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Mark Driscoll is Harmfully Wrong About Esther (and Wrong About Women)

I normally don’t post about wild, crazy things other people in the Christian world say or do. There’s plenty of work to be done in my own life and in my own church and in my own neighborhood. And I usually don’t have the time to care. But this issue touched on too many nerves to avoid.

Mark Driscoll writes this in a post promoting his upcoming teaching series on the biblical story of Esther:

[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 be fair, there’s part of that description I agree with. Mainly, this:

[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.

Mark Chagall's Esther

What Mark Driscoll is ascribing to Esther – painting her as a woman who lacks both faith and character who is sexually coercive and manipulative –  is not from the sparsely detailed text of the book of Esther. It’s not from the history of the church’s interpretation of this Jewish writing.

It ignores the narrative storyline clearly showing that Esther was taken, forcibly relocated and coerced into a place of physical and sexual submission by a drunken and despotic fool of a man who used power to get whatever he wanted.

I don’t know where it comes from other than a skewed perspective on women and an agenda-laden filtering of the Scriptures through that skewed perspective.

It comes from an inability to acknowledge broken/sinful cultural conditions leading to a disrespect and abuse of women and an unwillingness to do what’s necessary to participate in correcting those conditions.

It’s unhelpful.

It’s unhealthy.

It’s unfaithful to the Scriptures’ witness to both Esther and women in general.

(For more conversation on this, check out Rachel Held Evans’ good thoughts on this.)

Feel free to agree or disagree by offering a comment….or let’s grab coffee and talk about it.

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27 thoughts on “Mark Driscoll is Harmfully Wrong About Esther (and Wrong About Women)

  1. Noah, yup, I’m not sure either!

    Brie, thanks for the comment….yes, God loves women! Such a simple and concise statement that, unfortunately, has to be stated and cannot just be a “given.”

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    • Yup, I agree that the “character” piece was missed. I’ve always read Esther as a humble, willing, brave, and confident leader. Particularly in the context of the story given – these are virtues, not vices.

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    • I was shocked as this is a beautiful story representing the ministry of Melchisedek. Her Jewish name is the feminine of Melchisedek. He wrote the article as a carnal man, definitely not spiritual.

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    • Heath and Melody, I find myself in unfortunate agreement (on the upsetting/infuriating nature, and on the attempted avoidance). I do hope good and healthy are able to bubble to the surface of this situation.

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  4. I think no 4 is worse:

    4. Esther has been grossly misinterpreted.

    Feminists have tried to cast Esther’s life as a tragic tale of male domination and female liberation. Many evangelicals have ignored her sexual sin and godless behavior to make her into a Daniel-like figure, which is inaccurate. Some have even tried to tie her story in with modern-day, sex-slave trafficking as she was brought before the powerful king as part of his harem. What’s the truth? We will see, as I’m still studying and praying. At the very least, the Community Group and Women’s Bible Study discussions around Esther will be interesting.”

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    • Yeah, not a great paragraph. At the very least, it seems, some humility and awareness that other interpretations might be valid would be nice. Instead, evangelicals (his ‘camp’) have inaccurately ignored” the truth…..though then I get confused when he seems to acknowledge that he’s still studying and praying, searching for the truth. Ahh, well.

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  5. If you want to make a woman crazy, preach that she must obey male authority, especially where sexual behavior is concerned, then teach that a Biblical character who did obey authority was sinful because by her submission she was apparently letting men cater to her needs.

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    • Melody, yes. In the way of thinking that seems to be represented here, there seems to be few (if any) ways a woman can be faithful without falling into one of these two “traps.”

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  7. Although this would be the first time I’ve heard the story of Esther in the light Mark Driscoll says he will shed onto it, I’m still looking forward to hearing his take on this nonetheless. I will say I was shocked to hear him say Esther had sinned sexually, but I can’t find any evidence to discredit either his theory or yours. While I’m not willing to say yet, until I hear his series, that I agree with his take on Esther- I have read his books, listened to his sermons, read his blogs…and anyone who truly does research on him (instead of those who I’ve seen/read all around the internet who like to jump on the media’s bandwagon of calling him a woman-hater) can tell that he gives incredible value to women, and INCREDIBLE responsibility to men to treat women as precious creatures, and it seems his heart is in the right place with most of his teachings. If God lays thoughts on his, or anyone else’s heart, that don’t contradict scripture- then who are we to accuse him of what some on even this blog have done. After all, can anyone in this forum show that he is wrong? Let’s hold judgement until we hear what he has to say and can PROVE he is wrong…isn’t that the godly thing to do?

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    • Brittany, thanks for your comments. A few thoughts in return:

      (1) Since 2005 I’ve read a few of Driscoll’s books (his earliest and his latest, at least…skipped most in between), listened to his sermons, and read his blogs. So that’s 7 years of watching, listening, and (too often) cringing. At some point it’s okay to look at his track record and, absent any indication of a change of heart or direction, make an assumption based on what’s happened in the past.

      (2) If he had just raised the POSSIBILITY of Esther’s background in the promotional material used to raise interested in the series, I think you’d have a point. But he doesn’t do that. He’s not asking questions. He’s making *statements* about who Esther is, what kind of character she has, and what kind of faith she has.

