Esther may have been a queen, but she wasn’t the queen of our Western, Disney-influenced imagination.
Her story takes place in an ancient Near Eastern culture that regarded women as property, a culture in which Jews like Esther were struggling to retain their identity and safety amidst the violence, power, excess, debauchery, and volatility of the Persian Empire.
Like many of Scripture’s most interesting and influential women, Esther has been subjected to glorification, projections, and distortions through the years, but in all my years of studying Esther, I have never encountered a reimagining of her story as bizarre or as harmful as that being put forth by mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll in his new sermon series at Mars Hill.
In true Driscoll fashion, he turns Esther’s story into a story about sex:
“[Esther] grows up in a very lukewarm religious home as an orphan raised by her uncle. Beautiful, she allows men to tend to her needs and make her decisions. Her behavior is sinful and she spends around a year in the spa getting dolled up to lose her virginity with the pagan king like hundreds of other women. She performs so well that he chooses her as his favorite. Today, her story would be, a beautiful young woman living in a major city allows men to cater to her needs, undergoes lots of beauty treatment to look her best, and lands a really rich guy whom she meets on The Bachelor and wows with an amazing night in bed. She’s simply a person without any character until her own neck is on the line, and then we see her rise up to save the life of her people when she is converted to a real faith in God.”To compare forced concubinage to an audition for “The Bachelor,” and to ascribe sexual culpability to a girl who in a patriarchal culture had no ownership over her own body and no control over her own marriage, is as bizarre as it is disturbing. It’s just as ridiculous as turning Esther into a Disney princess, only Driscoll—being older than 10—has no excuse to project this strange reading onto the text. Esther is not a flawless character (few biblical characters are), but to question her basic morality like this without any support from the text or from traditional interpretations of it seems from my perspective to reveal a troubling agenda.
Is this not how women have been silenced throughout history--by rendering them either helpless princesses or dirty whores? And is this not how victims of patriarchy and male violence are treated around the world—as sexually culpable, as guilty, as “wanting it”? Will we let our pastors do this to Esther as it has been done to countless women before? [Links and emphases in original--E.M.]
There's more from the author, Rachael Held Evans, here.
Now, there's a lot to say here, about Esther, about Mark Driscoll, about the harmful movements within some branches of Evangelical Christianity to impose a false view of womanhood, femininity, wifely submission, etc. upon the women in their flocks. But because I'm pressed for time, I just want to say this: how on earth has the Catholic Church come to be viewed as the enemy of women?
The Church, following Christ, does not ordain women to the priesthood. The Church, sharing a wise and developed view of human sexuality and the sacred and inviolate nature of human life, opposes contraception and abortion--but she also opposes the mistreatment of women, even within marriage, and insists on a dignified vision of chaste marital sexuality that conflicts very, very deeply with the views of men like Mark Driscoll who insist (apparently) that it is sinful for wives to refuse to engage in perverse sex acts with their husbands. (Yes, though it may surprise some of my non-Catholic readers, the Church does not take an "anything goes for married people!" approach to human sexuality, and stands as much against a culture of mindless hedonism as she does against a culture where would-be godly Evangelical men can demand two-dollar-prostitute acts from their wives and then accuse them of sin for not complying.)
I have read blogs from Evangelical and/or fundamentalist Christian women which reflect a deep conflict between their belief that they do, in fact, have worth as human beings that does not rest solely or even mainly on their submissive attitudes toward their husbands on the one hand and the constant rebuke of the men in their faith communities for thinking so on the other--and I've had a bit of a tendency to go on a good Irish Catholic rant when I see that attitude creeping in among Catholic women--or, worse, among Catholic men: not because of my own authority to contradict this notion, but because the Church herself won't stand for it.
The truth is that the real enemy of women is the person who views her as an object to be used. Whether that person is the john on the street corner, the Persian king gathering a harem, the modern-day Islamic fundamentalist calling for her to be stoned to death, the abortionist killing her before she is twelve weeks old, the college frat boy with a parade of "hook-up" girls to his room, or the Evangelical pastor reinterpreting the Bible to make even the heroines look like whores matters little to the women being rejected, marginalized, oppressed, harmed or even killed.