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Esther, Mark Driscoll, and using rape to control women

 

Queen Esther – copyright 2006 Lilian Broca

[Trigger warning for rape apologism and Mark Driscoll quotes]

Growing up, the book of Esther was always my favorite because it featured two very brave women.

First, there was Vashti. I’ve loved Vashti ever since a grade school teacher came to class dressed up as Vashti and told us the story about how she had been exiled by the king because she asserted herself and refused to dance for the king’s drunken friends. She was a brave woman who claimed her body as her own–rather than her tyrant husband’s–in a day and age where women were viewed as property by most people.

Esther was always my favorite Bible character. As a kid, I loved her because she was a girl, and the Bible doesn’t talk about many of those. Plus she was brave. She was taken from her home and forced to marry a ruler who was oppressing her people. She was sexually exploited and probably raped, but still she boldly disobeyed the king’s orders, risking her life, and demanded that he protect her people.

In short, both of these women faced the horrors of male domination. Both of these women kicked ass in spite of those horrors.

The book of Esther contains a powerful message. Women disobeying men and saving the world. Women asserting their bodily autonomy. Women who are brave and strong and active and anything but submissive. It’s a message so powerful that some male Christian leaders have to undermine it because it threatens the control that they have over women. 

Mark Driscoll (as always, every mention of Driscoll’s name will have a hyperlink to an adorable bunny. Enjoy) is one such male Christian leader who seems to have an obsessive need to control women. He has recently made attempts at undermining both Vashti and Esther–attempts that make his disdain for women increasingly obvious.

His attempts aren’t original by any means. The only thing shocking about them is their boldness. Where most men are subtle about their attempts to water down Esther and Vashti’s stories, Mark Driscoll doesn’t even try to hide. Here are a few excerpts from a recent post on his website, emphasis mine (you can read the whole thing here if you’re concerned about context. As is often the case with Driscoll, I think the context just makes it worse):

Esther is painfully normal.

Her behavior is sinful and she spends around a year in the spa getting dolled up to lose her virginity with the pagan king…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…

He continues:

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…

According to Mark Driscoll, this brave Jewish heroine was “godless,” “sinful,” lacking in character, and just trying to trade in her virginity for a rich husband and a life of pampering.  

What about Vashti, then, who refused to allow the king to sexually exploit her? Does Driscoll praise her effort to fight back against her male oppressor? Don’t be silly. Of course not. In fact, in his book, Real Marriage, criticizes Vashti for refusing to submit to her husband.

Neither of these women can do right, according to Driscoll’s narrative, and that’s just the way he wants it. That’s how he maintains the careful hierarchy he has set up, with him and Cage Fighting Jesus on top. 

Mark Driscoll, like Jared and Douglas Wilson and so many others before them, uses rape to control women. No, I’m not accusing him of actually raping women or even of actively approving of the rape of women. He doesn’t have to. All he has to do is retell the stories of two women who didn’t have a chance to say no. 

By retelling Esther’s story, he turns every victim of rape or sexual exploitation into a godless sinner, rather than a brave survivor. By retelling Vashti’s story, he turns every victim of male-on-female domestic abuse into a shrew that had it coming and should have submitted in the first place.

When Driscoll retells these stories, he takes away our heroes and turns them into tools of oppression. He uses them to tell women how to act, how to think, how to feel. He tells women, though these stories, that before marriage they must defend their virginity, even to the death. That failing to defend their virginity, even against powerful rapists, makes women worthless. He tells women that we do not have the right to our own bodies once we marry. That we do not have the right to tell our husbands no.

That before marriage, giving into rape is a sin. That after marriage, fighting back against rape is a sin.

That we can’t win.

That’s the message that Mark Driscoll ultimately  relays to women in his retelling of Esther. That no matter what we do, we can’t win. 

 

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Is patriarchy idolatry?

I’ve been reading feminist theology lately and learning to view Christianity from angles that I never even imagined. Take, for example, this quote from Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Sexism and God-Talk: 

Israel is to make no…graven image of God; no pictorial or verbal representation of God can be taken literally. By contrast, Christian sculpture and painting represents God as a powerful old man with a white beard, even crowned and robed in the insignia of human kings or the triple tiara of the pope. The message created by such images is that God is both similar to and represented by patriarchal leadership…Such imaging of God should be judged for what it is–as idolatry, as the setting up of certain human figures as the privileged images and representations of God.

Ruether claims that this idea of idolatry–that viewing any human image as a literal description of God rather than as an analogy that aids human understanding and breaks earthly power structures–must be extended to verbal imagery as well.

