Esther, Ethnic-Betrayal, and African-Americans

Jimmy Butts

Throughout African-American history, there have been some African-Americans who have lived in higher positions in the social order than the vast majority. During the time of slavery,  the “House Negroes” typically experienced better access to resources than the “Field Negroes.” This caused people like Malcolm X to describe the African-Americans who had access to more resources than the vast majority of African-Americans, but did not seem to leverage their influence for the improvement of the broader community as “House Negroes.”

This animosity originates with the sinful abomination of slavery and the specific usage of “slaves” by their “masters.” On a large plantation, the vast majority of slaves did not live in the house, but were field workers. Furthermore, because of the relative privileges that the “house negroes” enjoyed, they typically had more to lose from resisting their “masters” than the “field hands.” Therefore, “masters” capitalized on this reluctance to resist by using the house slaves to keep an eye on the field slaves. Many planned escapes of African-American slaves were sabotaged because a “privileged slave” warned the “masters.”

In the history of African-American Philosophy, a disdain developed towards those who refused to take advantage of their relative privilege to help the broader community. This contempt is magnified when a person’s actions seem to support the oppression of Black people rather than resist it. As African-Americans have gained some progress in their quest for freedom, the divide between those who have obtained positions of influence in the society, and the broader community, who are still largely under-represented in the decision-making of our nation still remains.

This prompts the question: As members of a historically disenfranchised and oppressed people, what is the responsibility of African-Americans when they gain positions of influence or power?  Is it right for the broader community to expect some allegiance to the African-American community for freedom? I believe the story of Esther gives us insight into this question.

Esther the Advocate
The story describes how God blessed Esther with beauty, and sovereignly made room for a vacancy in the influential position of Queen (Es. 2:3-9, 15-17). Esther eventually became the Queen, and enjoyed the privileges of royalty and power, even though she was a Jew. Meanwhile, her uncle Mordecai was among the broader community of Jews and was eventually commanded to bow to an anti-Semite named Haman. His refusal to bow gave rise to Haman’s hatred of Jewish people and caused him to leverage his position of power to influence the King to carry out a plan to destroy the Jews (Es. 3:1-15).

A law was formed to support Haman’s purpose to exterminate the Jews. Mordecai, recognizing the strategic position of his fellow Jew and niece Esther, demanded she leverage her position of power to plead the cause of her people to the King (Es. 4:7-8). Initially she refused to take on her responsibility by citing the danger that the endeavor would present to her (Es. 4:9-11). Mordecai then rebukes her for valuing her safety and comfort over the opportunity to help them due to her position (Es. 4:12-14). Finally, Esther decides to help, and tactfully uses her position to advocate for her people by approaching the King on their behalf (Es. 4:15-16, 5:1-7:6).

Lessons from Esther
Esther makes an interesting statement when she appeals to the King for the Jewish community: “For how can I endure to see the calamity which will befall my people, and how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?” (Es. 8:6) Esther communicates the absurdity of being in a position of influence, and not being willing to advocate for her people. I would like to draw some implications in light of her story:

1) Esther did not hold to politics of respectability. The story implies Esther could have responded that Mordecai should have bowed down to Haman in order to avoid the danger he put him and the rest of his people in. But we do not see this discussion in the text. She recognizes the more imminent concern was to disrupt the plans of the oppressor in power to ensure that justice would be done.

2) Mordecai expected Esther to use her position of power to advocate for her people. He commanded Esther to go to the King on her people’s behalf, and rebuked her initial reluctance.

3) Mordecai points out God gives us positions of influence to ensure justice is carried out. He tells Esther God had placed her in a position for “a time like this” to be an advocate for her people (Es. 4:14).

4) The story of Esther seems to assume we are to advocate what is right, no matter the cost. Esther was facing death for approaching the King without being summoned (Es. 4:11), but Mordecai expected her to fight for the oppressed, even in spite of the risk.

