Lou Engle’s Bizarro Esther

This post originally appeared in Religion Dispatches in April 2012.

This is about pro-lifers, but it’s not about abortion. It’s about how one male evangelist thinks the best way for women to influence public policy is by feeling bad and by not eating.

Lou Engle’s “Esther Call” will be finishing in Dallas, Texas today on Good Friday. The “mass event […] focuses on God’s forgiveness for those who have been involved in abortion […and calls on] viewers to pray for an end to the bloodshed of innocent lives.” Along with co-leader Laura Allred, Engle has called on women to repent for the nation’s abortions on behalf of America’s women. That’s a far cry from the original Esther—a biblical queen who used the power of prayer, fasting, and a ballsy appeal to the king to save the Jews after her stubborn cousin Mordecai nearly got them all massacred.

One video calls on women who have been “hurt” by abortion to come together to “release the pain,” a process through which political change will be possible. At face value, Engle seems to be calling on some conservative Christian reconfiguration of girl power—uniting women so they can refine their political voice.

Problem is, for these Esthers power is only realized through the humiliation of themselves and their peers.

The biblical Esther doesn’t really do any ‘pain-releasing.’ She’s busy using her cleverness, faith, and womanly wile to protect her people after her cousin puts them at risk with his ego (Esther 3:1). Engle’s Esthers, however, will only be able to protect their land once they repent their own failings.

In other words: Sure! Women can have power to influence national policy… if they start crying about what dirty sinners they are. Engle borrows from rhetoric about women’s power, but tells them to turn that power in on themselves.

Maybe, if Engle’s women have so much to repent for, we shouldn’t be surprised when Engle’s promotional video for this powerful ‘all-women’s gathering’ features Engle monologuing for the first minute and a half while two female colleagues—including Allred—nod enthusiastically.

We should probably also just shrug when we learn that for Engle, all-women’s gatheringsinclude “2000 ‘Mordecais’ we are calling to pray alongside the women.” In Christian patriarchy circles, female repentance and male guidance all fit into the common theme of submission/domination that’s touted as biblical. And if you’re part of that culture, you can even sell it as empowering: As Kathryn Joyce has noted in Quiverfull, submission to male authority is presented to young Christian women as the ideal method of finding influence in their communities.

“There’s going to be a huge cry, releasing pain, but we also believe it’s going to release power for reformation and change in America,” Engle says in a video. “And there’s one storyline in the Bible that’s as clear as all the other stories about the fasting and prayer power of changing nations, and it has to do with a young lady named Esther.”

Right. Except that Esther wasn’t praying for forgiveness. And she told her uncle Mordecai to fast—not the other way around.

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