I'm Dreaming of a Women's Rights Christmas | Sojourners

I'm Dreaming of a Women's Rights Christmas

Detail from mosaic in the upper level chapel of the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Israel. Photo: versh / Shutterstock.com

My favorite part of the Christmas story is the Annunciation. It is the scene where a seemingly insignificant girl, living under Roman occupation, is given the opportunity to take part in God’s revolutionary plan to establish the kingdom of heaven on earth. I am particularly drawn to the events of the Annunciation this Advent season because of news coverage surrounding pregnancy, abortion, and women’s rights. In her dissent to the Supreme Court’s inaction in the case of S.B. 8, colloquially known as the Texas abortion ban, Justice Sonia Sotomayer summarized what was at stake. She noted that court has failed to protect pregnant Texans from "grave and irreparable harm" and said that "every day the Court fails to grant relief is devastating," both for those who are pregnant and "for our constitutional system as a whole.”

Over the last six months, attention has been focused on how the Supreme Court would rule on S.B. 8 as it signaled an escalation from anti-abortion activists. In early December, the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding Mississippi's legislation banning most abortion after 15 weeks — challenging previous Supreme Court rulings allowing abortions up to 24 weeks. A number of other states have passed laws restricting abortion access. In September, when I heard the news of the Supreme Court’s decision to allow S.B. 8 to take effect, I held a mixture of feelings including despair, lamentation, and anger.

As I observed and engaged in the multifaceted conversations about abortion, I came to a stark realization: In the story of the Annunciation, God reveals the importance of consent, agency, and women’s rights. This season of Advent presents us with the perfect opportunity to look at the Annunciation from this perspective.

Rather than engaging in old debates surrounding abortion, we can prioritize the perspectives and experiences of those who are most impacted by anti-abortion laws: women of color and LGBTQ people. A close reading of the Annunciation helped me realize how much these people had in common with Mary. Like Mary, women of color and LGBTQ people in the United States live under occupation, endure the humiliation of their sexuality being policed, and are often viewed as second-class citizens.

When the angel Gabriel appears to Mary in Luke 1, telling her that she has found favor in God’s sight, it is important for us to understand why that affirmation was radical. God’s affirmation of Mary is radical because her social status as a woman, an ethnic minority, and a poor person marked her as a social outcast.

I spent a decade participating in a version of Christianity that villainized women of color and LGBTQ people. This perspective is not only adopted by individuals but also by institutions that determine the laws of this (stolen) land. I no longer believe in that version of Christianity thanks, in no small part, to the story of the Annunciation. Instead, I believe in a nonviolent God whose kingdom exists in communities that are healing from the generational wounds that violent institutions created. The purpose of this violence has been to suppress people’s personal agency and convince them they are unworthy to exercise consent. The scene of the Annunciation stands in stark contrast to these patterns of violence against women.

When Gabriel tells Mary of God’s plan in Luke 1, Mary asks Gabriel in verse 34, “How can this be?” Mary asks this question because she is aware of the social implications of her being pregnant out of wedlock. What sticks out to me about this exchange is how Gabriel explains God’s plan to Mary: Mary’s pregnancy will be miraculous and controversial, but instead of facing public scrutiny alone, Mary will have the support of her relative, Elizabeth, who is also miraculously pregnant (v. 36). Therefore, God, through Gabriel, attempts to put Mary’s anxieties to rest by letting her know that she will have a trusted person who believes her and supports her during these vulnerable stages of pregnancy.

After Gabriel explains God’s plan, there is a holy pause. Gabriel, the pantheon of angels, and God await Mary's response. Then in verse 38, Mary says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Many people believe that it is a miracle that Mary said “yes.” But the true miracle is that God waited: God’s movement is driven by a woman’s consent, agency, and bodily autonomy.

In states enacting abortion bans, women are not offered that same bodily autonomy. The act of abortion is a difficult and multilayered topic — especially for Christians. Often the conversation starts and ends with arguments about “the unborn.” But the conversation rarely focuses on the agency of women or the United States’s sordid history of sterilizing Black, brown, and Indigenous women. Even today, government agencies continue to bypass immigrant women’s consent, forcing them to undergo sterilization.

There is no coercion to force Mary to say “yes” to God. Through Mary, God shows humanity that justice and liberation are predicated on a person having the agency to make their own decisions.

I am convinced that the spirit of God moves in the places where consent is restored. God’s spirit is moving in the places where victims of the United States’ violent history experience this healing and restoration. God is in the healing places that emphasize community, consent, and informed support where marginalized people’s humanity is affirmed.