Esther and the African-American Community
The story of Esther reveals some key truths relevant to the tension between relatively privileged African-Americans and the broader Black community. First, I think it gives a critique to “the politics of respectability.” Some African-Americans assert in order to alleviate racial-profiling and injustices, Blacks should act in such a way that is consistent with the broader culture (ex. Dress, Hairstyles, Language, Culture). However, Esther shows us people do not have to act a certain way to earn the right for dignity, respect, and justice; these things are inherent within their possession of the Imago Dei. This is why Esther did not send a message to Mordecai criticizing him for not bowing to Haman.

Consequently, African-Americans should not be required to “bow the knee” to White cultural norms and/or White supremacy in order to earn the right to be treated fairly. Secondly, African-Americans are right to expect the members of their Ethnic-group who have positions of power to advocate for the concerns that affect the broader Black community. Some African-Americans out of frustration use certain language (Uncle Tom, House Nigger) to describe the individuals who seem to betray them, because of their unwillingness to advocate for what they perceive as legitimate issues relevant to the African-American community.

I think the story of Esther shows the legitimacy to expect those within your ethnic family to advocate for the broader group who are enduring oppression. Thirdly, the story of Esther reveals that God sovereignly allows some people from Ethnically oppressed groups to obtain influence for the purpose of leveraging their power on the oppressed’s behalf (See Joseph: Genesis ch. 37-50; Moses: Exodus).

I believe that African-Americans who hold positions of influence have been put there by God for the expressed purpose of being a voice for the oppressed people from his or her Ethnic group. Lastly, Esther shows us that African-Americans cannot excuse themselves from the responsibility to advocate for their broader ethnic group because they may suffer for it. I have seen some African-Americans who seem to value their position of prestige and privilege so much that they are unwilling to risk losing it by advocating for things that may upset those who give them these privileges.

I am not judging the motives of all African-Americans, but it seems that many feel how Esther felt initially because of the weight of the risk to upset the establishment. I pray more African-Americans with positions of power and influence, when they consider who they vote for, when they consider policy changes, and when they are confronted with the cries of their ethnic community that they will repeat the sentiment of Esther when she bravely and empathetically said: “How can I endure to see the calamity which will endure my people, and how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred” (Es. 8:6)?

22 thoughts on “Esther, Ethnic-Betrayal, and African-Americans

  1. Veronica

    His Church is not a build by the hands of man.
    The Israelites were black people

  2. William F. Leonhart III

    For the record, white supremacist views will never be tolerated on, even if they suggest they are simply offering “another perspective” from a Reformed Baptist viewpoint. At a certain level, toleration = endorsement. I tolerate a lot of viewpoints that are different from my own on my website, but I will always view racism and the public shaming of people who hold a minority view within a minority community as evil not to be tolerated on a Christian website.

  3. William F. Leonhart III

    We all bring our preconceptions to every discussion. If the prerequisite for discussion on RAAN is that we all be opinionless blank slates, no dialogue will ever happen. Dialogue doesn’t mean both parties can’t have strong views. Dialogue means we are willing to discuss our differences and hear one another’s strong views. So now people shouldn’t comment on RAAN if they disagree? That’s no way to win people over to your viewpoint. It’s certainly no way to foster a dialogue-friendly environment. I won’t stop reading, because that will mean that I’ve stopped caring.

  4. M

    Why do you come on here and read this stuff then? Read blogs that agree with your line of thinking. I think he didn’t engage because there really was no point. Minds are already made up. No one was trying to dialogue, but to come and preach their worldview and that’s is obvious. I’ve seen you on many comments before and just shake my head and wonder why you still read this blog. You hate everything you read it seems like, so why strain yourself?

  5. John Girvan

    Well said.

  6. William F. Leonhart III

    I appreciate your time. There is much more I could say in response but, since you won’t be here to respond, I will concede your last comment to be the last word. May the Lord grant you peace. I hope to interact again this side of heaven. If not, I look forward to the day that we worship God side-by-side in glory with no thought of what divides us. May the Lord bless your studies.

