Rev. Ruth Everhart recently published an op-ed in the Washington Post entitled, “Our culture of purity celebrates the Virgin Mary. As a rape victim, that hurts me.” She begins:
“Church culture tends to be fixated on sexual purity year-round, but during Advent, I’m tempted to blame it on the Virgin Mary. After all, she set an impossibly high bar. Now the rest of us are stuck trying to be both a virgin and a mother at the same time.”
Her next paragraph gives some insight to her viewpoint.
“During my senior year of college, my housemates and I were the victims of a home invasion. The intruders held us for hours and took turns raping us at gunpoint. The next year of our lives revolved around the criminal-justice system.”
I can’t image what such a personal and brutal invasion does to a person. Unfortunately, it led Everhart to a dangerous misunderstanding of the importance of Mary’s virginity at the time of Jesus’ conception. Instead of finding comfort in God’s Word, she found guilt and judgment which she blames on Mary, not her rapists.
“I’m not blaming my sense of ruin on the Virgin Mary, not entirely. Protestants do not claim Mary in the way Catholics do, but every Advent I feel a sense of kinship. I know what it’s like to be a good girl whose life got upended by what someone did to her body. Of course, her story plot was good and mine was bad. Plus she was, well, a saint. And I’m not.”
Trying to reconcile your faith with such a brutal attack can be an overwhelming challenge. Unfortunately, as a pastor, Everhart is passing on her misunderstanding and leading her congregation down a false path.
“Church culture has overfocused on virginity and made it into an idol of sexual purity.”
Because she lost her sexual purity, Everhart must now deemphasize Mary’s virginity in order to live with the tragedy of her rape.
Intruders stole Everhart’s purity in a violent, horrible way. That said, it in no way compares to Mary’s situation. Christ, who always existed, came down from heaven to take on a human form. He was not created, but incarnate. Mary was not violated, but chosen and blessed.
As a Lutheran, I remember even at an early age understanding the significance of the “Virgin Mary”. Her virginity was not for her sake, but for ours. She was not sinless or blameless. God found favor with her, just as he did with Noah and Abraham. He used Mary’s “purity” to prove Jesus is God, not as a requirement for wives.
If Mary had been sexually active at the time of Jesus’ conception, it naturally would have been assumed he was Joseph’s biological son. Emphasizing Mary’s virginity stresses Jesus’ deity. It proves he is fully God as well as fully man. In addition, Mary and Joseph refrained from marital relations until after Jesus’ birth. Regardless, they did live as husband and wife after.
“But he (Joseph) did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” (Matt 1:25 NIV)
We also know Jesus had siblings.
“While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him.” (Matt 12:46)
These and other similar verses prove Mary did not remain a virgin after Jesus’ birth. Furthermore, God did not expect her to. God clearly intended for a man and woman to marry and produce offspring and Mary was no exception.
“As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.” (Genesis 9:7)
Everhart seems to have taken on the guilt of her experience and decided no one can remain a “good girl”.
“For starters, I believe it’s impossible to be a good girl — meaning unblemished and pure — and also inhabit a body. It’s certainly true if you’ve been sexually assaulted, and may also be true if you are fortunate to not have been.”
Since she lost her purity, especially against her will, it seems impossible to her anyone can have it. However, as sinful humans, we are by nature blemished and impure as God counts all sin, not just sexual sin, as impurity. Through grace, Christ, our Savior, took those blemishes and impurity upon himself to make us pure. As a result, out of thankfulness we should always try to remain faithful to God’s commands.
God made it very clear throughout the entire Bible the importance of purity. But what Everhart misses is God regards fidelity to one’s spouse as purity as well. God does not expect people, especially women, to remain virgins. He intends for us to remain faithful, not chaste, as it expresses the relationship God wants with his people. Christ is the bridegroom and Israel/Church represents the bride. The bride is to remain faithful to her husband, Christ.
God tells us through the prophet Isaiah:
It will no longer be said to you, “Forsaken,” Nor to your land will it any longer be said, “Desolate”; But you will be called, “My delight is in her,” And your land, “Married”; For the LORD delights in you, And to Him your land will be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, So your sons will marry you; And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So your God will rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:4-5)
God repeatedly compares Israel’s following of false gods and idols as infidelity. In his eyes, they were prostituting themselves. He emphasized this with Hosea.
When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD.” (Hosea 1:2)
But even though Israel was unfaithful, God made her pure through his son. Christ cleansed his bride and made her holy. This is the Good News Everhart needs to hear. The apostle Paul explained it this way:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless…“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:25-27; 31-32 emphasis mine)
When we stray from faithfulness, we are led into sin. Paul warned the Corinthians of this very point.
“I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:2-3)
My heart goes out to Everhart as she appears to still be fighting the demons of her past. Who among us isn’t? Unfortunately, she’s interpreting the Bible through her experiences instead of trusting in what scriptures plainly say.
Thank goodness Everhart turned to the church as opposed to away from it. However, she and her congregation would be much better served if she works through her issues under a pastor’s care rather than in the pulpit.
But that’s just my 2 cents.