Amidst the rising sentiment in Australian society against Christian values, particularly in light of the upcoming vote proposing to change the marriage act to include same-sex couples, some conservative Christians seem to be defensively positioning themselves behind the barricades; bracing for a future of greater marginalization, diminishing rights, and allegedly increased persecution.
Other Christians are boldly making a public stand for their beliefs, fearlessly presenting their case, and in a broader sense demonstrating they’re not ashamed of their faith. That said, a small number are approaching the process in a less than Christ-like manner; the manner outlined by St Peter: ‘ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.’ 1 Peter 2:23 (NIV)
What then is the discerning Christian to do in the ‘brave new world’ : Run and hide or stand up and be counted?
In light of this present challenge, is there a way to boldly stand up for the truth in a potentially hostile social environment; a way that is not only effective in its outcome but God honoring in its process? Is there a way that is not only respectful of Government authority, dignified in its treatment of adversaries, but squarely in step with a courageous Christian testimony?
I believe such a way is not only theoretically possible, but is historically validated. It is seen within the Old Testament story of a Jewish refugee; an orphan girl, who became a queen, and then saved her nation–the story of Esther.
Around 500 BC in the ancient kingdom of Persia a capricious king summarily dismissed his queen over a public refusal to participate in a private function as a ‘trophy wife’, doubtless to invoke jealousy among his guests. King Xerxes then sought a new queen from among the 127 provinces of the empire. Among the candidates was a Jewish orphan girl named Esther, who presented herself at the prompting of her uncle. Mordecai. Against the odds, King Xerxes favored Esther over the other candidates, appointing her the new queen of Persia.
Whilst the nation celebrated their coronation of their new queen, Mordecai, with the assistance of Esther, foiled an assassination plot against the king. Although his name was recorded in the royal records as a matter of political process, he received no recompense for this service.
Also around this same time, a wicked tyrant called Haman rose to prominence in Persia. Everyone cowered before him at the city gates, except Mordecai the Jew, who refused to bow to tyranny. Enraged by Mordecai’s insolence, Haman deceived the king into issuing a decree that would enact an edict to annihilate all the Jews from every province of the empire.
The Jewish people, greatly distressed at the prospect of their genocide, mourned, fasted, and prayed for deliverance. In light of this grave situation, Mordecai solemnly reminded Esther that her privileged position was not simply for her benefit; it was now her time to use her talent for the good of her people.
Fearful of the king’s capricious nature, Esther asked the people to fast and pray on her behalf, while she sought the king’s favor in this matter. Again the king favored her, and as result Esther requested that both he and Haman attend a special banquet, where she might make her request more adequately known.
Haman, being delighted by this ‘special’ privilege, shared the news with his wife and friends, who then suggested as a further affirmation of his greatness, he construct a 75 feet high gallows to hang Mordecai on, after the king approves this special request, on the morning before the banquet. He could then attend the banquet in ease.
In in a strange twist, the night before the banquet the king Xerxes had trouble sleeping on account of the foiled assassination plot; that the person who alerted him had not been duly rewarded. Waking, he immediately had the royal records read and discovered that Mordecai was the person in question. At that very moment, Haman appeared in the royal court; seizing the opportunity, the king curiously questioned Haman how he might honor a special royal subject. Inflated with narcissistic pride, and assuming ‘he’ was that special subject, Haman suggested a royal robe and a royal parade were most in order.
The king then revealed Mordecai was, in fact, that loyal subject, and that Haman should organize and lead the parade in Mordecai’s honor. To his great humiliation, Haman reluctantly followed the king’s commands. No sooner had the parade finished, the shame-faced Haman rushed to the banquet prepared by Esther.
As they feasted and drank, King Xerxes, full of admiration for Esther sought her petition,promising as much as half the kingdom! Respectfully, she asked the king to spare the lives of her people, the Jews, on account of the decree that was destined to enact processes toward their annihilation.
Enraged by this, the king asked who was responsible for this horrendous scheme. She pointed out that it was Haman. Greatly vexed, the king stormed outside. Haman fell on his knees and begged the queen for his life; just as the king returned, he saw Haman falling on the couch where Esther lay. Supposing that Haman was trying to molest her, he had him arrested and hanged on the gallows originally built for Mordecai!
And so it was, the Jewish people were delivered from the consequences of the fatal decree and came to enjoy great favor within the Persian empire. Esther remained queen, and Mordecai was appointed second in rank only to the king. A tragic situation had been averted, and God’s people prospered once again.
What might we learn from Esther’s story? More than a quaint fairy-tale, this true story serves as a powerful metaphor, offering up some lessons for our time.
