#TheNewPacifism: Preston Sprinkle, and the Cost of “Privileged Pacifism”

It’s that time of year again! My friend Rod is hosting the second annual #TheNewPacifism synchroblog over at Political Jesus. This synchroblog is for starting new conversations about pacifism, in light of privilege, injustice, and the intersections of gender, race, class, queerness, and other factors. Last year I contributed with my series on Privileged Pacifism. I have a few posts up my sleeve this year as well, and here’s the first.

Be sure to check out #TheNewPacifism! This year’s theme is The Cost of Peace. Read, tweet, or contribute your own posts. You can write these posts on your own blog, and share them on Political Jesus, or you can email me at moonsn11@gmail.com if you don’t have a blog of your own–I would love to host you here on Sarah Over The Moon as a guest poster. 

Image by Alan Hooker
Image by Alan Hooker

[Content Note: Rape, Sexual Assault, Victim Blaming]

Last year, during The New Pacifism synchroblog, I unleashed years worth of frustration with what I call “privileged pacifists.” Privileged Pacifists are usually white, non-queer men, who preach non-violence without considering the impact their words have on survivors of abuse and people who are part of oppressed groups (people of color, women, queer people, etc.) Simplistic definitions of pacifism can end up revictimizing survivors, and pacifism can be even used to cover up abuse (as in the case of John Howard Yoder).

Privileged pacifism often puts survivors in situations where they can’t win. I think a prime example of this can be seen in a recent blog post by evangelical pacifist Preston Sprinkle (content note for victim blaming on that link).

In this post, entitled “The Esther You Never Knew,” Sprinkle treats the Biblical character of Esther in a way that is reminiscent of the treatment Mark Driscoll has given her in the past. His argument isn’t a new one(though he seems to think it is). It’s pretty common way for people in rape culture to interpret the book of Esther. Sprinkle admits that Esther is a victim of sexual violence, and not a completely willing participant in the sexual acts she is subjected to, saying (emphasis mine):

“But she didn’t have a choice,” you say. “She would have been killed if she resisted king Xerxes!” Yes, this is probably true

This admission makes his views on Esther even more harmful than Driscoll’s because he argues from the knowledge that sexual violence took place in this story (whereas Mark Driscoll simply refuses to address the context of violence and moves on to calling Esther immoral). Even though Sprinkle knows Esther’s situation was likely much closer to one of rape or sexual assault than consensual sex, he says the following (emphasis mine):

Esther does not resist being taken into Xerxes’s (a pagan king) harem and participating in his beauty contest (2:8).

Esther not only spent the night with the king before they were married, but of all the virgins that went in to the king, Esther “pleased him the most” (2:9, 16-17). I’ll let you do the exegesis on what went on that night, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t playing cards.

after spending the night, Esther marries Xerxes—a pagan king—in blatant violation of Mosaic law.

Sprinkle’s conclusion, in light of these events, is that Esther is “morally suspect” and guilty of “sexual failures.” He, like Driscoll, contrasts Esther with Daniel, arguing: 

The Bible encourage obedience even if it costs you your life. (emphasis mine)   …There is little about Esther that could be considered morally upright according to the standards of Mosaic law. I certainly wouldn’t want my daughters to follow in the footsteps of Esther. (emphasis original)

Sprinkle is the author of a book arguing for non-violence, Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence. Elsewhere, in a guest post for Rachel Held Evans’s blog, Sprinkle argues,

Throughout His ministry, Jesus never retaliates (emphasis mine) and always loves His enemies even when He is violently attacked.Jesus’s nonviolent, non-retaliatory journey to the cross is also a pattern for us to imitate. (emphasis original)

Why is Jesus’s non-resistance to violence praised as something for Christians to follow, while Esther’s non-resistance makes her a “sexual failure?” My only guess is that Sprinkle does not see rape as violence,* but as sex, which is an extremely harmful mindset for victims and survivors. 

Note here that I am not suggesting that survivors/victims should not fight back (even “violently” if necessary) against rape in order to be like Jesus. I do not believe that self-defense in such a context counts as violence. But there is a blatant hypocrisy in Sprinkle’s comments about Esther, in light of his views on non-violence and Jesus.

Rape is violence, and no one response to someone threatened with it is “right” or “wrong.” Sometimes women are given the choice to “do this or be killed,” and survivors/victims who simply give in are not giving in to sex. They are being subjected to a horrific violence.

Not everyone is even given this choice.

There is no indication in the story of Esther that the women in the king’s harem were even given the choice to sleep with the king or die (as one commenter on Sprinkle’s post so smartly pointed out). We don’t know what options Esther had and we don’t even know whether or not she resisted. She very well might have pleased the king the most because she put up a fight and the king was a violent man who enjoyed asserting his power over reluctant women. We can hypothesize about this all day long, but that’s not really the point.

The point is that Sprinkle, an expert on Christian pacifism, would rather his daughters end up dead (“I certainly wouldn’t want my daughters to follow in the footsteps of Esther) then end up becoming rape victims/survivors. 

This kind of pacifism doesn’t bring about Shalom. It doesn’t bring about the true peace of God, who is a God of survivors.

It sends a message to all rape survivors/victims who didn’t fight back to the point of death that they are sinners for not resisting. That the fact they are alive is proof that they were not truly raped, and therefore are “sexual failures.”

This message doesn’t occur in a vacuum either. It occurs in a world where, unless victims are bloody and bruised after being raped, they are rarely believed. Where even sometimes when victims are bloody and bruised afterward, they are not believed.

A pacifism that perpetuates rape culture isn’t a pacifism that belongs in the Kin-dom of God. It is an Empire pacifism that uses non-violent rhetoric to justify continued violence against survivors. 

Pacifists like Preston Sprinkle are not the ones that should be getting book deals. They are not the leaders that Christian pacifists should be following. Their pacifism upholds, rather than tears down, violent systems. Pacifists like Sprinkle are the reason #TheNewPacifism needs to exist. We need a better conversation.

*Update: as a friend on Twitter pointed out, Sprinkle’s definition of violence in his book Fight does include rape. However, I still believe that Sprinkle is guilty here of holding a limited definition of rape. When he paints Esther’s non-consensual, forced encounter with the king as a sinful choice Esther made, he is excluding Esther’s experience from falling under that definition, which is harmful. He is arguing that certain non-consensual sex acts are not “violent enough,” and therefore the victim is to blame for “giving in.”

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