From the Rector
Advent 3: Revering Mary, Defending Women
One of my favorite images of Mary and Jesus is by the graphic artist Parker Fitzgerald of ninebreaker. I have always loved the Irish aesthetic of the image, with its direct homage to the Book of Kells and other ancient Celtic illuminations. But the thing I focus on most when I use the image for devotion is the fierceness of Mary. She radiates with intensity and strength, which are characteristics that she must have possessed in abundance, alongside faith and courage. Too much Christian art has domesticated this remarkable woman, making meek and docile the one who literally carried God within her own body. In case we forget, it is from Mary’s lips that we hear the ancient song of revolution, Magnificat, with its message that God is exalting the humble and casting down the rich and mighty from their positions of power (Luke 1:46-56). Throughout Christian tradition, beginning with the angel Gabriel’s initial greeting, Mary has been hailed as favored by God, queen of heaven, unique among all of the faithful.
For Christians, our devotion to the fierce and courageous mother of Jesus should compel us to deeper respect and appreciation for all women. If God is willing to enter into the world through a woman, that should reveal God’s estimation of the dignity and capability of all women. And yet even in 2017, women remain vulnerable and threatened around the world, including right here in our nation. They continue to be paid a fraction of what men earn, are dramatically underrepresented among leaders of corporations and governance (there are actually more Fortune 500 company CEOs named John than there are women combined), continue to suffer frightening rates of abuse and assault, and, as recent news has demonstrated, are targeted by predatory men in positions of authority far too often.
The sad reality is that Christians are too often a part of the problem, rather than the solution. Just recently, in an effort to defend a senatorial candidate who has been accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls, a prominent Christian supporter of that candidate manipulated the Bible into defending the propriety of such relationships. “Take the Bible,” he said. “Zachariah and Elizabeth for instance. Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist. Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”
It seems an odd thing to need to say, but with the foundational morality of our society under increasing threat, even the obvious deserves repeating: Christians don’t use Mary and Joseph to defend molesting children. It is not only ridiculous to link the story of Jesus’ parentage to such abuses, it is downright blasphemous. Mary was not a victim of molestation, but a willing participant in God’s plan of salvation. Joseph was not Mary’s sexual partner, but a brave companion and protector. Sexual relationships between adults and children are wrong, and we must clearly rebuke any effort to defend such behavior, especially when it involves the perversion of our faith and Scriptures.
We must also be clear in standing against all abuse of women, under any circumstances. I am a proud member of HeROs (“He Respects Others”), the auxiliary of Genesis Women’s Shelter that strives to help men become part of the solution to domestic violence. HeROs’ operating principle is that men are the overwhelming cause of violence against women, so men must be active in helping end it. As a father of two daughters, I am horrified by the fact that one out of five women (https://www.rainn.org/statistics) are raped in their lifetime, and I’m appalled that the response women often receive when they report abuse is doubt and deflection. Our societal toleration of the abuse of women is entirely unacceptable. As Christians, we must be part of fulfilling Mary’s prophetic vision in order to turn our sad current reality on its head. We must be leaders in defending the vulnerable and standing for the dignity of all.
This Advent and Christmas, I invite you to remember the fierce and courageous mother of our Lord. Pray Mary’s revolution song with me, and hear her words anew. And allow the one who grew inside of her to stir up in you the conviction to protect and defend women and girls everywhere.