Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith
Sometime between 486 and 465 BCE, the Bible tells us, a disagreement arose between a husband and wife on the way the wife should be presented at a banquet. The disagreement resulted in the wife losing her title of queen. The wife’s name was Queen Vashti, and her husband was King Ahasuerus of Persia. King Ahasuerus decided to find another wife. Esther, a disguised Israelite teenager, was chosen as the new queen.
Queen Esther, like Queen Vashti before her, also ended up disagreeing with her husband. Esther’s objection was the unjust laws and customs directed at the Israelite people. She also risked losing her crown and being sentenced to death. Both queens had felt that it was their time to reject unjust, discriminatory laws and customs based on gender, racial-ethnic identity, and class.
March 2016 is a time to remember women like these and to advance a vision of justice for all people. This year is an opportune time for selecting leadership for and by all people. The reigns of Esther and Vashti saw the “Israelite Lives Matter” and “Women’s Lives Matter” movements arise, despite the dominant rule of the Persian Empire. In similar fashion, younger and older men and women today are risking their lives in the “Black Lives Matter” movement while affirming an “All Lives Matter” principle.
Queens Vashti and Esther were change agents of the systems and structures of the Persian kingdom for all the people when they took their stances. They promoted dignity and challenged the unjust treatment of the Israelite people while the dominant culture benefitted from their oppression. Today all of us benefit in some way from the privilege and wealth of our great country, the United States of America. Still, many are left behind because of hunger and poverty, just like in the days of Queens Vashti and Esther. Women and people of African descent are disproportionately affected.
We, like Queens Vashti and Esther, are called to stand up for all and not just the few. This means changing public policies so all are fed and living lives of dignity. This year we have a responsibility to ensure that the right leaders – those who will stand up for all people here and abroad – are elected. Now is the time to determine who you will vote for and hold accountable if they are elected. Bread for the World has resources to assist you with your discernment. Visit our elections page at www.bread.org/vote-end-hunger.
Also, for a special global Women’s History Month prayer calendar that you can use to pray for and with global women, go to http://lottcarey.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/2016-3PrayerEditionForWeb.pdf.
Finally, Bread for the World will host an international consultation with pan-African women of faith that will address these issues June 9 to 11, 2016, in Washington, D.C. Contact me at [email protected] for more information.
Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan-African church engagement at Bread for the World.