When conservative Christians say they are defending the “sanctity of life” what they really mean is they are defending the sovereignty of God alone in every uterus.
As liberals and progressives find ourselves staring down the barrel of the gun that is Trumpcare, our secular thought leaders appear helplessly flummoxed by white evangelical and Catholic voters. Why are low-income, rural white Christians in favor of cutting at least $830 billion in Medicaid funding for pregnant women, children, the elderly and disabled? Why do “pro-life” voters want 22 million Americans to lose their health insurance? Why do people who believe in Jesus want 700 rural hospitals to close?
Why? The answer lies in theology. Conservative evangelical Christians fervently believe Trumpcare is in the best interest of their eternal health and safety. More than anything, Christians with an “eternal perspective” believe this life is but a blip. They believe eternal torture awaits Obamacare supporters because personal autonomy in reproductive decisions and sexual and gender expression, endorsed by Obamacare and exemplified by Planned Parenthood, undermine the will of God.
Supporting the repeal of Obamacare proves beyond the shadow of a doubt anti-choice evangelical Christian voters are willing to suffer “temporarily” (in this brief life on earth) for the sake of the Gospel. Sacrificing access to quality affordable health care, opposing humane laws and institutions of democratically elected men and women, proves they truly are “not of this world.” Instead they have been “born again” into an eternal Kingdom governed by a sovereign God.
How do evangelical Christians reach the point where they believe it is better to let children die of cancer, pregnant women go without prenatal care, and veterans commit suicide than support health insurance that covers abortion?
As “Baby Christians,” the newly converted recite the prayer of salvation:
“Father, I know that I have broken your laws and my sins have separated me from you. I am truly sorry, and now I want to turn away from my past sinful life toward you. Please forgive me, and help me avoid sinning again. I believe that your son, Jesus Christ, died for my sins, was resurrected from the dead, is alive, and hears my prayer. I invite Jesus to become the Lord of my life, to rule and reign in my heart from this day forward. Please send your Holy Spirit to help me obey You, and to do Your will for the rest of my life. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”
Having given their lives over to an autocratic, authoritarian Father God, Christians prove they are truly “saved” from sin and death by supporting public policies that objectively harm people and the planet. They trust completely that the unnecessary suffering and premature death of millions of Americans under the anti-choice GOP health care plan has a sacred purpose they will rejoice in once they are born in their spirit bodies in heaven.
Being a “mature” Christian means insisting abortion must become illegal and inaccessible — effectively forcing pregnancy and childbirth on girls and women without their consent. It means insisting sexual relations only occur within the context of holy matrimony between one man and one woman via slashing funding for reproductive health services, opposing gay marriage, promoting religious bigotry, and legalizing gay conversion therapy.
The Christian war on women, sexual and gender minorities, democracy, and the planet makes perfect sense when we understand Christianity began with the rape of a child. Both evangelical and Catholic Christians cite Mary as a virtuous mother, untainted by “sin.” They united in this election cycle to vote as an anti-choice block for the Christian Trump/Pence ticket.
Christians conventionally think of Jesus as a pastoral healer, prophetic leader, and wise teacher and find comfort in their faith. The problem is they also think his ministry has special significance because he alone is the Son of God. They think this because the church teaches it and the Bible says Jesus proclaimed himself to be, “I am the way, the truth and the life, No one comes to the Father except through me.”
According to early church documents and Catholic teachings, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was most likely betrothed to Jesus’ earthly father Joseph at the age of 12, though she possibly was as old as 14. As a betrothed virgin girl, the responsibility for her care was transferred from Mary’s father to Joseph who had legal rights over her. While evangelical Christian believers tend to think Joseph was also a teen, Catholic scholars believe Joseph was an adult widower, possibly even an aged widower, thus enabling Mary to remain a perpetual virgin — perpetually asexual, inorgasmic, and “pure.”
A Jewish girl in Mary’s time would have been betrothed for a year before wedding and formally commencing cohabitation and sexual relations. At some point in that year — when Mary was still a virgin and also legally under Joseph’s protective care — she became pregnant with Jesus. It is vital to note that any prosecuted extramarital sexual relationship would have resulted in convicting her of adultery, which held a barbaric sentence of execution by stoning. Instead, Joseph mercifully assumed paternal responsibility for Jesus.
Mary was not a “wild child” or a romantic heroine but a girl living in a rigid patriarchal world who was raped by her husband, a soldier, or some other predator. In the Biblical narrative, that predator was God. God the Father “overshadowed” the child bride Mary, impregnating her with his one and only son, the reported savior of the world.
The men who wrote the Bible claimed Mary submitted obediently to become the Mother of God. That does not mean she was not raped. She was raped because she could not possibly have consented. Consent to impregnation presumes a relationship of equals which cannot possibly be presumed between a 12–14-year-old girl and an omnipotent Father God. The youngest age of consent in the United States is 16, and an eternal Father God would not pass for an age-gap exception to United States statutory rape laws. In the Biblical narrative, Mary was coerced into submission and obedience by the Angel Gabriel.
Girls as young as 12 or 14 have never been, nor will they ever be able to consent to motherhood or marriage. They can only submit to it out of obedience and fear of abuse/torture/death if they refuse. Mary was not an exception. In fairness, Biblical leaders and authors did not have access to our modern research into adolescent psychology and affirmative consent. The same cannot be said of today’s conservative Christians who consciously and willfully perpetuate patriarchal Biblical culture despite mountains of evidence proving child marriage and childbirth harm girls.
Annually, globally and in the United States, child marriage, pregnancy, and childbirth endanger approximately 15 million girl’s lives; harming them emotionally, physically, spiritually, sexually, financially, and educationally. We cannot expect “Bible-believing” Christians to empower girls living in today’s patriarchal cultures to postpone marriage and childbirth because, according to conservative Christian theologies, the statutory rape of Mary by her “overshadowing” Father God was the best thing that ever happened in the history of the universe.
Christian fundamentalists cannot and will not ever question the righteousness of God in his decision to impregnate a child bride too young for sexual relations or abandon their misogynist God who sanctioned treating virgins as plunder and executing girls who “committed adultery.” The “blessed” birth of precious baby Jesus to a pure virgin and his subsequent gruesome death on a cross saved them from sin and death, securing their hope of heaven for all of eternity.
“Bible-believing” Christians do not consider the exploitative “overshadowing” of Mary a “legitimate rape” but a “method of conception” and a “gift from God.” Rooted in their belief in the “immaculate conception,” anti-choice Christians believe all life begins at conception, God is always present at conception, and all pregnancies are consensual because God consents to all pregnancies. We should all submit to pregnancy, regardless of the circumstances of conception. When conservative Christians say they are defending the “sanctity of life” what they really mean is they are defending the sovereignty of God alone in every uterus.
The teenage mother of Jesus is the ultimate Christian model for submission to and obedience of an anti-democratic, exploitative, abusive, authoritarian God whom Christians want to reign over the entire world, beginning with our wombs, expanding to our sexual and gender expression, culminating in total control of our personal autonomy. Secular thought leaders need to stop being so squeamish about challenging the misogynist theology of Mary because it is at the heart of the menace of Christian Dominionism, a movement hell-bent on eliminating access to pro-choice humane health care.
To put it bluntly, Jesus was a rape baby. His abusive Father has no business running our health care system.
Sarah Woods is a feminist scholar, theologian, chaplain, and previously ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She holds a BA in Religious Studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a Masters of Divinity from Howard University.