, for six months last year and has let at least two nephews stay at her house. Both her father and stepfather are dead.

Her sister says that in the last five years, Swain has taken a much more active role in family matters.

“I’m very involved in the lives of my nieces and nephews,” says Swain. This involvement has its drawbacks.

“I feel like every time that I’m about ready to take off, a family obligation comes along that I don’t turn my back on,” she says. But in the end, her bond to them is too strong to ignore.

“I’m very much involved in my family. I feel like with the underclass, it’s always pulling me. I’m a part of that, and I can’t get too far away from it, because when I’m home [in Virginia] I’m around it all the time.”

She adds that when she does visit Virginia, “I stay in hotels because there’s no one I can stay with that I feel comfortable with.”

The New White Nationalism was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, among other awards, and was widely hailed as the definitive work on modern white nationalism. Despite this praise from peers in the academy, Swain has little use for other academics. She says that their liberal ideologies seem to negatively influence too much of their work.

When asked why she thinks so many academics are liberals, Swain laughs. “They don’t know any better. I think there’s something about academia and the kind of people it attracts…. Some of it may be guilt, some of it may be white guilt, but there’s a blindness about them.”

Despite this, Swain has managed to attract some of the most important and influential names in her field as mentors. One of these was the late Robert K. Merton, probably the most significant social scientist of the last century. He coined the phrases “self-fulfilling prophesy,” “role model” and “unintended consequences.” Swain dedicated The New White Nationalism to his memory.

And while she is often invited to immigration symposiums and conferences at top schools around the country and the world, Swain says that she is shunned at Vanderbilt. She singles out Professor Dan Cornfield, director of the Vanderbilt Center for Nashville Studies (VCNS), who is in charge of doling out funding for research based in the city.

“I’ve asked him for different things,” Swain says. “To co-sponsor things, but he never has any money…. I invited him to be a part of my conference. I [also] invited [Vanderbilt political scientist] John Hiskey. They were busy.”

She rolls her eyes and gives a chuckle. “That offended me a lot. This is supposed to be a university, yet a lot of it is personal. It’s personal. They make it personal.”

Professor Cornfield says that VCNS has a formal process for reviewing grant proposals, and all Vanderbilt faculty and doctoral students are welcome to apply. “A grant application from Professor Swain,” says Cornfield, “would be given the same careful review as that given to all the proposals we receive.”

Professor Hiskey, who studies the impact of migration on origination countries, seems baffled by Swain’s animus. He says he has respect for her as a scholar and has “tried hard to get to know Carol.” Hiskey says he was unable to make it to her conference because he was taking part in another academic conference in San Diego that week. “She can choose to believe me or not,” he adds.

This lack of intellectual camaraderie has left Swain, “disappointed in the life of the academy. It’s not what it holds itself out to be. When [Vanderbilt] talks about diversity, it has a certain model of diversity in mind, but it’s not diversity across the board, ideologically.”

If Swain occupies lonely ground within the ivy-covered walls of academia, she is hot property on the news-infotainment circuit. And why not? She’s a great quote and feisty debater.

Swain and Dobbs met when the CNN anchor was at Vanderbilt on a book tour. “We talked for probably 10 or 15 minutes, and I was so impressed with her,” says Dobbs. “We talked some more on the phone and…I was just so impressed with her intellect and energy.”

She began appearing on CNN right before the Don Imus “nappy-headed ’hos” debacle last year. Once that story broke, she was on Lou Dobbs’ show three times in a week, decrying the detrimental impact that “black rappers and comedians have on society.” The die was cast, and she soon had a contract as a paid contributor.

Dobbs says that there is a deep personal connection between him and Swain. “She and I relate on a very fundamental level,” he says. He identifies himself as a populist, saying that Swain “shares that same value, that same interest, with a tremendous sense of the importance of traditional values, our national values.”

But even before Swain met Dobbs, she was no stranger to public discourse. In June 2003, the nationally syndicated NPR show The Connection broadcast an hour-long program with Douglas Wilder, former governor of Virginia. At the time, Wilder was raising money and awareness for a national slavery museum that he was hoping to build in Virginia. The radio segment started as a feel-good paean to the joys of American history and how by understanding a difficult past we can all move forward as one people.

