When I was interviewing for my current call, one of the questions asked of me, in one of the many different conversations I had with various committees, was, “What does the Virgin Birth mean to you?

I know there are some people for whom that question is very important. For some of them, it is about taking the bible literally. The Hebrew word translated as “virgin” in the Greek actually means a girl of childbearing age, regardless of virginity, but it matters to some people that no man was involved in the conception of Jesus.

One of the reasons the Virgin Birth doesn’t matter to me at all is because I trust the God I serve would not be limited by the conditions of Jesus’ birth. If the God who created the earth out of nothingness wanted the son of Mary to be God’s own son, do we really think God couldn’t make that happen?

The more I read the news, though, the more I think there is another reason why the Virgin Birth matters to so many people. And that’s what has me concerned.

I think the Virgin Birth is primarily about purity for many American Christians.  Unmarried women who have sex are tramps, sluts, and cheap. (Don’t ask who they are having sex with or why the label doesn’t carry over...) The Mother of Our Lord could not possibly be a slut, so that means she could not have had sex with a man before marriage.

Of course, once a woman is married, she should have sex whenever her husband requests it, and the number of children she gives him will be proof of God’s favor. (That’s biblical family values for you. Literally).

If you think I’m exaggerating about this, think about what Elizabeth Smart said about why she did not try to escape after being raped by her kidnapper (a situation I would hope even the most conservative people would acknowledge was not her fault).

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value. Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

This young woman had been taught her value was tied to not having sex before she was married.  Purity sure mattered to Elizabeth Smart when she was kidnapped by a lunatic and raped multiple times a day. Thankfully, she seems to have come up with another narrative and has moved on with her life.

And there was a high school  in Pennsylvania who offered this advice to their female graduates last week:

HT_graduation_dress_code_sk_150529_4x3_992So the boys are told to pull their pants up, which is well and good. But the young women are told “you can’t put 10 pounds of mud in a five-pound sack”. Super.

Or the school that forced a girl whose skirt was shorter than knee length to wear an oversized yellow t-shirt that read “DRESS CODE VIOLATION” and oversized red sweatpants.

Or take the Duggar family. Now that their oldest son Josh (one of their 19 and counting children) has acknowledged he molested multiple girls, including his own sisters, when he was a teenager, I can’t stop thinking about his victims. Because they are being raised in a family who follows the teachings of a man who has been accused of sexual misconduct by over 30 women. The Advanced Training Institute was founded by Bill Gothard (who has since stepped down over the allegations of misconduct).

Look at this “lesson” from its curriculum for homeschooling families.

While this lesson predates Josh Duggar by many years, it reveals that the girls also held responsibility for their abuse. “What teaching could have been given to each child to resist evil?” and “What factors in the home contributed to immodesty and temptation?”

The “answers” to those questions by the boy in question (offered as an illustration? as a guide? ugh) included that because his siblings were naked when they got out of the bath, he was led into temptation and the home should have been more modest. You can read the whole horrifying thing here.

When we place the responsibility to NOT be molested on the young children themselves instead of on their violators, or when we tell high school girls that at an awards ceremony people will be focusing on their “sausage rolls” instead of on the awards they are to receive, we buy into a myth of purity that women cannot live into.

When we hold up the Virgin Mary as the example women are to follow, women lose. Because we can’t be a mythical woman.  We can’t be modest enough. We can’t be pure enough. We can’t be virginal enough.

Annunciation
Annunciation

We are actual women, embodied women. Made in the image of God women. Women who deserve agency about when and how they want to be sexually active.

All of these situations show the dark side of American Christianity’s “purity” culture and how it endangers women and take away from men the responsibility for their own behavior.

What does the Virgin Birth mean to you?

It means oppression, unrealistic expectations, and violence against women. It both distracts from both God’s sovereignty and God’s ability to work through the beautiful gift of human sexuality, leading people to have unhealthy views of sexuality. Was Mary a virgin when the Spirit came upon her? Maybe so. God knows. Should it matter to how we live our lives in faith? No.

31 thoughts on “Virgin, Schmirgin

  1. I think getting the doctrine of the virgin birth right is important. The purity movement fails to do so. They misappropriate it for something the Bible never contemplates, and twist Scripture to their own ultimately impure ends. Thanks for calling them out on it.

    Cheers,
    Tim

    P.S. I posted today on the virginity idol too, based on some recent horrid and guilt-inducing advice John Piper recently gave.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I take exception with an underlying assumption being made in the whole Duggar mess – that ALL homeschoolers teach this curriculum or one similar. My daughters were homeschooled and our church opened it’s building to many homeschool organizations. While there are homeschoolers like the Duggars there are just as many who have differing views. The homeschool community is VERY diverse. The ultra conservatives are just very vocal in the public arena.

