Mark Driscoll and Esther: Is No Old Testament Heroine Beyond Smearing?

I somehow missed this when it happened, but back in 2012 now-disgraced evangelical megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll preached a sermon series on the book of Esther that was masterful in its shocking awfulness. A slew of female bloggers pushed back against his ludicrous claims.

Driscoll introduced the series here:

She 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.

He specifically uses the language of sexual sin:

Many evangelicals have ignored her sexual sin and godless behavior to make her into a Daniel-like figure, which is inaccurate.

Then, in another introductory announcement for the series, he adds this:

Perhaps the ancient story of Esther is more timely than ever. A single woman, who is barely spiritual sleeping with a bad guy due in part to the fact she has no family to lean on, meets God, is transformed, and is used by God to save others.

What in the world.

Apparently I am still capable of being shocked.

I grew up in an evangelical church, and I never heard anything like this.

Rachel Held Evans wrote in 2012, while responding to Driscoll, that she never learned in Sunday school that Esther was taken into the harem or anything about that aspect of the story. Presumably, her teachers went straight to the part where Esther was the queen. Not so in my case. I don’t know what they taught in Sunday school (my parents didn’t think much of Sunday school, so I rarely went). I learned these stories, instead, while sitting through sermons with my parents and during daily Bible study at home.

I learned all about the story of Esther. For all their emphasis on modesty and sexual celibacy before marriage, my parents didn’t avoid the unsavory bits of the Bible—including things like rape. I learned about Tamar and her brother. I learned about Dinah. And I certainly learned about Esther. My mother taught the story of Esther as one of sexual coercion—Esther was living in a society where she had no choice, she was rounded up by soldiers under the decree of the King, and even Mordecai lacked the ability to oppose the King’s men.

Still, if Driscoll’s sermon series revealed anything, it’s that evangelicals are more than capable of smearing every Old Testament heroine with labels like whore. While I didn’t (thank the universe) learn the story of Esther this way, I certainly learned the story of Bathsheba this way. I would have thought that Esther was one story that was above any such smearing, but it seems I was wrong.

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