When the word Father is taken literally to mean that God is male and not female, represented by males and not females, then this word becomes idolatrous…The revelation to Moses in the burning bush gives as the name of God only the enigmatic “I am what I shall be.” God is person without being imaged by existing social roles. God’s being is open-ended, pointing both to what is and to what can be.

Ruether’s words challenge Christians to think about what images (visual or verbal) of God we are using, and why we are using them.

Do we call God our king as a way of declaring that our allegiance is not to the flag of an imperial state? Or do we call God our king, and then form God into a tyrant whose decrees sound an awful lot like our own beliefs?

Do we call God our father in order to undermine the patriarchal authority of men who seek to oppress wives and daughters? Or do we call God our father and then insist that mothers (and other women) have no authority in the church, because Christianity has a “masculine” feel?

Many of the verbal images of God we find in the Bible were meant to be taken as analogies that empower us to “obey God rather than man.” They were not meant to be seen as literal ideas of who God is, what God looks like, and especially which of us humans get to be the most god-like.

Image

Behold, white Jesus!

Our images of God should challenge oppressive power structures, rather than simply providing a mirror for them to gaze into. Those images of God should free us to speak and to serve and to love, not simply entangle us further in the chains that society has already placed upon us.

When our images of God simply become a way of making God look just like oppressive men and husbands and fathers and kings and popes and pastors and white people, and, in turn, making those people look an awful lot like God, maybe we need to repent of our idolatry.


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Our Mother who art in heaven…

I’m trying this new thing where I don’t just think of God as a man. Where I get this image out of my head that God is an old man that looks like Gandalf and has Morgan Freeman’s voice. Where I let God out of this box of masculinity that God’s been confined to.

It’s difficult. The images of God that we focus on in the Bible are all quite masculine. God is a Father. God is a King. God as a husband. God is He and Him. And to complicate matters, the preachers that have always told me about God were men. Jesus was a man. The twelve apostles were men.

Our male pastors and theologians remind us of this over and over and over until it almost seems like blasphemy when someone suggests that God doesn’t look like George Bluth Sr. with a beard. In fact, I’ve been told twice this week alone that to call God a woman is disrespectful to God.

Image

But, I think this view of God can be limiting.

The truth is, whatever God is, God isn’t really a father or a king or a husband. According to our Judeo-Christian tradition, God is something beyond our human understanding. God is a spirit that is neither male nor female. God is something that placed God’s image on each human–male and female and even those who don’t fit in either category. What we have with the Bible is humankind’s various ways of trying to understand and relate to this Abrahamic/Christian God–humankind’s attempt at documenting God’s interactions and impact on the world.

The writers of the Bible often do this by describing God as something that we can understand. We can imagine the protective father, the mighty king, and the faithful husband.

Furthermore, we Christians often describe God as an object or an animal. We can call God a rock, a tower. A shield. We can picture God as the roaring lion of Judah or the lamb being led to slaughter.

But call God a woman? That’s disrespect.

The argument I usually hear is that the Bible never pictures God as these things, and I can’t help but think that our male leaders have let us down or deliberately with-held information from us.

Because friends, oh friends, even the patriarchal Biblical writers recognized “feminine” aspects of God.

Isaiah 42:14 “For a long time I have held my peace…now I will cry out like a woman in labor”

Isaiah 66:13 “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you”

Isaiah 46:3 “Listen to me, O house of Jacob…who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb”

Deuteronomy 32:18 “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.”

Job 38:29 “From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the frost of heaven?”

Isaiah 49:15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”

Luke 13:34 “…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”

With the exception of transgendered men, men do not cry out in labor pains. Men do not breastfeed their children. These are traits limited to those with a female biology.

Yet we never sing praises to God the mother.

In fact, these passages are rarely even brought up in discussions of God’s identity.

I have to ask, why?

Why?

It cannot be ignorance. Our preachers who spent years in seminaries could not have missed so many obvious descriptions of the feminine aspects of God.

Are we so blinded by our preconceived notions of “Our Father who art in heaven,” that we read these verses never even stop to think that, perhaps saying “Our Mother” could be just as valid?

Or we afraid that if women could really see the image of God in themselves they would stop tolerating the second-class status that the church and society has placed them in? That they would start proclaiming that image with action and with words and with song?

Are we afraid that, if God is feminine, then what we have done to women in this world, we have also done to God?

Why do we not embrace God as our mother?

What are we so afraid of?


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If the Bible had an F.A.Q. section…

Do you ever wish that the Bible had an F.A.Q. section?

Or maybe it does, and I just haven’t found it yet. Some Christians probably have–you know, the one’s who are always saying, “The Bible clearly says that…” Yeah, those Christians must have found the F.A.Q. section.

Because, let’s be honest. The Bible is anything but clear.