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    1. I don’t perceive an underlying commentary about homeschooling in general here. Instead, I see a thoughtful critique of a particular curriculum and its impact on cloistered families. I’m really grateful for this, Marci, because it gives me more to articulate in what I’m calling the “Duggar/Kardashian” phenomenon, in which you are famous for purity or “impurity”, but nothing in the middle, where healthiness lies.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I think you brought that “all” assumption with you…Marci did not say nor even imply that all homeschooling families or all homeschool curriculum teaches these things. She spoke very specifically and carefully, actually. In the midst of a post that was not actually about that but about how our theological understanding of one particular doctrine contributes to the culture that makes these variety of examples (Elizabeth Smart, dress codes, the ATI curriculum) possible.

      I am glad you had a good experience homeschooling your daughters. I’d love to read your blog posts about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Certainly not all homeschoolers teach this curriculum. I don’t think that’s what Marci is implying. The Duggars DID teach that curriculum, and then they aligned themselves with anti-LGBT organizations that taught that homosexuality was immoral and a danger to our children. They built their brand (and their fortune) on the ATI belief system, and I think that is what she is specifically calling out.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. One of the things that some of my colleagues and I have talked about at great length is why the previous pastors have not shared what we learned in Divinity School with their parishioners? Almost to a woman – we’ve encountered theology that is so outdated we wonder what our predecessors taught. The Virgin Birth is typical of what we face – it seems that the ordinary person in the pew never heard there might be a different take on this scripture. It is a slow go – and we know we have to go slow – but when a physics professor walks out of a bible study because he never heard there wasn’t an apple in the garden – well, our work is cut out for us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. I suspect many pastors fear the backlash from congregations who would walk out of bible studies, etc.
      My experience is that most people in the pews are willing to engage new ideas if they are given space to do it in non-threatening ways.
      But I think your observation is correct.

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  5. I think that rejecting the virgin birth is one step closer to rejecting Christianity as a deeply immoral doctrine. Our lives meaning is not predicated on the slow torture to death of an individual who was sacrificed by himself for us to himself.

    The idea that human beings are redeemed through another’s suffering and that we are not ultimately responsible for our own behaviors and choices is one that should be done away with and rejected entirely as absolute madness.

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  6. I can’t stop thinking about this “advice” given to young women. It’s so beyond appalling and sad that I’m not sure I have words. It makes me feel like we have gone backwards in gender equality. UGH! Shame on this school admin.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes, the double standard in America does seem particularly bad. It isn’t perfect here, but not nearly as bad as in the US. For me, the Virgin Birth is an important doctrine, but absolutely nothing to do with anybody else’s virginity or lack of; it would never have occurred to me to conflate the two. If virginity matters, it’s because of the Scriptural teaching to avoid fornication, which, naturally, applies to both men and women.

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    1. I think the fact that we would never think to conflate Mary’s virginity and anyone else’s is actually the problem…because then it is subconscious. Because Mary has been held up as an example, the unspoken (and sometimes completely unarticulated, even in thoughts) assumption is that perfect purity is the only way to be worthy of serving God. It’s a short leap from there to all the other ramifications of purity/rape culture.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. The mention of the Greek word for “virgin” is pretty sloppy handwaving at issues of Biblical exegesis. Luke is pretty clear that it doesn’t just mean she was young and unmarried, but specifically had not had sex. Matthew says she conceived “by the Holy Spirit.”

    If you don’t want to take the Gospels as literal historical fact, that’s fine (I don’t), but the “the greek means young girl” thing is lazy way to pretend like patriarchal Catholics made the whole thing up later.

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    1. I’m concerned with both the tone and the content of your remarks. My Greek professors were many things, but “lazy” wasn’t among them.

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      1. I think you missed my point.

        The scriptural basis for the virgin birth rests on more than one single word in Greek that we have translated according to ideology.

        The oft-heard “it means young girl” thing is a soundbite. Using it to hand wave the virgin birth is lazy.

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        1. To claim the “scriptural basis” is clear might also be considered “lazy” if one were wanting to casually throw around insults (which is what Liz’s comment was about in the first place).

          The scriptural record is not at all clear about Jesus’ birth. Mark doesn’t even mention it. His human family, including brothers and sisters, are mentioned often. John takes the whole story to the 30,000 foot view, taking Jesus back to the dawn of time. I am confident the God who created the universe out of nothing, in the beginning, could just as easily have the almighty and beloved Son born of a human, sexual woman.

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