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Affluent Christian Investor | September 18, 2019

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No, Washington Post, The Virgin Mary Was Not A Socialist!

Recently Acts of Faith, which is a religious news and opinion page run by the Washington Post, published an article which argued that evangelical Christians avoided the Magnificat (the poem/song uttered by the Virgin Mary during her visit to her cousin, Elizabeth) because it was ‘revolutionary’ and that conflicts with our conservative ideology.

Pretty much no actual evidence is mustered to show that evangelicals actually do avoid the Magnificat, nor that the Magnificat has a left tilt which clashes with conservative ideology, nor that this non-demonstrated aversion to its non-demonstrated leftist tilt occurs for reasons other than the obvious reason, which is evangelical reaction to Marian devotion by Roman Catholics.

As someone who has moved in a broad range of evangelical circles for almost four decades, I can tell you that I have never, ever, not even once, heard any evangelical express any ideological concern about the Magnificat.

And why should we express such a concern? After all, the Mary/Marx nexus (Maryx?) is completely made up, not drawn from the text of Scripture.

The article in question argues that because Mary lived in a society with high inequality this implies a certain ideological slant to the left:

Theologian Warren Carter writes that in the time of Jesus, 2 to 3 percent of the population was rich, while the majority lived a subsistence-level existence. “Mary articulates an end to economic structures that are exploitative and unjust. She speaks of a time when all will enjoy the good things given by God.”

First of all, there is a serious factual problem with this quote: there is no evidence that 97-98% of the society in which Mary lived at subsistence level. The evidence from archaeology is quite to the contrary.

(See some of my writings here and here.)

The idea that 98% were just holding on is probably not even true of the Holy Land in general at the time of Jesus, and even less likely to be true of Lower Galilee where Mary and Joseph lived. Tradition places Mary’s birthplace in Sepphoris which was a fairly prosperous city. Even if that is wrong, we’ve done plenty of digging in Nazareth and it was a middling class town in a region made up largely of free-hold (not sharecropper) farmers.

Nevertheless, on this thinnest of reeds, the articles goes on to enlist the Marxist (and I mean Marxist — not liberal, not progressive) liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez as explainer of Mary.

This year, I will be reading the Magnificat as it was meant to be read. As Gustavo Gutierrez, a Dominican priest, once wrote, we will miss the meaning of the text with any “attempts to tone down what Mary’s song tells us about the preferential love of God for the lowly and the abused.”

In terms of the argument for a left-wing Mary, that’s about it. Then the article moves from a Christmas theme to a Festivus them with the airing of grievances, in this case an ideological grievance with the dreaded ‘white evangelicals’:

The economic and political worldview of many white evangelicals has led to a silencing of Mary and of God’s dream for the world. But now she is helping me trust that the eventual upending of the systems of the world will be good news for me, and for other evangelicals, as well.

Since we live in the era of the strong woman archetype, why not let Mary lean in and speak for herself, instead of stuffing Das Kapital into her open mouth? Here’s what she actually said:

46 And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord,

47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.

49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name.

50 “And His mercy is upon generation after generation Toward those who fear Him.

51 “He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.

52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble.

53 “He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed.

54 “He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy,

55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his offspring forever.”

(Lk. 1:46-55 NAS)

I’ve highlighted the material that reads as explicitly economic/political. There is nothing here which looks socialist, except to someone who has brought these sympathies to the text. Revolutionary? Yes. But uncomfortable to conservative evangelicals? Sorry, but no. Evangelicals supported a candidate who went to DC promising to ‘drain the swamp’ and to defeat ‘the deep state’. Aren’t they revolutionaries too?

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. I have no desire to drag Mary onto the Trump train. But there is easily as much warrant to do that as there is to cast her as a 1st Century Rigoberto Menchu.

Letting her speak for herself and interpreting her in terms of her historical context, Mary appears to be well within the views of many of her time, seeing the ruling elite as arrogant, at enmity with God, and much in need of removal.

But does that imply the left agenda which this article suggests? Hardly. She calls for no growth of the state; in fact, her skepticism about the ruling class suggests the opposite view, that the state was taking too much from the people already. And in the Magnificat, it is God, not the state, who is setting things right. In fact, looking at the details of the text, something the Washington Post piece does not remotely do, we see that Mary delays her economic denunciations until she travels to Judea and meets with her cousin, who is part of the larger ruling class elite, through her husband, Zachariah whose social rank is high enough that he is called upon to offer incense inside the Holy Place of the Temple. Mary when she is in Nazareth of Galilee (an entrepreneurial, not revolutionary, region of ancient Israel) does not say a word about the rich and powerful being cast down. There were plenty of merchants there – some were quite wealthy. You can go to Sepphoris today and see the excavated remains of an impressive mansion. Lower Galilee was at a trade crossroads, and many wealthy merchants would have passed through. Tiberias was quite nearby—plenty of wealth there as well. But Mary holds her political fire until she travels south where the taxes were higher and the state was bigger and brings the hammer down on the ruling political class there.

And her son does the same thing — he also varies his message as he moves closer to the center of state power. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is given further north, away from Judea, and has an acknowledged lighter touch when it comes to wealth. But when he travels south and addresses the ruling political elite, he very nearly quotes his mother,

“21 “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied…. 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.

25 “Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry.  (Lk. 6:20-25 NAS)

I’m hesitant to enlist Mary or her more famous son into any modern ideological camp, but as a person with libertarian leanings, Jesus and Mary’s rhetorical war against an entrenched political ruling class which lived by extracting wealth from productive classes such as farmers, merchants and (yes) carpenters sits quite comfortably with me, thank you very much.

 

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