Then Professor Swain showed up. She immediately began berating both the host and Wilder about the historical accuracy of the museum, saying they probably would leave out facts such as the existence of “black slave holders in every state.”

Further, she suggested that re-examining slavery in such a way might harm race relations or possibly cause a race riot. “Looking backwards would not be positive,” she practically shouted, “and it could be detrimental to race relations. A few years ago when the movie Mississippi Burning was released, there were young African Americans who saw that film, they saw how blacks were treated in the South during the 1960s, and some of them left the theater and went out and attacked whites.”

The host, a very shocked-sounding Dick Gordon, began to stammer, “But you’re an educator, you’re not saying we shouldn’t know what happened in the past because it might cause a problem in the present?”

“I’m saying it depends on how the story is told,” Swain spit back. “As an educator, I don’t trust other scholars to accurately tell the story. There’s too much political correctness…. There were black slave holders in it for profit, and there were blacks who fought for the Confederacy, and African nations were involved in it….”

Swain also insisted that the slave museum was actually a giant red herring whose true purpose was to raise white guilt, making it easier to shove reparations down the throats of American businesses.

At that point the discussion endured a total meltdown, as Swain, Wilder and the host were all shouting to be heard. After Gordon got things under control, they took a few calls, most of which were from angry listeners who disagreed with Swain.

“I just think it’s almost hopeless to try to communicate,” Swain said, clearly exasperated after a combative argument with a caller from Louisville.

Unfortunately for the viewers of FOX News, CNN and MSNBC, Swain isn’t always this animated. She generally speaks in less frantic tones and offers sober, Christian-based, right-wing opinions. She’s more Michael Reagan than Bill O’Reilly.

Still, her ideas can be controversial, and more than a few academics think that Swain tailors her views to the far right bloviators who can get her the most TV face time.

“I think she’s always had ambitions to be a kind of public voice,” says San Francisco State political scientist Robert Smith. “I think she understood that she could create a niche for herself by being a relatively outspoken black conservative. I think that was part of the strategy of her career.”

Lou Dobbs scoffs at the idea that Swain might be using her minority status and identity as leverage to get on TV. He says that Swain is so accomplished that she has become, essentially, post-racial. “She’s so much, frankly, larger than [black or female identity], given her experiences and accomplishments.”

While the media exposure has garnered Swain a certain national notoriety, she says the attention has won her few friends among colleagues. “I think my career has taken a whipping as a result. In the [media] world, I’m bigger, but in the academy, no.”

Hill, Swain’s early mentor at Roanoke, doesn’t deny that Swain may be unpopular with other academics, but says, “Professional envy takes many forms, doesn’t it?”

Other academics are not the only ones with mixed feelings about Swain’s success. “Some of my brothers,” says Swain’s sister Maxine Miller, “they don’t resent what she’s become, but they kind of resent the fact that they felt like she abandoned the family to get her education.”

Miller immediately dismisses this jealousy. “If I had the backbone,” Miller says, “I would have done the same thing. My life would have been totally different.”

Swain’s son Reggie ascribes any rift that may have occurred between his mother and her family to misunderstanding.

“Honestly, I don’t know if they quite understood what she does,” he says. “It’s like, she’s really smart, she’s doing something that’s probably making her a lot of money, but it’s all relative…Even when she was living on student loans, they probably thought she was making a lot of money.”

While Swain says she cares deeply for her family, she couldn’t care less about what other academics think of her and says that her days in the academy may be numbered. “I’ve never felt that I was a very good fit for academia,” she says.

She thought that The New White Nationalism would be her swan song to academia and says the book is so long because it was meant to be a goodbye to all that. “I thought I was leaving academia and that would be my last academic book,” she says. “I tried to put in everything I had to say about every issue.”

At the time, she thought that she might begin working full-time at her think tank, the Veritas Institute, and even considered the ministry.

“She’s very diverse in her interests,” Hill says. “I’m not sure that she’s finished completely her professional development. It would not surprise me to get a telephone call next week from Carol, saying, ‘You know, I’m thinking of going to seminary.’ On the other hand, it wouldn’t surprise me if she decided to go into politics.”

Swain says that her call to the pulpit may have been replaced by a different kind of sermonizing.

“I thought for a while I might go into the ministry,” she says. “And then I realized that what I do, in a way, it is ministry…. I feel that I am called to speak truth to a world that doesn’t want to hear it.”

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