      And, I, too, can’t find any evidence…to prove his theory. I read through Esther after reading Mark’s thoughts. I couldn’t find any indication in the biblical text for the claims he’s making. Having spent time in school studying the ancient near eastern background of the story, I don’t see his interpretation making any sense in light of the cultural environment of the story.

      What he is saying about Esther does not arise from the text and it does not make sense given the historical and cultural situation of the text. To me, that’s enough to say it’s contradictory to the general narrative and hermeneutic of the Scriptural witness and an erroneous line of interpretation that’s damaging and harmful to women, to men, to the church, and to the watching world.

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    • The point is that Esther is not even about sexual sin; it’s about salvation- sovereign grace in an imperfect world. Beyond that, Esther was clearly a virgin until given to the king.

      Since Esther was most likely purer before her “wedding night” with the king than many girls today are on a mutually-desired wedding night, it is an abuse of the worst sort to call her a “sexual sinner”.

      I don’t argue that Esther was not a sinner, since we all are. I argue that to say “Her behavior is sinful” in dubious context entirely misses the point of God’s grace and the focus of the book.

      To throw out a comment about Esther rather than to focus on God’s sovereign grace in an imperfect situation shows an immature view of what matters! “But you were washed, you were…” etc. is the focus of the gospel that Mark purports to preach.

      The church community is responsible to call abusive language what it is, and to stand up to those who “teach what not ought to be taught”. (see Titus 1 and 2) That’s why many of us are so upset about this; we have to stand for what is right even if that hurts Mark’s feelings or those of his supporters.

      Personally I am praying that he’ll start to listen to how he makes some of us women feel.

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  8. Go to his website and watch the Peasant Princess series. That will really give you an idea of his teachings on the sexes (and sex). Mark Driscoll preaches soft porm from the pulpit, telling intimate details of his own relationship with his wife, and telling very disturbing dreams. Anyone who who listens to, or read, Mark Driscoll in light of scripture, can’t help but be convinced that he is DEAD WRONG. Not to mention his associations he keeps (i.e. the Elephant Room)- Mark Driscoll has some serious porblems.

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  11. Shanti says:

    Thanks Dave.

    We have come a long way in Western history to give every individual equal worth in society. That certain pastors miss this and assume all women (slaves or not) had equal access to free choice boggles my mind. Her “beauty regimes” (probably sex lessons), her “landing” the guy (since Driscoll is a Calvinist, I would have thought Xerxes choosing her would be viewed as divine intervention), and her character (Mordecai told her to hide her identity, that would have meant laying low on personality) were all foisted on her by grave circumstances, not something she chose for herself out of vanity.

    Had she been a Bachelor contestant, why would she have listened to the head eunuch? A Hollywood wannabe would know best, chose best and do her own thing. Esther knows she’s a fish out of water, has never met the King and wisely listens to those who are on her side (the eunuchs).

    He (Driscoll) can twist the gullible into believing he is just trying to do what is right. He is now saying he is still learning and praying – never mind last week he was going to teach Esther as no one had dared to before (does this complete reversal not warrant an apology?). Anyone who thinks Driscoll treats women right (values them) should look at the first chapter of his book on Marriage. He admits he preached out of a root of bitterness (so not even he claims he valued women much). It was obvious to those who really do value all people as children of God, not just submissive church-wives, but all women. Driscoll may talk nicely at times, but his treatment of fellow church workers shows a dark, lurking shadows (characteristic narcissistic behaviour).

    His teachings are not entirely unique, a few other commentators have tried to malign Esther, but only those with a negative attitude towards women would bite that bait. The truth is, women in the ancient world didn’t own their sexuality. They were expected to do what the men wanted them to do (fathers married daughters, or sold them into slavery, slave owners owned their sexuality, and were free to marry them to other household slaves if they chose – all in the Old Testament law). Esther is living the life she was handed. She was never in sexual sin (defined by losing her virginity before being married off by a male relative or slave-owner’s decree) by her day’s standard. Driscoll is looking for a hook to give his congregation a new slant (against feminists, for macho culture) on an old story and make himself a cool, insightful preacher. Problem is, he is twisting the Bible beyond description to get to it, and losing his status as a “bible teacher” in the process. I predict he will either a) turn it back to the usual teachings* (making his intro a joke) or b) spend the whole time trying to take pot-shots at feminists, liberals, and serious attempts to place the story in it’s rightful place and time, yet offer nothing but a critique of post-modern western culture as the “edgy” alternative.

    *God is really the force behind the events, It is a story of God’s faithfulness to the Jews despite the dark circumstances, We can follow God even when placed in horrible situations (you know, all the stuff that Driscoll claims is rarely taught by preachers)

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  12. Steve says:

    He may be right, he may be wrong. We can’t
    Know for sure. It may be helpful when
    Preaching to emphasize that we can’t be sure of the things we are not told absolutely – but
    to Infer and suggest ideas about what may be going on is ok. To be fair to Driscoll, he does preface some of his statements with “I think” and finish them with “that’s what I think is going on”

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