  7. Jimmy Butts

    I must end our dialogue here due to pressing research that i am attempting to complete now; however, i will say that if I see a man hitting his wife, i dont think i presenting a dividing wall by naming him as the abusers and the woman as the abused. Im just stating facts. Furthermore, i dont have to reject the fact that in a sinful world their are some people who may be oppressing others, just because Karl Marx used the same language. What do you call the treatment the egytians were giving to the hebrews? The were oppressing them. I dont have to adhere to marxist ideology to assert that in that relationship, the social structure such that the egytians were the oppressors of the hebrews.
    Prov.31:8-9 Open your mouth for the mute,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
    Open your mouth, judge righteously,
    defend the rights of the poor and needy.
    Furthermore, i never called for uniformity; i used African american history, the same way europeans point to things in history (church and secular) as a way to contexualize a biblical truth for my people. While anglos may qoute from Jonathan Edwards or the American revolution for contextualization to speak to their community, i choose fo use my ethnic groups history as a means to contextualize a biblical truth. Furthermore, it is a clear doctrine in scripture to care for, fight for, and help oppressed people groups.( Prov. 31: 8-9) Open your mouth for the mute,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
    Open your mouth, judge righteously,
    defend the rights of the poor and needy. My article says nothing more than what this text asserts; namely that we should help the oppressed. If it just so happens that your ethnicity is the oppressed group, then Im sorry, but the command then is to speak for your people. If im during the time of Moses, and i wrote this article, i would tell an hebrew that he should speak for his people. Its not simply because they are the same ethnicity, but that they are oppressed. Its not about ethnocentricism, but about helping the poor. If my ethnicity tends to be the group that povery is the highest statistically, then in order for me to obey the command to look out for the poor, i must look out for my ethnic group. Thats why my question was framed in the article, what is the responsibility of priveleged AAs being a part of an historically oppressed community? There is a reason i framed it that way. To show that its not because AAs r special tht i shld speak up for them, but because the bible calls me to do justice for the poor, and oppressed. The only thing you should be drawing from my article is this: As a member of an oppressed group, because the bible tells me to speak up for the oppressed, therefore, i have a obligation to fight for justice for my ethnic group (and any other person who is mistreated) it just so happens that historically, AAs hve recieve the brunt in of the mistreatment in this country. Sorry, i must go now.

  8. William F. Leonhart III

    Thank you for explaining, and thank you especially for engaging with my comments. I am genuinely grateful to have your ear. Allow me to respond briefly to a couple points.

    1) When clear doctrine and principial application collide, the principial application must give, not the clear doctrine. First, you did not engage my clear exegesis of Scripture as it relates to unity vs. uniformity in the body of Christ. Second, your understanding of unity (or uniformity rather) within the AA culture erects dividing walls within the church between “privileged” whites and AAs and all other AAs. It demands uniformity under threat of being labeled a form of traitor or oppressor.

    2) I didn’t say anything about Liberation Theology. That was Alicia.

    3) The term Marxist wasn’t a wreckless lobbing of a term for the sake of insult. I don’t know where you stand on politics, so I can’t possibly know whether or not you would be insulted by the term. I do know, however, that you can’t call someone a house negro without them being deeply insulted, regardless of what you mean by it. My use of the term Marxist was directed at your line of argumentation. You are intent on promoting the “oppressor and oppressed” paradigm. That is one of the several tenants of the Marxist system. You don’t have to BE a Marxist to have imbibed Marxist tactics.