We are foreigners in our own land: Not dissimilar to the Jews in ancient Persia, Christians in 21st century Australia should acknowledge we are ‘foreigners’ and transitory members of this our host culture. Therefore, we must be respectful of it by acting uprightly whilst engaging it. Esther and Mordecai respected the authority of the King, acting honorably within the social system. They allowed God to use them to work within the regime, not acting as mercenaries, or dare I say terrorists, against it. I believe this stands true for the Christian s as well, indeed the message of the New Testament seems to confirm it:
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world… Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. 1 Peter 2:11-15 (NIV)
God uses secret agents too: God equips his people to face the challenges; we are not all plebeians at the mercy of the powerful elite. In fact, some of us, yes even girls like Esther, are privileged enough to gain positions of influence within the political and/or legal systems. We must recognize that these positions are not simply platforms for personal or religious agendas, and those that have them must be discerning in the use of the associated privilege.
However, if we entrust ourselves to God, being respectful of the authority structure in which we are placed, opportunities will providentially arise (as with Esther), where the legitimate use of our influence may be exercised for the good of God’s people–without stepping beyond the bounds of the authority structure in which we are placed. That is, influence can be exercised: respectfully, honorably, and legally, through the proper channels. In fact every Christian that votes is a person of influence!
Enemies are to be respected, not feared: In matters such as the debate over same-sex marriage, those on the other side should be treated with personal dignity, not demonized, or feared. Even though Haman and his family were mortal enemies of Esther and Mordecai (and by extension every Jew), they were still treated with relative dignity. Mordecai would not bow to Haman, his practices, or ideas; which for him was symbolic of bowing to tyranny, though he still acted with dignity in the process. Moreover, Esther, engaged Haman with respect even though she was against his evil plan. To the best of their ability and within the bounds of decency, they personally interacted with their adversaries respectfully and fearlessly.
Indeed, for Australian Christians who wish to stand against same-sex marriage or any other issue on moral grounds, great care must be taken not to personally slander or denigrate adversaries. Stand against their ideologies or arguments by all means, but it is unseemly as a disciple of Christ to be ‘personally’ disrespectful. We should recognize that the real struggle is ultimately not against people! Moreover, God calls us not to fear people, because ultimately they have no power. There are higher powers and greater forces animating schemes beyond our natural comprehension, as St Paul says: ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood…’ Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)
Prayer really does have power: The deeds of Esther would have been ineffectual and fruitless without the prayers and petitions of the people–that is why she requested the people’s assistance. Esther’s success in this potentially hazardous environment was only possible because God granted her special favor; a favor provoked by the prayers of the multitude. God is not deaf to the genuine petitions of his people, and even the most rudimentary grasp of Holy Scripture will reveal this. Yes, God can act without our prayers, but he chooses not to; he wants us to experience the blessing of participating in the struggle, that our thanksgiving would be heartfelt. Never forget, ‘The prayer of a righteous man [or woman] is powerful and effective.’ James 5:16 (NIV)
God is still in control: No victory is ever attained without the sovereign favor of God. As the Esther patently reminds us, the timing of the events that led to Haman’s downfall and the Jews deliverance were divinely coordinated. Indeed, even Esther, recognizing the prayers of her people and her God-ordained appointment, waited for God’s timing regarding the banquet, fully aware that, ‘The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.’ Prov 21:1 (NIV)
Ultimately, even the best resourced Christian organization cannot change legislation or indeed the course of history, without divine intervention. If we rely on political might alone and forcibly seek a result, we just might end up with an outcome that sets us at odds with God. In matters of consequence, the Christian activist is well-advised to remember, ‘Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.’ Psalm 127:1 (NIV)
How can we boldly stand for he truth in times like these? God is in the business of saving his people, and more often than not he employs the most unlikely characters to do it. God used an orphan girl from a refugee family to save his people in a time of great need. He can use you too. No matter who you are, where you are, what you are, do not think you don’t have a key role to play in God’s plan. Even if your role may seem insignificant to you, don’t underestimate the power of a prayer, the power of a vote, the power of a courageous stand. God loves to use those who boldly step up in faith, will you?
Friends, even if the immediate outcome of the current issue is not to our liking, know that God has a greater purpose in play, and that the tears of disappointment are watering the seeds of a greater destiny. Indeed, history has shown, that God may even allow his own people to enter into a time of tribulation, that they might grow in resilience and if need be, reconsider their own shortcomings; and at the appropriate time of God’s choosing, be restored to a state of blessing.
The girl who saved a nation reminds us simply of this: When God’s people make a stand for God’s truth, using God’s methods, God’s power will not fail, ultimately, to secure God’s favor!