The recent backlash of “religious freedom” laws against LGBTQ persons has a Biblical precedent. In the book of Esther, a court official named Haman did not like the fact that Jews were becoming more politically powerful and refusing to show him deference.

He tricked the king into legalizing genocide:

The king said to Haman, “The money is given to you, and the people as well, to do with them as it seems good to you.” (Esther3:11)

Certainly, laws that legalize discrimination by florists, hospitals, and universities may not be as awful as one that legalizes a pogrom. But we should not ignore the history of socially-sanctioned violence and vigilantism against LGBTQ persons that forms its background. These laws legitimize personal and institutional bullying, and it is not too difficult to see the continuity between recently proposed violence-against-gays legislation in California or Uganda and euphemistically titled “Religious Freedom” laws.

Like the ancient story, ours is one in which political leaders legally protect the power to do harm by a prejudiced minority.

The story of Haman’s hatred is a story about all the ways politicians bow to money and influence and fail to uphold the rights of minorities. It illustrates personal and systemic injustice as well as the institutional apathy that allows such injustice to flourish.

Haman never actually tells the king what he’s going to do: his rationale is cloaked in the language of law, freedom, and the good of the kingdom.

But the story is also about Esther’s bravery and persistence, in her “coming out” as a Jew (Esther 7) and revealing the harm of the unjust law. The author shows how God works through people of courage to turn the plans of wicked politicians on their heads. Esther risks her personal safety to speak up at all, risks it again to come out of the closet, and risks it again to demand justice for her people.

It’s interesting that culturally, we already think of the age we are living in as “history.” It has already been demonstrated that businesses are reluctant to have signs placed in their windows that say “Straight People Only.” Few people want to explain to their children or grandchildren why they supported this kind of discrimination.

This kind of Biblical and historical consciousness is necessary for people involved in justice work.

We have to think beyond the 24-hour news cycles and the day-to-day score-keeping politics that characterize our modern democracy. Our history—and our future—are in the hands of a God who is bending the arc toward justice.

Rev. Dave Barnhart

I’m a United Methodist pastor planting a new church (Saint Junia United Methodist Church) in Birmingham, Alabama. My mission in life is to teach and live resurrected life in Jesus among passionate people. I’m married and have a son. I’ve written a couple of books: What’s in the Bible About Church? and God Shows No Partiality.

If you’d like to get in touch with me, you can email me at dave (at) saintjunia (dot) org, or send me a message on Twitter.

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