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Esther 1:1-22, Queen Vashti

Friday, December 1

Queen Vashti's Sexual Abuse

Yes, today a text from Esther is breaking into our series on Jeremiah. In light of the mounting allegations about sexual misconduct that is dominating our news outlets, I felt we needed a discussion about it here. Thank you for your willingness to journey here with me.

In this first chapter of Esther, we meet King Ahasuerus' queen, Queen Vashti. They lived in a patriarchal society, not at all where husbands and wives were equal partners. Queen Vashti was expected to do whatever her king told her to do. 

King Ahasuerus loved to throw banquets to show off how much power and wealth he had. When Ahasuerus got drunk at one of his raves, he thought it would be fun to show off his queen for all to see. He summoned Vashti to be paraded in front of his guests as a treasure -- an object for him to own and control. She was likely being asked to perform for him and his guests -- think strip club with lap dances. She refused, and was banished from the presence of the king. She would be replaced by a younger, more beautiful virgin, Esther.

Vashti's banishment was not simply because she had refused to obey -- she was banished because her actions might set a precedent among women that they don't have to do what their husbands tell them to do. Fearing a sort of revolt from the women, the king and his court punished to keep other women in their place, and to keep men in power.

Queen Vashti was in an impossible situation. If she had obeyed her king, she would have had to endure sexual abuse. Since she disobeyed her king, she was banished from his presence. As soon as Ahasuerus made the decision to summon her, she became utterly powerless.

The objectification and abuse of women has been happening since the beginning of time. We are living in a very interesting moment in history because women are coming together to reject the social norm that has kept them silent about their abuse. Women are saying, "no more," and the storm is just beginning to brew.

Many years ago, I attended college near LA. I wanted to be a music video editor. I got an internship at a local editing studio, where I followed the men around, watching what they were doing, but rarely having the opportunity to do it myself. One afternoon I was able to sit in on an editing session, and before I knew it, it was night, and everyone had left except the editor and me. All of a sudden I realized I was alone with a man I hardly knew and it was horribly frightening. I quickly made my excuses to leave, and he offered to walk me to my car. At my car, he kissed me, I got in my car, and left. He was married with children. I was 18. I was lucky -- it could have ended much worse for me.

The experience rattled me, and I ultimately left LA knowing I didn't have it in me to do what it would take to survive in that culture. 30 years later, women in Hollywood are still facing the same abuses. In order to make it there, sexual favors are expected, and it's disgusting and aggravating. Maybe there will come a day when young girls wanting to act or sing can do so without losing their integrity. Maybe it will happen in all workplaces, homes, and social atmospheres. Let's face it, these things happen everywhere.

Yes, these things even happen at church. As a young minister, I quickly got used to people commenting on my hair, my clothes, my legs. Men calling me "honey" or "sweetie." Hugging me a little too long. At my first colleague meeting, where I was the only woman, the men laughed and talked about their pickup basketball games, how fun they were, never once considering inviting me to play. Being a mom of two young kids at the time, I commented, "I don't play basketball, but I do play a mean Candyland." I hoped it was just enough to let them know I didn't appreciate their blatant attempt to unwelcome me from their group.

Once I got a phone call from an anonymous person needing pastoral guidance. He launched into a detailed story about a sexual encounter he'd had, and I finally realized it was not a pastoral call -- it was a creeper targeting female ministers. 

These are just a few of the hundreds, if not thousands of experiences I've had with men being inappropriate sexually or gender-wise. Every single woman and young woman I know has also had unbelievable experiences. We've all been pinched, stroked, rubbed, kissed, verbally assaulted, or even raped. We're tired of it. We're tired of it happening. We're tired of being told we are to blame. We're tired of being told it's all in our heads. We're tired of being silenced when we muster the courage to speak about it.

