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:
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.
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.