Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Christmas Story is a Pro-Choice Story

I've been busy eating up a storm in Miami with my family, but I wanted to link to this Christmas reflection even if it is a little late. In this reflection, the Rev. Dr. Maria LaSala writes about how the Annunciation story found in the New Testament is really a piece of pro-choice Scripture. As someone who has frequently heard Christian anti-choice advocates use the Annunciation story to promote an anti-choice message, proclaiming the tired old, "What if Mary had had an abortion?!?!" I find LaSala's reflection much more theologically accurate and refreshing. If God had faith in a woman's moral agency, why can't Christians demonstrate that same faith today and give women the right to make reproductive decisions?

My favorite painting of the Annunciation - by Henry Ossawa Tanner

3 comments:

  1. this may be the dumbest thing i have ever seen, i got dumber by reading the link, a rational person on either side of the argument wouldn't believe that and i am sure you don't either

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  2. If I may chime in on this conversation with just a few thoughts, I feel compelled to say that I think the Rev. LaSala’s reflection is a major and unwarranted over-reading of the Lucan text. I think the notion of a pro-choice reading of the Annunciation story is intriguing as a theological reflection at a markedly redescriptive level of interpretation. Furthermore, I too find Mary’s agency in this story striking (especially as indicated by her response, “let it be according to your word,” using the optative genoito in 1.38). However, I think it is extremely misleading to highlight her modicum of agency while glossing over the overt politics of domination in this account. Most importantly, the proclamation of the male angel Gabriel (lit. “warrior of God”!) in 1.31 needs to be taken very seriously: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” The three future tense verbs in this verse, to my mind, leave very little room for Mary’s choice. On the contrary, I see in this account the exploitation and colonization of the female body by a male God through the mediation of a male angel for the purpose of perpetuating an allegedly prefigured, genealogically construed, messianic tradition rife with androcentric militaristic and royal imagery. Moreover, the male domination suggested by the power (dunamis) of the Most High overshadowing (episkiasei, 1.35) Mary stinks of the power-domination of rape. Indeed, in this account, Mary has no choice at all. She will conceive and she will name her child Jesus and she will be raped by the seminal power of God. Her consent in 1.38 is meaningful in that it suggests that Mary was complicit, and thus I would say that the Lucan tradition does give her some agency. However, Mary consents, she does not choose nor was she given a choice. My feminist reading of this narrative would begin with the power politics and masculine imagery and only attempt to understand Mary’s consent in the context of this androcentric power matrix. The hermeneutical question that should be on the table is “What if Mary had said no to the angel?,” not “What if Mary had an abortion?” And the fact of the matter, as even LaSala concedes, is that Mary would not have said no—but furthermore (I would add) that she could not have said no. Her story was configured for her by the undoubtedly male Lucan author, and as a result the Marian character has only the agency given to her by that man. This story is hardly a useful piece of support for pro-choice readings of the Scriptures, for Mary had no choice. It is a similar case with Sarah in Gen. 18 (one of the models for the Lucan story), although Sarah had much more agency than even Mary as suggested by her eavesdropping and laughter. If one wants to use such scriptural stories to support a pro-choice stance without taking them entirely out of their narratological, historical, and scriptural contexts, I think they can only function as evidence of a long history of the abuse to women’s bodies as a function of women not having the opportunity to choose. That is, for pro-choice advocates, I find the Lucan annunciation story to be a lachrymose tale of the theologically and culturally supported domination of women, and to find in this story some notion of choice that is not there is, to a certain degree, to perpetuate this despicable tradition.

    Thanks for posting this link Shannon. I hope that my remarks, though not directly aimed at the modern issue of pro-choice/pro-life, are apt.

    P.S. I wrote a paper trying to uncover and situate Sarah’s agency in Gen. 18 in its historical, narratological, and cultural contexts that is in the background of these comments (see, http://glossolalia.sites.yale.edu/).

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