So what can be done? Women and men can both do things to shift the culture. Most men I know aren't rapists, but many are guilty of inappropriate conversations -- if not directly to a woman, then at least to their guy friends. It might seem benign -- nobody heard it but the guys -- but it has to stop. As long as guys are objectifying women, then men will be able to get away with bigger offenses. Men and women have to stop crossing lines. But where are those lines? Here are my boundaries. Feel free to chime in at any time. (I'm not talking about being in an intimate relationship -- these are for platonic relationships.)

What Men Can Do:

  • Don't talk about a woman's breasts, behind, or vagina, or about doing sexual things to a woman. Not to a woman. Not to your friends. Not online. Not by text, Instagram, FB, Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest, or any other form of social media. Not in the bathroom or at your desk.
  • Don't talk about or show your penis.
  • Don't touch a woman's breasts, behind, vagina, hips, legs, stomach, chest, neck. Don't touch any part of her body in a sexual way.
  • Don't tell jokes that objectify a women. She is not your plaything. She is not the butt of your jokes. She is a person.
  • Do hold doors open for women. Hold doors open for men. Hold doors open because you're a nice person, and it's a decent thing to do. Let others hold doors open for you, too.
  • Do flirt. But only... When it's appropriate. With someone your own age. With someone you don't work with, for, or over. With someone who is also flirting with you. 
  • Do speak out against abuses against women. Do call out your friends and colleagues when they speak or behave inappropriately. 
  • Do believe women when they tell you they've been abused or harassed. False accusations number between 2% to 10%. So as many as 98% of the stories you hear are real. Believe it.
  • Do ask what you can do to help. Do be open to conversations about this. Don't get defensive. All women do not hate all men.

What Women Can Do:

  • Do speak out. Yes, we have been conditioned to accept it, to keep it quiet, to move on with our lives. But we have to speak up or it'll never stop. Be brave. Find support. And speak.
  • Do seek help if harassment or abuses are interfering with your ability to function. Help is out there. There's no shame in reaching out.
  • Don't hold all men accountable for the actions of a few. Some men are decent and will support you when you ask.

I look forward to hearing your comments and discussion. We have to talk about this. Things have to change. Thank you for your openness to participate in this important conversation. #metoo

Narrative Lectionary Daily Devotions written by Kace Leetch from Clergy Stuff.

Narrative Lectionary Alternate Text: Esther 1:1-22

This happened in the days of Ahasuerus, the same Ahasuerus who ruled over one hundred twenty-seven provinces from India to Ethiopia. In those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in the citadel of Susa,in the third year of his reign, he gave a banquet for all his officials and ministers. The army of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces were present, while he displayed the great wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and pomp of his majesty for many days, one hundred eighty days in all. When these days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in the citadel of Susa, both great and small, a banquet lasting for seven days, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. There were white cotton curtains and blue hangings tied with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and colored stones. Drinks were served in golden goblets, goblets of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. Drinking was by flagons, without restraint; for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace to do as each one desired. Furthermore, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in the palace of King Ahasuerus.

On the seventh day, when the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha and Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who attended him, to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing the royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the officials her beauty; for she was fair to behold. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command conveyed by the eunuchs. At this the king was enraged, and his anger burned within him. Then the king consulted the sages who knew the laws (for this was the king’s procedure toward all who were versed in law and custom, and those next to him were Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven officials of Persia and Media, who had access to the king, and sat first in the kingdom): “According to the law, what is to be done to Queen Vashti because she has not performed the command of King Ahasuerus conveyed by the eunuchs?” Then Memucan said in the presence of the king and the officials, “Not only has Queen Vashti done wrong to the king, but also to all the officials and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For this deed of the queen will be made known to all women, causing them to look with contempt on their husbands, since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.’ This very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will rebel against the king’s officials, and there will be no end of contempt and wrath! If it pleases the king, let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be altered, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she. So when the decree made by the king is proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, vast as it is, all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low alike.” This advice pleased the king and the officials, and the king did as Memucan proposed; he sent letters to all the royal provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, declaring that every man should be master in his own house.