  9. Jimmy Butts

    I thank you for your comments. However, it seems some of your engagements with my article is reading more into it than i am asserting. In my research, which focuses on African American religion( particularly African American Islam; but includes liberation theology and Black Jews) I am fully aware of the concept of the tendency of AA cults to flatten the distinction between themselves and the ethnicity of the groul to which religion they espouse. I understand the distinction between Israel and the rest of humanity when it comes to appropriate hermeneutical appications. However, I believe i stayed within my hermeneutical right to draw implications from the story of Esther to the exeperiece of African-Americans. Notice I said implications. No where did i assert tht AA’s are the same as Israel. Let me show an example of recognizing the distinction between Israel and the nations, while still being able to extract principle truths from a text that applies today. So, for example, the Exodus story. Here are some things I think we can extract from the story: 1)People suffer under oppression/slavery. 2) God has a general disposition of dislike to suffering(sufferings root comes from sin; God is opposed to sin.) 3) God opposes those who mistreat people in general (not just his covenant people; we can see this by the systematic teaching of scripture). Many proverbs and the Torah itself demonstrates God common grace to all in that he is in opposition to the mistreatment to those who possess the imago dei. Their are some things that are common to all people regardless of their spiritual condition; namely, dignity, respect, justice, love{i.e. Love your enemies}. So, from the exodus story itself, while recognizing that there is a distinction between Gods covenant with Israel from his common grace to all, a African slave would not be out of “hermenuetical bounds” to draw from this story that 1) although he may be an unbeliever, He is enduring real suffering. 2) Although he may be a unbeliever, God dislikes his suffering(even if it is punishment; we can argue about Gods will of disposition versus his will of decree if you would like). 3) God opposes his mistreatment even though he is an unbeliever. The very fact that a person, believer or nonbeliever, Isreal or gentile, possess the imago dei God opposses injustice done to them.

    So i want you to see the distinction between connecting a person to the promises of God in the covenants and attempting to draw conclusions from that, and extracting general principles that is in the text that can apply today. The text not only tells us about a particular incident about a particular people; but it also reveals who God is, independent from human interaction. So, i can no God opposses oppression universally, because of his attribute of love and justice.

    So, from the story of Esther, i drew some basic principles of which the covenant to Israel is irrelevant. I extracted soms principles that one can gather from the story that is not determinate of the covenants.

    Lastly, i want to point out that, I want to be able to engage you but it seems that you dont adhere to your challenge to me. You challenge the illegetimacy of using names to vilify or shame a person, yet you label me as a marxist and liberationist. Of which I am neither. So it is almost like you attempted to shame me; the same way you say some people try to shame others by the terms mentioned in the article. Contrarily, I am Reformed in my theology, i hold to the inerracy, sufficiency, and inspiration of the scriptures. Ive read all of James Cones works and i can say i disagree with his theology. Therefore, although i am Reformed, i do not subscribe to the limits of the reformed tradition. The reformed tradition has been shaped almost exclusively by (in america) by white europeans without AAs in mind. In most cases, it was used to justify slavery. So, the fact that my views may not seem normal to you or orthodox could be more reflective of the limits of how theology has been done in america by white men rather than my adherence to liberation theology or marxism. For more info on this:

  10. William F. Leonhart III

    Also, the community concept promoted in Scripture is not one of uniformity (agree or else) but unity (be of the same mind: Christ’s). So, biblical unity doesn’t shame people who offer opposing solutions by treating them as traitors. Biblical unity welcomes a diversity of thought, recognizing that each member of the body uniquely contributes to the full stature of the whole, the Head being Christ (Ephesians 4).

  11. William F. Leonhart III

    The New Testament correlative to Old Testament Israel is not to be found in ethnicity, but in the New Covenant community. I agree with you that the gospel shatters individuality. However, it doesn’t replace individuality with race. It replaces it with the church. In the most recent episode of Pass the Mic, the contributors said that the African-American community is not a monolith. Based on this article and this comment, I must conclude that you think it should be monolithic, and that anyone who disagrees should be shamed.

  12. William F. Leonhart III

    And I’m not endorsing the use of the term “poison,” just the consumption of the thing the term is used to label.

  13. Jimmy Butts

    One I thing I would like to point out that I hoped was clear in my article is that my argument is not to approve of the terms ” uncle tom,” or “house nigger.” I would like for someone to point out where I defended the usage of these words. What I wanted to do was put those words in their historical context and present the the concept many attempt to articulate using those words. Now, because someone artculates something in a unacceptable dreogatory manner has no bearing on the truthfulness of the concept argued. Therefore, because I disapprove of the terms does not mean I must throw out the concept that is being presented behind those terms. Namely, the legitimate concern of the broader African-American comminity to reject the culture of individualism that was imposed on us, and accept the more historically indigenous principe of communal/ group orienteded culture. My point is that western individualism is not indigenous to the African American historic exeperience. Furthermore, at some points western individualism is in conflict with scripture. If you look at the story of Esther, if she held to a western, individualism, she could have justified her desire to protect her own stuff and let the other Jews “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.” So, my article in no way defends the usage of those words; contrarily, im defending the group oriented nature of African-American culture and showing its consistency with the scripture.

