Many know the story of Queen Esther from the Bible. However, often our own culture and struggles can lead us to “discover” lessons that are not part of the text, or miss important details that are. Often in churches, Esther becomes obscured to the point where this brave woman who was mightily used by God becomes passively subject to the decisions of men. For example, a marriage book released recently by a popular pastor and his wife used the story of Esther to promote obedience to one’s husband, contrasting disobedient Queen Vashti with a “submissive” Esther. Is submission to one’s husband truly the lesson of this narrative?
I was raised in Christian purity culture. I proudly wore my “True Love Waits” ring. I read Joshua Harris’s Christian cult classic, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. And today, I’m a psychologist and a vocal critic of purity culture.
A few weeks ago, I was in Sofia, Bulgaria, for a day. I stopped for about twelve hours between night buses to see the sights, including a beautiful, vibrant mosque near the center of town. I did some online research on dress protocol beforehand: cover your skin, wear something on your head, take your shoes off. Nothing unexpected. I had a scarf and a maxi skirt in my backpack for this purpose. I was happy to be respectful, and excited for a new experience. I arrived at the mosque, circled around to the front, and . . . walked away. I felt nervous, suddenly, and upset.
I know that lack of sex and consent education harmed my husband’s and my sex life in the early years of our marriage. But as I look back, I realize that’s only one side of the coin. The other was biblical illiteracy.
If we want to see women free, we have to challenge the message that passivity is godly. We have to encourage women to boldly exercise their God-given authority. We must image Bible women who took direct action to further God’s vision for the world.
In recovering from anorexia, I had to relearn how to read Scripture, not as separate, disjointed messages colored by the voices of male “authority” around me, but as a whole, creative, redemptive narrative of God’s journey of trust with God’s people.
Does the Bible really body-shame women? Does it exonerate men when they objectify women? Proponents will say they don’t exonerate men. Men are still guilty, but women, the victims of men’s objectification, are guilty too. But there’s a chasm of difference between “men are guilty, period” and “men and women are both guilty.”