Story of Esther forms basis for Dr. Salter McNeil's call for bold leadership
Fuller Seminary welcomed speaker and author Brenda Salter McNeil as guest speaker at an all-seminary chapel service and panel discussion Wednesday, April 29, at the Pasadena campus. “Who, Me?”, based on Esther 4:13-14, was the title of a powerful sermon delivered by Dr. Salter McNeil, who is president and founder of ministry Salter McNeil & Associates and a recognized leader in the field of racial, ethnic, and gender reconciliation.
“Leadership: Where does it come from, and how do you become one?” Referring to John C. Maxwell’s book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, said Salter McNeil, “I always get stuck at Law 19: the law of timing. There are some circumstances that will demand leadership, whether you are ready or not.” Such was the case for Martin Luther King Jr., she claimed, and such was the case for the Esther of the Old Testament.
Going through Esther’s story, Salter McNeil highlighted parallels to our lives today and lessons found throughout. We can draw inspiration from Queen Vashti, for example, who had the fortitude to deny King Xerxes’s request of her even though it meant her banishment. “There are worse things that can happen than to have some people withdraw their authority from you,” said Salter McNeil. “Sometimes you have to lift your head high and leave with dignity, as Vashti did.”
Esther, then—“competent, bilingual, conversant in more than one culture”—unexpectedly found herself as queen: a position that brought her power, privilege, and an insular life—until Mordecai came to tell her the news about the Jews. We too can easily become ignorant and isolated inside our palaces of today, and “insulated from the news on the street,” Salter McNeil asserted: even, and perhaps especially, in a place like a seminary. “Every once in a while we need a prophet like to Mordecai to come shake things up for us!”
Mordecai, in the act of refusing the “presentable” clothes Esther sends to him, is an example to us there as well, Salter McNeil said: “Some circumstances require making a fuss. Sometimes people try to buy our silence to shut us up, but sometimes we need to send the clothes back!”
Most important, Mordecai poses to Esther these powerful words: “For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” The comma after “such a time as this,” said Salter McNeil, is a critical comma because it brings a crucial pause: Esther needs—and we need—to think hard about challenges God sends us to lead.
“Who, me? Get involved with immigration reform, or gender equality, or building the church into what I know it needs to be?” Our answer should be “yes!” Salter McNeil concluded.
The chapel service was followed by a session for questions and discussion on topics raised in the sermon: leadership and racial, ethnic, and gender reconciliation. Joining Salter McNeil for the panel discussion were Ralph Watkins, assistant dean of the African American Church Studies Program and associate professor of society, religion, and Africana studies, and Erin Dufault-Hunter, assistant professor of Christian ethics.
To listen to the full chapel service, click here .