  14. bbnks

    “This is what I meant when I said that the idea of a “voice” is itself oppressive. The moment you disagree with the voice, you’re a traitor or worse: a “house negro,” an Uncle Tom. I guess it was only a matter of time before such language appeared on RAAN. Sad.”

    From RAAN co-founder Jemar Tisby (at

    “So as you engage with our content, remember that, with each piece, you are reading only one person’s perspective. The next day you may very well find other material on the website that represents a different point of view. And we like it this way. The microphone doesn’t dictate the opinions of the speaker; it merely amplifies his or her voice.”

    This note has been put on a number of posts (it probably should be on all of them):

    “Disclaimer: RAAN is an organization committed to providing a variety of Reformed voices a platform to share their content. While our contributors subscribe to the basic tenets of Reformed thought, they offer a diverse number of opinions on various topics. As such, our staff members may not share our contributors’ opinions and publishing this content shouldn’t be viewed in such a way.”

    Other viewpoints on the ethnic epithet “Uncle Tom”:

  15. William F. Leonhart III

    Thank you for your comment, Alicia. It was very thoughtful, and it served to confirm many of my observations about what I’ve been reading on RAAN. This article is a classic example of “framing the debate.” It’s particularly interesting that you bring up Marxism. Marx and Engels were masters of framing the debate. Notice one of the opening paragraphs of The Communist Manifesto:

    “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.

    Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and joirneyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary re-construction of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”

    Now, the stated goal of Marx, Engels, and all who adhere to the tenants outlined in their manifesto is the overthrow of the existing establishment to put in its place a communist system of government. This was a global push. These are two areas where I see an ominous, mysterious disperity between what I read on RAAN and communism. (1) RAAN doesn’t seem to have an end goal. They point out the problem, they frame the debate, they sow the necessary discontent for the revolution, but then they offer no real solution. In the end, the solution seems to be the perpetuation of the Dividing Wall, both in society and in churches. If we remove the dividing wall, goes the argument, if we go post-racial, if we promote colo-blindness, we lose our “voice” (an oppressive, monolithic concept in itself), necessarily ceasing to perpetuate the Marxist idea of class-struggle, “oppressor vs. oppressed,” in society. So, any solution is conter-productive, as it would necessarily remove the reason for the ongoing discontent of RAAN’s readership (from which it acquires its “privilege,” by the way) were it successfully applied.

    Second, there doesn’t seem to be the global push here at RAAN that existed among the communists of the mid to late 1800s. The primary focus of the overwhelming majority of articles here at RAAN are “local” in nature, focusing on class-struggle here in the United States. The focus is on uniquely American notions of class struggle that are not common among people of other nations. They speak of American history and form allegorical fables to perpetuate the idea that dissenting voices are in reincarnate “house negroes” (a barbaric rhetorical device known as “shaming” by the way). Meanwhile, it could and has been argued that most Southern slave owners were Democrats, and thanks to the modern Democrat Party’s use of their “house negroes” and Marxist rhetoric, they have solidified a dependable African-American voting block for themselves, and all who wander off the plantation, so-to-speak, in the voting booth are to be villified. . . in this article, as the dreaded privileged African-Americans.

    This is what I meant when I said that the idea of a “voice” is itself oppressive. The moment you disagree with the voice, you’re a traitor or worse: a “house negro,” an Uncle Tom. I guess it was only a matter of time before such language appeared on RAAN. Sad.

  16. William F. Leonhart III

    ^ Dialogue. Smh.

  17. Jimmy Butts

    Thank you for your comment.

  18. Alicia Williams

    Whenever I see articles like this, the number one question I have is: Are Black people the children of Israel? Do we have some type of covenant relationship with God that we can immediately draw these strong parallels with the children of Israel and the history of Blacks in America? What is the justification for doing this? And how long will this continue before we recognize this is the influence of Liberation Theology with the candy coating of cultural Marxism?

