Pagan King “Wisdom”
In the somewhat controversial post Barbara and I wrote The Failure of Ministry – Character Flaws Unique to Women, a reader brought up the possibility that pastors are fearful of permitting divorce in the case of abuse because then “everyone might claim abuse just so they can divorce and get out of an unhappy marriage.” And Barbara brought up Esther, saying that King Ahasuerus and his nobles were “motivated by the base desire to keep women under.”
For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, ‘King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.’ This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen’s conduct will respond to all the king’s nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord.
“Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she. Then when the king’s edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest.” (Esther 1:17-20, NIV)
The great King of Persia, and the ‘wise men’ that surrounded him believed that if one woman in a public position is allowed to get away with disobeying her husband’s orders to display her beauty (oh . . . how COULD she not want to appear before her drunken husband so others could gawk at her? note sarcasm, please), then OTHER women will think it is okay to disrespect their husbands. This just will not do.
Jeff Crippen also once mentioned that it seems pastors are shy about allowing divorce for abuse because of a fear that all those who want out of their marriages for some willy-nilly reason, will shout “abuse!” – and divorce simply because they now have an excuse to do so. This ‘pastoral fear’ and the King’s fear, are very similar. Both fears are rooted in the desire to maintain control. I would like to point out two fallacies of this common pastoral fear.
First, if a person is truly unhappy in his or her marriage . . . and would go to such great lengths to ‘get out’ (claiming abuse where there is no abuse), well . . . wouldn’t there be an easier way to do it? Like . . . just leave? OR, if the abuse excuse is off the table, wouldn’t he or she just use something else? – Like claiming adultery, which is a more widely acceptable reason for leaving a marriage. If one is going to lie to excuse oneself from one’s marriage vows, one would surely prefer to cite a more acceptable excuse for divorce than a less acceptable excuse for divorce. A phoney excuse is more likely to be believed when it mimics a ground for divorce that is widely accepted in the Christian community . The bad individuals are going to be bad, whether we give them an excuse to go, or not. Taking abuse away as a viable reason for divorcing does not change a person’s heart. If bad people want out of a marriage, they will find a way, with or without us.
Second, this entire line of thinking – don’t give those untrustworthy people an excuse to rebel – is the same line of thinking that the King of Persia and his wise men had. And the King of Persia was . . . . a pagan king. He had women captured and placed in harems for beauty treatments so they could compulsorily audition for the role of his wife. Do we REALLY want to emulate this kind of thinking? Call me crazy, but I believe that if we (as a Church) find ourselves coming to the same conclusions as pagan kings . . . then we’ve strayed so far from the wisdom of God that I don’t know how we’ll find our way back without divine intervention.