Mary Did You Know? You’re Everything Wrong with American Christians

Okay, Mary’s not what’s wrong with American Christians, but “Mary Did You Know?” is. You know the song… That terrible, overplayed, evangelical Christmas song that is you have ever read Luke 1,  the Magnificat , you would know that clearly this woman who is chosen to carry the savior of the world in the most dramatic and possibly most ridiculous way of all time DID know, leaving the song as one long mansplaining episode by the writer Mark Lowry? Yeah… that one.

Listen, I know it’s got a pretty melody and Pentatonixs made a video of it in a cave and it made you cry, I get it. And I’m sorry, because the reality is, it’s the most ridiculous song I’ve every heard. AND EVEN MORE THAN THAT, it is everything that is wrong with American Christians.

FIRST- It’s Patriarchal- Mark Lowry is a white evangelical who is a graduate of Liberty University, one of the most conservative universities in the country. I mean, I guess he can’t help it, right? From day one he was taught that women in the bible are evil, maybe Mary was an exception to the evil, I mean she and her “purity” is what all woman should subscribe to.

We’ve missed the fact that the news that Mary gets through this angel is that her body is about to be violated, she will become pregnant without her consent. She is to carry the child and she is to name him Jesus. She has no choice over her body or even his name.

Not only that, but she will be culturally shunned and her engagement will most likely be called off. We forget that she must rely on Joseph’s mercy to forgive her (for something she didn’t do). We forget that she could have been stoned to death if he chose not to forgive her. But she is to be regarded and appreciated not for her amazing strength and will but for her purity.

Purity takes on many forms. The obvious one is virginity. Women should be sexless, except inside of the covenant of marriage and even then, for procreation. Mary is the perfect woman because she could have a child WITHOUT having to have sex with a man and therefore she is the perfect woman in purity, fulfilling her role as a woman without demolishing her virginity.

However, in the patriarchal church Mary couldn’t have possibly have known what was happening to her, that is until her husband accepted her pregnancy. Even though if you read the scriptures the angel Gabriel comes to Mary, tells her what is to happen. She then goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth and through their conversations Mary processes what is happening to her and does a battle cry of justice and mercy of God that shall reign through her child.

However, because no man has been involved in this story so far (angels aren’t “men”) so regardless of the scriptures, she could’t possibly understand. Women are simply not capable.

SECOND- It’s Proof Texting- According to sources (wikipedia) the song was written as a script for a Christmas play. These were questions Mark would like to ask Mary, the questions were asked between scenes of the play. It seems to me that would be the shortest Christmas play ever:

Mark: “Mary, did you know?”
Mary: “yes. yes I did.”

AND Scene.


Here’s the thing. Mark knows his bible, pick me a line, any line from the song and it is based in scripture. To save time here’s a random sampling- Walk on water? Matthew 14, Sight to a Blind Man? John 9, Calm a storm? Mark 4, Walked Where Angels Trod? John 1, Rule the Nations, Matthew 28, and my favorite, This child that you deliver, will soon deliver you, John 19.

Why is it my favorite, BECAUSE SHE’S LITERALLY STANDING RIGHT THERE! John 19:26 “When Jesus saw his mother…” Seriously?!? Is she invisible? Yes, see point 1.

Proof texting is when one pulls a quote and uses it out of context to prove their point. When you proof text, you miss the arc of the story, you often miss the intention of the meaning of the quote. Here’s a quote for you:

“Feminism encourages women!”

I love it, it’s beautiful, it’s also true. It’s also Pat Robertson and here’s the whole quote, “Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” But Pat Robertson endorsed feminism and said it encouraged women! See what proof texting does?

“God hates Fags”, it says it in the Bible. Well, okay, there are two mandates that Leviticus lays out (see what I did there 😉 and says men shall not lie with (have sex with) men. Leviticus also says that I can sell my daughter into slavery and I can’t eat pig or wear clothes of mixed fiber. Read more about all this here.

