I knew of the word “virgin” before I knew what it meant.
That is to say – I had no idea of the construct of virginity or how one obtained or lost it, but I knew it was an important piece of the Christian narrative.
I just thought it was part of a name. Like the way someone has a double name: John Mark or Laura Beth. Jesus’ mother was Virgin Mary.
Once I learned the definition of virginity, I started to see the real importance we put on the virgin part of Mary’s story, as well as the importance the church put on my own virginity and that of many of my generation.
Every so often, I will hear a terrible sermon honing in on the first part of Mary’s name, completely relying on it to emphasize the miracle of Jesus while completely ignoring the miracle of Mary’s song or the rest of her story as a disciple.
It sets a precedent. And, my god, do we love to talk about precedent right now.
Our obsession with Mary’s virginity has set a precedent for Christians to value the mother of Jesus solely as a vessel and not as a prophet who stood as a whole person outside of her ability to birth.
And I wonder if, as a result of this, we have done the same to women or anyone with the ability to give birth.
Whether you are “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” I wonder if our obsession with Mary’s ability to birth has warped our understanding of who is extended grace when faced with a choice to give birth or not and under what circumstances.
As I got older, and as the idea of “virginity” became a tangled mess of purity culture baggage, it made me think of Mary in a different light.
Did Mary have a choice? And had she the option of choice, what would her life be like now?
It might ruffle some feathers to even entertain the idea that this young girl could terminate her pregnancy, but to ignore it all together takes people of faith to a more dangerous place: one of unquestioned certainty.
Examining the story without the possibility that perhaps she wondered who knew of a remedy lessens her humanity and, thus, puts us in that place of self-righteous definition of who is worthy of terminating a pregnancy and who is not.
We can argue whether it was divine intervention or an anxious and worried girl in the right place at the right time when Gabriel found her. But either way you cut it, the story we are told is of a young girl from Galilee having little to no options. And what would our compassion or advocacy look like if we allowed ourselves to “go there” in the Advent story?
If you have consumed media in the last two weeks, by now you have read or have heard at least 10 different takes about the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision. And that is being gracious in my estimate of media consumption.
One common approach I have seen from faith leaders and people of faith has been the age old, “While I personally don’t agree with ….,” or, “I’m pro ‘it’ in cases of …” arguments.
I worry that this once again lures us into the idea that we still hold the moral high ground of deciding who is worthy to have a choice of abortion and who is not.
As many of us hold the grief of what has happened alongside the fervor to keep fighting for rights, I wonder if we must reimagine the story of Mary in a way that allows abortion into the bigger Christian narrative without framing it within the control of grace.
Because if the statistics are true, that one in four women in the U.S. will have an abortion by the age of 45, then the issue is a lot closer to each of us than we think.
And we must find ways as people of the faith to talk about it without needing someone’s narrative of justifying their decision or beginning our own discussion with our own justification on who is allowed to abort a pregnancy.
Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series at Good Faith Media. If you would like to contribute to the series, please submit your column to firstname.lastname@example.org.