It’s complicated, contradictory, and confusing.

If the Bible had an F.A.Q. section, this is what I’d like to see in it:

*What IS salvation?

*Is there a hell? What’s it like? And why would God send people there if he loves them?

*Why did God kill so many people in the Old Testament, and then turn around and tell us to be peacemakers in the New Testament?

*Gender roles…what’s up with that?

*Does God really hate gay people?

*Can I please have sex with my fiancé?

I’d like to know these things. Because I can’t find the answers in the Bible, even though people are constantly telling me that the answers are clear.

But, maybe the Bible isn’t about finding answers. Maybe Christianity isn’t about knowing everything. Maybe we shouldn’t spend our lives fighting about what’s right.

And maybe we should just focus on being more like Jesus. After all, as Robert Fischer said in an interview with Rachel Held Evans, “The Bible is not ‘The Word of God.’ Jesus is ‘The Word of God.’ Jesus is not the Bible. Ergo, ‘The Word of God’ is not the Bible.”

If we love Jesus and strive to be like him, following the leading of the Holy Spirit, then I think we’ll be okay, even if we disagree with one another on some of the details. Even ol’ Paul recognized that sometimes, “right and wrong” can be subjective.

Sure, we can have discussions (you know I love them!) about these things. In fact, I think we need to have discussions about these things. But let’s stop assuming that everyone who disagrees with us is just a heretic who hates the Bible. Let’s stop silencing those who are seeking answers with the “The Bible clearly says…” phrase.

The Bible’s not clear.

And maybe…just maybe, that’s a good thing.

If the Bible really did have an F.A.Q. section, what questions would you hope to see in there? 


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Find God’s will for your life…or else!

You know what will drive you absolutely bonkers?

Trying to find God’s will for your life.

Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe your Bible has a built in GPS with a direct line to heaven that tells you, in a creepy robotic voice,”Turn right in 300 feet.” “Go to Grace College in 2 months.” “Marry Dave now.” But I know mine doesn’t.

I grew up hearing sermon after sermon, reading book after book, about finding God’s will for my life. The idea was that God has a list of things that he wants me to do, and I had better figure them out or I might end up miserable and/or in the belly of a whale. Is God going to tell me what’s on that list? Don’t be silly! That’d be too easy.  But God does give us hints if we read our Bibles and pray.

And until we figure that out, we had better wait on God.

But we have to be careful- or Satan will trick us into wanting something that’s not God’s will.

So, basically, the message that I took away from high school was this:

If I can’t find it in the Bible, it’s probably not God’s will. But the Bible obviously isn’t going to tell me point blank. I have to read between the lines. It’s like a spiritual scavenger hunt!

If I don’t hear God tell me something, I better just do nothing because I supposed to wait on him. And if I do hear something, I better make sure it wasn’t just Satan talking. How should I know the difference? Well, I don’t know but if I had to guess, I’d say that God’s voice sounds a little like Morgan Freeman’s. So, just make sure it’s not Morgan himself whispering in your ear and you’re good.

And if I actually want to do something, it’s probably not really God’s will. In fact, I should probably do something that I hate and ask God to change my heart.

And if I get it wrong, my life is going to suck forever.  

Complicated, huh?

In fact, it’s kinda the stuff of nightmares and panic attacks and probably also part of the reason I grind my teeth and like razor blades a little too much

Because I’ve never read my Bible and thought, “Willikers! This verse in II Chronicles seems to strongly suggest that I become a music historian. Jolly good.” (I always feel like I should talk like this in a British accent when I read the King James Bible. Am I the only one?)

When my boyfriend asked me on a date, I didn’t hear either God or Morgan Freeman yell down from heaven, “SAY YES!”

But I became a music historian anyway because I…gasp…LIKE music history. And I said yes to Abraham (wow…my boyfriend’s name is Abraham. This kind of kills my whole point, doesn’t it?) because I thought he was attractive and because he liked Queen. And I haven’t been struck by lightning yet.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think God’s will works like that. Not at all.

Do I think the Bible and prayer can give us direction in life? Yes! They are great things that God gave us.

But you know what else God gives us?

Brains.

Common sense.

Strengths.

Spiritual gifts.

Desires.

And a way for all of us to live, regardless of who we marry or what college we go to or what career we have.

I don’t think we have to bend the Bible out of shape in order to find God’s will. It’s God’s will for us to love and to forgive and to help others. It’s God’s will for us to live purely and selflessly. We know that.

And I can do that whether I join the Peace Corps or work at Taco Bell.

I cna do that whether I marry Abraham or Isaac or Jacob.

I can do that at Ohio State or at the University of Michigan.

Finding God’s will isn’t so much about what we do with our lives. It’s more about who we live our lives for.

