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What if Mary Wasn't a Virgin?

"More than a century ago, Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote, 'If a heavenly father, why not a heavenly mother? And if an earthly mother, why not an earthly father?'

She continued, 'I think the doctrine of the Virgin Birth as something sweeter, higher, nobler than ordinary motherhood, is a slur on all the natural motherhood of the world.'

An unveiled illegitimacy tradition offers this Christmas gift: the restoration of natural motherhood to its rightful place in the miraculous."

– From an article in Slate entitled "The Earthly Father: What if Mary Wasn't a Virgin?" by the Rev. Chloe Breyer, an Episcopal priest and mother of two who works at St. Mary's Manhattanville in West Harlem, N.Y. The article originally ran in 2005.

The simultaneous worship of virginity and motherhood is guaranteed to drive you mad and totally warp your ideas about female sexuality, seeing as the only way to give birth is to first have sex (almost always) thereby negating your virgin status.

A controversial billboard was erected in Auckland, New Zealand just last week showing a post-coital Joseph and Mary.

With the tag line "Poor Joseph. God was a hard act to follow," the billboard was the brainchild of Archdeacon Glynn Cardy, the vicar of a progressive local church. Hoping to draw more people to his church, he said:

"Progressive Christianity is distinctive in that not only does it articulate a clear view, it is also interested in engaging with those who differ. Its vision is one of robust engagement."

The Catholic Dicosese begged to differ, saying:

"Our Christian tradition of 2000 years is that Mary remains a virgin and that Jesus is the son of God, not Joseph."

Not so fast. The Slate article talks about a book called The Illegitimacy of Jesus, published in 1998 by Jane Schaberg, a biblical studies professor at the University of Detroit Mercy:

Her central argument was that Matthew and Luke's Gospels originally told of an illegitimate conception rather than a miraculous virgin one. University of Detroit Mercy, which is Catholic, publicly distanced itself from Schaberg's positions. She got hundreds of angry letters and a few death threats and one night awoke to discover that her car was in flames on the street outside her apartment...

However, the story goes on to say:

Some church leaders feel the pull of the illegitimacy tradition but fear its impact. "Undoubtedly, some sophisticated Christians could live with the alternative … [but] for many less sophisticated believers, illegitimacy would be an offense that would challenge the plausibility of the Christian Mystery," [theologian Raymond] Brown writes.

However well-intended, that fear may be misdirected. When she published her book, Schaberg got seven grateful or supportive letters for every angry one she received.