October 2, 2018
This past Sunday, the lectionary reading featured the story of Esther. Hadassah, better known as Esther, was a woman of Jewish descent who came to be the queen of King Ahasuerus, known also as King Xerxes. Her story is one of great bravery, resilience, cunning, advocacy and consensus-making. Because of her resolve and faith, Esther was able to thwart a planned genocide of her people, the Hebrew people. She spoke the truth, and truly had to negotiate the patriarchal atmosphere so that that truth would be heard and heeded.
There is another part of the story that should be told. Queen Esther was sought because the previous queen, Vashti, had been summoned to dance at one of the many parties of the king. When asked, Vashti declined to attend. She did not dance.
In response, rather than honoring her self-agency, the king was enraged. The Scripture says King Ahasuerus brought together his advisors to determine what could be done as a result of her obstinance. The advisors told the king that not only had she offended the king, but she had rebelled against the king’s official and ultimately all men. Once other women got a whiff of their ability not to obey men, they would follow Vashti’s lead and start a revolution.
This could not be tolerated. The king made a decree that all women of every status, in all the many provinces over which had power, to honor and obey their husbands. Vashti was deposed, and Esther was brought in as his young, beautiful, and hopefully submissive and obedient new queen. Her job was to be beautifully silent.
Surprise, surprise! It was true in antiquity and is true today that the system of patriarchy and misogyny is in full swing. The story of Vashti and Esther could not have come at a better time. There are still women who wish only to speak their truth who are shut down, deposed and silenced. There are kings and advisors who still gather to determine what to do with women perceived as obstinate and disobedient. There are still men who deem it their right to legislate women’s bodies, to exploit and objectify them without limit.
I pray that the church universal is aware of how we support patriarchy, and how our society has silenced too many Vashtis, and forced too many Esthers to be exploited and in the position of being re-traumatized with the hope of being believed. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, somehow together, we must make space to hear the painful and traumatic stories of women who have been deposed, raped, sexually assaulted and degraded by men, even when the words are politically untimely. Somehow, the church must help to create an environment where women and men can tell their #metoo stories. We can help show the hypocrisy of punishing victims for not sharing when largely few are believed, and our legal system does not support their claims. Let us stand with the most vulnerable and understand the patriarchy will not dismantle by itself. As allies and co-conspirators of justice, let us hold folk accountable and hold ourselves to the promise of Esther, for when we do so, we all shall be free. – Rev. Dr. Kelle Brown