Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Esther: Heroine or Harlot?

Have you heard about Mark Driscoll's sermon series on the Old Testament book of Esther? It's making a big splash on the interwebs, sadly (but not surprisingly) for all the wrong reasons.

I'll just step aside and let Rachel Held Evans take the mic:

"Unfortunately, after two relatively benign sermons on the book of Esther, Pastor Mark Driscoll returned yesterday to a narrative that casts Esther as an immoral woman. In his latest sermon he chastises her for not “fighting back” when “she could have said no.” He calls her a “hypocrite” and “worldly,” a woman who “got herself into this mess.”

As frustrating as these statements may be, I must confess that after listening to Driscoll’s sermon series thus far, I have come to believe that this interpretation does not necessarily reflect blatant misogyny as I had (perhaps unfairly) assumed upon first hearing it, but rather reflects a gross misunderstanding of the culture in which the story of Esther took place and was written. If we give Driscoll the benefit of the doubt on this---which, despite his history on issues related to women and sex,I think we should--and if we listen to his sermon, I think we see a pastor trying so desperately to make this text relevant to his congregation that he twists the story to fit modern, Western assumptions regarding women, marriage, and family. (Roy Ciampa’s observations on gender mapping seem to apply here.) He wants so badly to make this a story that includes a conversion experience, a story about God using sinful people to accomplish His purposes, a story about a sexually promiscuous woman who finds Jesus, that he reads too much into the text.

As a result, he judges Esther as he would judge a free woman in a free society, and he judges Mordecai as he would a free citizen who could protest his government’s policies without getting himself and his adopted daughter killed for it. (And, inexplicably, throughout the sermon, he continuously judges all single men as ignorant, good-for-nothings who have no wisdom to offer the world...apparently forgetting that both Jesus and the Apostle Paul were single men!)

He also makes quite a few arguments from omission, concluding from the fact that the text doesn’t explicitly report that Esther “went to synagogue” that she must have been a worldly, lukewarm Jew, forgetting that Esther is the one who calls for a fast later in the story, reflecting something of a religious background and personal religious conviction. And while he says he wants members of his congregation to debate the text in their Bible studies, he accuses anyone whose interpretation might give Esther the benefit of the doubt as being prideful.

Put simply: He rejects the story as given and replaces it with a story he wishes it to be, a story that lines up with some of his assumptions regarding salvation, election, gender, sin, and relationships. We are all guilty of doing this from time to time. It is, of course, easier to spot in others than it is to spot in ourselves...so, despite my frustration with his irresponsible interpretation of the text, I’m going to cut Driscoll some slack and assume that, this time, it’s based on misguided attempts to make the text relevant to his congregation rather than misogynistic inclinations."

There is much more from Rachel, and you can check it out here, here, and here. I have to say, Driscoll's take on this beloved Biblical heroine is, in my opinion, bizarre. I really don't get it. I'm also wondering what the other pastors or elders are thinking about these sermons. Are they all really on board with this?

For more on this:

The Wartburg Watch
Can't Catch My Breath
Sarah Over the Moon
A Slice of Life


Don said...

I'm convinced to there being no biblical story that you don't know and can't offer a sound interpretation.

I've only read bits and pieces of the book of Esther, but, if I'm not mistaken Hadassah was the strong and courageous woman with whom God walked and encouraged along the way to her turning an entire nation upside down?

I'm thinking, if there are some who view Hadassah in an immoral manner then it's one of those situations where her life isn't being viewed from beginning to end while certain parts are presented to perhaps further an underlying agenda of theirs?

In some ways, yes, maybe she proved to be a harlot but overall she became a heroine, correct?

Don said...

he twists the story to fit modern, Western assumptions regarding women, marriage, and family.

Oops. I forgot to copy and paste this passage of your post in the previous comments.

I wanted to ask why is Christianity credited as playing an important role in shaping Western society if it appears to go against pretty much everything moral?

Don said...

I'm unable to view the video at this time, but I read the New York Times article you linked and I can't think of too many things more scary than the thought of a 16 year old female running away from home. Chances are, she'll experience hell of Earth at some point, due to the streets being unkind to young runaways.

Sadly enough, it continues to happen on a daily despite these teenagers knowing what the deal is.

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