For God and Scandal

by Louie Crew

First appeared in Gayspring 3.1 (1979): 2-5

© 1979 by Gayspring; © 2004 by Louie Crew

Christianity begins with a sexual scandal. As St. Luke tells us, at some point in her engagement to a carpenter, a young girl is visited by a stranger and told that she is going to conceive a child out of wedlock. Furthermore, she will conceive the child without ; sexual intercourse. The baby will have no I earthly father. At the angel's prompting, the young girl hastens to visit her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, who lives at some distance, where Mary will have time to adjust to her new condition.

St. Matthew records that the young carpenter's distress over the pregnancy is intense, so much so that he is considering breaking the engagement, a plan that is contravened only by his own visitation from the stranger, as if Mary's explanations had not been altogether convincing. At the angel's bidding, Joseph agrees to marry Mary and to pretend to be the child's real father.

As if these complications were not trouble aplenty, just when Mary 18 about to give birth, the couple must take a journey homeward to Bethlehem to accommodate the I.R.S. of the Roman conqueror; and they have 80 little social or economic clout even in their hometown that Nary and Joseph must take lodging in a cave which serves as a stable outside the overcrowded inn.

Our faith affirms that the God of the universe thus chose to invade ourhistory by way of sexual revolution ad scandal. With Mary we must marvel: "How can this be? I am still a virgin." And the angel's answer is not altogether perspicuous: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy child to be born will be called "Son of God." Notice that the angel's terms which correlate with physical intercourse--will come upon you; the power will overshadow you--are assigned an incorporeal agent, the Holy Spirit, the power of the Most High. What were the physical dynamics of this experience? What kind of genetic mixture did the baby Jesus have? The gospels do not tell us, nor did the stranger tell Mary. Yet nearly 2,000 years later, millions of people each week reaffirm our faith in this scandalous mystery: "He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary."

Imagine for a moment a safer, if profaner version, stripped of mystery, intrigue, and scandal. The National Jaycees hold a Miss Virgin contest to determine the most appropriate candidate. All of the finalists gather at a gala occasion at a ballroom in Jerusalem. The winner will be rewarded this time with a corporeal god, someone with a body that is anatomically "correct" (as they say of "Gay Bob"); and the annunciations will be not just to the couple alone, but to the whole world, via satellite at prime time, so that no one will suspect hanky panky. They'll even be granted a handsome allowance for child support and will be sent off to a Ramada or Holiday Inn in Tel Aviv, where the rooms are fitted with an air- conditioned manger, a 4-month supply of Pampers, and plastic animals that never moo or ba or stink. In this revision, the holy family is strictly nuclear; the birth is purely heterosexual; the patriarchy preserves its privilege; there is no suggestion that Mary, like her Lesbian sisters, could be fulfilled without the physical presence of a human male; there is not the slightest suggestion that Joseph is a cuckold of the Holy Spirit; God's in episcopal belfries, and all's right with the world!???

This ludicrous revision is not very far from what most folks try not to see in the original Bethlehem story. I look long and hard at Joseph in those manger scenes in department store windows and on the lawns of those who can afford to have lawns, realizing how few others are in on the real secret--namely, that Joseph is only a cover, that the child is not his, that his wife conceived out of wedlock, that this is no mere heterosexual celebration, but the birth of the Son of God! wager that not one in a thousand contemplates this good news in the cheap plastic Christmas that church leaders seem almost as ready as their secular counterparts to serve the world in our time--clean, conventional, safe, very tacky, decidedly heterosexual, and perverse, a heresy of the first order.

Of course, heresy is not new to the doctrine of the virgin birth. Some scholars have suggested that the virgin birth story was concocted to cover up early rumors of an over-hasty wedding of Jesus's parents. Nels F.S. Ferre has noted the early accounts suggesting that Jesus was blonde and blue-eyed and thus possibly the son of a German mercenary employed by the Romans in the area. In a peevish novel by Robert Graves, a religious quack pretends to be the Holy Spirit as a ruse to have sexual intercourse with the naive Mary. Still others take the story of the virgin birth as an attempt by loyal disciplines to bolster Jesus's importance by doctoring the facts--a myth with the poetic "truth" of at least trying to account for the otherwise inexplicable greatness in Jesus's character. And some have seen the story of the virgin birth as exemplary of the erotophobia elsewhere in the Judeo-Christian tradition: by such reasoning, so nasty, so animal, and so subhuman is any form of sexuality that, given God's own omnipotence, God would have no part of sex at all (an interpretation extremely strange to account for the creator of penises, vaginas, breasts, tongues, rectums, and all of those other marvelously enjoyable erogenous zones.)