    You asked this question: “As members of a historically disenfranchised and oppressed people, what is the responsibility of African-Americans when they gain positions of influence or power?”

    Honestly, the entire premise of this question is overloading and misleading. Taking a quick scroll through history, Africans (or African-Americans) have been one of virtually all people groups who have at one time period or another been oppressed by others and have also engaged in the oppression of others as well. The sole determining factor in who is the oppressed versus the oppressor is who has the means and opportunity to rise to power first. So, I do believe your premise is faulty, and I would encourage you to really read more on the history of various people groups throughout the world before you load your question like that. (Thomas Sowell is a great economist who does a lot of historical research on cultures, especially African-Americans. You should check him out.)

    But to answer your question, no. African-Americans who attain positions of influence/power do not have a responsibility to their own people just because they share the same skin color. That is foolishness. African-Americans are not some blanket-homogeneous group of people that all come from the same experiences and backgrounds. What is more important is that as Christians, we don’t have allegiances with just anyone, nor should we. We are called to be unique, distinct, separated from the rest of the world.

    It may be hard to admit this (much less do this), but as Black Christians we should not be holding blanket allegiances to the entire Black community, especially when we know that they are not followers of Christ. This is not to say, “oh just ignore injustices that are going on around you”, but it is not our responsibility to tie ourselves down to people who we know reject Christ and His Word. That is also why I don’t understand why so many Black Christians have jumped on the #BlackLivesMatter Movement. Has anyone actually read their website and the platform that they are promoting? Do you see what I see? Can a professing Christian really stand in solidarity with this movement? The answer should be no.

    Honestly, I think the influence of the liberal Black gatekeepers has had such a horrible influence on how so many Blacks think these days, especially Christians. I’m not sure why people are so quick to follow the dictates of people who have nothing to do with the God we serve or even His Word, but instead bind their consciences and mouths to the things these people say is “right” or “proper” or “pro-Black” or anything else. I think it’s timeout for this. As Christians, we should be basing our thoughts and responses to things around us on the Word of God. We should recognize the “wolves in sheep’s clothing” that distract us from the truth of God’s Word and get us caught up in worthless cultural discussions that will honestly have no bearing when we see Christ face to face. As Christians, we should also be denouncing the influences of Liberation Theology and other secular ideologies that are swiftly leading people down the slippery slope of plain old heresy.

    My final thought is that the book of Esther is a book that overwhelming highlights the providence of God in the lives of His own people. I believe if we can take anything from that is that we should not be upset when some members of our race seem to prosper more than others, that is merely the providential hand of God at work. We should not be angry when some people seem to have more “privileges” than others, because you are really demonstrating the fact that you are angry with how God has sovereignly chosen to bless whom He wants to bless, and it happens not to be us. We shouldn’t be mad at the providential hand of God who has sovereignly orchestrated all events throughout all of history, including oppressors, the oppressed, slavery, poverty, and everything else.

    Ultimately, at some point as Black Christians we need to decide who is the real authority of our lives and who we have allegiance to first: Christ or other Black people. And personally, as a Black Christian, my authority is Christ and my allegiance is first to Him and His Church, whether or not the members of it look like me or not.

  19. Jimmy Butts

    Hello, thanks for the question. I am referring to issue that are particularly relevant to the Black community. So, for example, Mass Incarceration, police brutality, and yes, i would include Black lives Matter. However, I thinking of advocacy in general. That means, policies that disproportionately effect African-Americans. Like, felon disenfranchisement. I think that when more privileged AA’s vote they should have in mind that the cannidates position on people with felony convictions, are disproportionately people within his/her ethnic family. So, i hope that is helpful. Thanks for the question. Blessings!

  20. bbnks

    “I have seen some African-Americans who seem to value their position of prestige and privilege so much that they are unwilling to risk losing it by advocating for things that may upset those who give them these privileges.”

    What things do you mean? Do you mean Black Lives Matter and/or other things? It would be helpful to have examples of what you mean.

  21. Jimmy Butts

    Thank you for taking time to read it. Blessings!

  22. Natasha

    Thank you for your insight to the story of Esther. I have never thought of it in the light in which you presented. It speaks volumes…

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