So, wherever you end up in life, serve others.

THAT’S God’s will.

…And if Morgan Freeman is whispering in your ear giving you life advice, well, I really don’t know what to tell you.


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An Egalitarian submits

I said I wasn’t going to write anything this weekend, but inspiration knocked and I answered! Plus, I felt like I needed to share these thoughts with you before I could discuss my doubts about feminism and egalitarianism.

NOT me

Enjoy! 

I, Sarah Moon, the feminist, the egalitarian, the independent, 21st century woman, have a confession to make….

Sometimes I clean my boyfriend’s apartment.

Now, if you think I do so wearing a sun dress and pearls while whistling to that song from Snow White, you’ve got another thing coming (if anything, I play broom guitar while belting out Pink Floyd, but that’s another story). But, believe it or not, there have been a couple of times where my boyfriend came home to a clean apartment, thanks to me.

Totally me!

One of those times was last week. I had recently had a short relapse back into my self-injury addiction and was having a rough time as a result. My boyfriend, being the awesome guy that he is, invited me over, bought me Taco Bell, gave me a shoulder to cry on, allowed me to sleep on his couch, and let me relax (and play his video games) at his razor-blade free house while he was at work the next day.

He went out of his way for me. He took care of me when I was depressed (and I am NOT fun to be around when I am depressed). So, when I was feeling better, I cleaned his apartment out of gratitude for his hospitality.

Because Abraham (yes…my boyfriend’s name is Abraham and my name is Sarah. If you can come up with a joke about that that I haven’t heard before, I’ll be highly impressed!) and I hope to have a Christ-centered marriage in the future, I try to practice the principals for marriage that Paul laid out in Ephesians 5:22-25 (feminist friends, stick with me, and complementarian friends, don’t get too excited)

22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

When Abe gives to me sacrificially (even if he’s only “bearing the cross” of paying for my Taco Bell), I want to respond by giving back to him, just as I want to give back to the Christ who gave sacrificially to me.

Some people stop here. They come to this conclusion- men give, women receive. Men act, women respond. Men lead, women follow.

But I think we need to back up a bit. Yup put those Bibles into reverse and take a look at verse 21.

 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

One another. As in EVERYONE in the body of Christ has got to do some submitting here.

Here’s the thing- we’re ALL called to love like Christ. And we’re ALL called to submit to those who show us Christ-like love. We’re all supposed to give and we’re all supposed to receive gratefully. We’re all supposed to act and we’re all supposed to respond to action. We’re all supposed to lead in some ways and all supposed to follow in others.

I helped my boyfriend move into his new apartment in April. So, he responded by returning the favor when I moved into my new house last month. He even did my dishes.

See? That time I gave and he submitted.

Was that wrong? Does that make me a usurper of male authority? Does it make my boyfriend “whipped?”

No, no, and no! I don’t carry a whip in this relationship, and neither does he. We don’t have to, because there is mutual giving and mutual submission.

Now, sometimes, one gender may have to give more. In Paul’s time, most women had less to give, unfortunately. They had almost no political power and were treated very much like property. Paul must have seen the Spiderman movie, because he recognized that men had more power and therefore gave them more responsibility.

Paul’s words are still relevant today. But things have changed.

Women have more power today than they did (speaking as an American. Tragically, things are even worse than they were in Paul’s day for some countries), and to suggest that women shouldn’t use that power based on Ephesians 5 is to miss Paul’s point which is this:

Give to the weaker vessel. That’s what Christ did.

The “weaker vessel” isn’t always the woman in this culture. In most relationships, a husband will be weaker in some areas of life and a wife will be weaker in others. And, no, there are no areas where a man should be stronger or vise-versa. Gender roles are silly. Individual roles, based on each person’s own strengths and personality, are the way to go!

So, man or woman, husband or wife- if you have something to give the world, give it!

And man or woman, husband or wife- follow the example of those who give to you by giving back.

It’s not about power.

It’s about continuing a cycle of love.


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Love may Win, but Environment Loses (via Images and Words)

My boyfriend decided to judge Rob Bell before reading his book. Check out his blog for yet another review of Love Wins (from a perspective that you probably haven’t heard yet). I may be biased, but I think it’s pretty dang funny.

Love may Win, but Environment Loses Garbage, utter garbage. And I say garbage with utter contempt, because as a proud recycling citizen of the U.S., I find contempt in garbage. And I find nothing but garbage in Rob Bell's book, Love Wins. The book has gained quite the controversy in conservative Christian circles, and I can see why. Mr. Bell takes Bible verses out of context and completely goes against Christian doctrine well worn as your favorite pair of work boots. Work boots tha … Read More

via Images and Words