Notice that all of these heresies derive from viewing the virgin birth merely from a human perspective. From God's perspective, like so much else that we human beings find scandalous, the virgin birth was a perfectly natural way for God to announce the creator's love of all creation. Especially the creator's love of those who had enjoyed a very limited share of the world's good opinion.

While Mary herself was confused as to the mechanism of the virgin birth, she had absolutely no confusion as to its meaning socially and politically, as she sang in the Magnificat: "The arrogant of heart and mind he has put to rout, he has brought down monarchs from their thrones: but the humble have been lifted high." I am intrigued that Mary was able to live with much intellectual confusion, to sustain many questions, to "harbor in her heart" many of the mysteries, without once doubting the social relevance of God's love for her and for her kind of humble people.

An annunciation is a special kind of utterance, and the word annunciation is used very sparingly in current English. An annunciation is not a request ("Mary, will you conceive this child for me?"), and it is not an order ("Mary, I command you to conceive this child for me."); rather, an annunciation is an announcement: "You shall [the emphatic form] conceive and bear a son." The force of the announcement is so strong that both Mary's brief query ("How can this be?") and her simply acceptance ("Here am I. I am the Lord's servant; as you have spoken, so be it.") seem almost gratuitous, not a giving of permission so much as a celebration of a being now realized fully for the first time in a new way. The essence of that celebration is Mary's immediate and simply trust in God's good opinion of her. The angel says: "Hall, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus." She responds: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." Once Mary grasps God's love for her, she cares not a fig for the world's opinion. Scandal cannot really touch her. That is, Mary experiences redemption. God has taken a frightened and confused girl and put her in touch with God's respect for who she As I hear many religious folks talking about spiritual REDEMPTION, I get the impression that they believe that redemption is God's way of taking someone worthless and turning that person into someone of worth, but redemption is not that kind of fakery. If I pawn a Timex, I cannot redeem a Cartier or a Longine. As with Mary, God's redemption of us affirms that we are already fundamentally of value to start with: redemption is God's method of putting us rather profoundly in touch with what God, as our Creator, already knows to be our personal worth.

All about us are persons whose worth is far greater than they know, persons who have spiritual resources they have never begun to tap, persons in need of God's redemption. We Lesbians and Gay males are especially prone to internalize the world's evil opinion of us, thereby devaluing our worth as children of God. Typically we learn about our sexual orientation as if by annunciation, by some force outside our control--by a stranger, by a holy angel perhaps. Like Mary, we are aware of the threat of scandal almost immediately and we cry out incredulously, "How can this be?" We didn't choose this body chemistry. At the time we may not yet have even acted on our involuntary arousal system, but we know as clearly as if announced by God herself the way that we will respond if ever we respond according to desires which come to us quite naturally; and some of us say again and again, "How can this be?"

Sadly many Lesbians and Gays stop right there. For all of our talk of liberation, I suspect that most of us still find it hard to stay in touch with the saving truth, the same answer which the angel gave to Mary: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you." That is, 'I have always been involved in scandal,' God tells us, 'and the best part is I love you, I am a part of that in you which most frightens you, which most bothers your neighbors; and I want to give birth in you, spiritual birth, the birth of love, right in you--not as others might want you to be, but just as you are.'

So often at this point many of us secretly try to strike a very different bargain, and are even encouraged in such perversity by leaders in our church: "Well, Lord, if you're going to be so loving, why don't you make me more lovable. Make me a heterosexual, Lord, and I will know you love me." Or we complain, "If you love me Lord, why do you want to make me a mockery, a queer, a faggot, a dyke?" 'If you love me, Lord,' Mary might have said, 'why not at least let me marry BEFORE this conception? And surely I don't have to walk all the way to Bethlehem to sign the tax registers so everybody else will know?'

No! Simply: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow You!"--not changing us into someone else, but putting us in touch with God's loving plans already at work within us.

In a few minutes we shall give thanks that God has graciously accepted US as living members of God's Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. In a few minutes God will feed US with the spiritual food in the sacrament of Christ's body and blood--God's blood flowing through our veins! GOOD NEWS! God is not a neighborhood gossip. God is not phased by the world's opinion. "God's promises CAN NEVER FAIL." That's our annunciation, and when we are really attentive, when we really hear what God has to say to us, our own faith statement, like Mary's, is almost gratuitous: "Here am I. I am the Lord's Lesbian or Gay male servant; as you have spoken, so be it."

Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. AMEN.

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