Mary Did You Know? massive flaw is that these scriptures are taken out of context. Read the Magnificat she knew, she was also there participating in Jesus’ ministry!

THIRD- It’s Emotionally Manipulative- Listen, I’ve been there. I’ve been the sweet young girl who soloed “Mary Did You Know?” in front of a congregation because they wanted to see innocents personified. The song appeals to the maternalization of Mary.

Find some young sweet, young fertile girl, to remind us just how innocent and unsuspecting she would have been. Put her in front of a congregation so we can swoon over days gone by. So we can be lulled into complacency that if I pray hard enough and do the “right things” there will be a brand new Lexus at my door come Christmas Morning.

We so easily make the story of Jesus conception and birth about starry nights and a beautiful quiet sleeping baby and a perfect family. We so easily forget the emphasis that Jesus had a human birth, which means, it was messy. Very, very messy.

Jesus was born of a woman, meaning there was a bodily fluid and blood. There was a placenta and sweat and maybe even a bowel movement. Birth at this time also didn’t take place in a nice sterile hospital either, and Mary didn’t get the advantage of being in the comfort of her home with her family midwife near. No, she’s miles away in a smelly barn with her deer in the headlights husband, who according to the scriptures has never even seen her vagina.

There was sweat, there was blood, there were tears and screams and cow dung. Silent Night my ass. But that doesn’t appeal to us this time of year. In order to truly appreciate the story she wouldn’t have broken a sweat, laid down, popped the perfectly clean baby out and immediately made tea for her guests. This is what brings us close to God, she pondered these things in her heart, and iced her whoha.

So let’s get it straight, American Christians. For the love of all that is Holy, literally. Can we stop pressuring each other into pretending that Mary wasn’t scared, can we stop pretending that she didn’t know for one second the risks her son would go through? She knew the world better than anyone, and despite all the bullshit she had been put through not only did she know, she said yes!

God love her.

The Magnificat is a war cry. Mary knows the history of the Israelites waiting for a messiah, she celebrates by singing, that singing is to drive us into action for Justice and prepare us to be true followers of Christ. We want silent night but Mary knows, better than we do, that the king that is coming, is going to turn out world upside down.

31 thoughts on “Mary Did You Know? You’re Everything Wrong with American Christians

  1. Pingback: Mary Did You Know? You’re Everything Wrong with American Christians | Calliope and Clio

  2. According to the New Testament the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary in the scenario called the Annunciation. Mary gave her consent to the birth of the child, “I am the handmaiden of the Lord . . .” etc.

  3. What a load of nonsense! According to Luke 1, Mary was told God’s plan and assented to it. It is true that she ran a great risk of social ostracism, because society in those days did not support the sexual depravity current in our “enlightened” times, but the Lord made sure, by telling Joseph what was going on, that she would not experience the brunt of it. Joseph ran a risk as well, for by marrying her in her pregnancy he was as good as admitting that he had initiated a sexual relationship before the proper time.

    And while it is true that Mary knew a great deal about what the Messiah would do, she did not know the details of what would happen, and so the questions are legitimate. That these details are detailed some decades afterwards, when the Gospels were written, does not mean that she knew the details of what was still in the future at the time of her “Let it be to me according to your word.” The Lord gave Mary a picture, and she had the Scripture promises in mind when she sang the Magnificat – but she didn’t know the particular things that her son would do, nor how marvelous they would be.

    I am not overly fond of the song; it is pretty sappy. But this attack by an embittered young woman is coming more from her bitterness than from the passages she claims to base it on.

    • I believe you are missing the point. The song implies Mary didn’t know that the child was the Christ child- God incarnate- or as the song says “the great I AM.” And in the Luke 1 we read that she did know. Did she know each specific miracle? No. but remember it is Mary in John 2 that proclaims it is time for his first miracle. Leaving Mary silent dressed in blue as the serene mother does not do her justice and that is the picture the song paints.

      Also, in the future, please no name calling or your comment will be deleted.

  4. Awesome article on a song biblically swerving out of control ditching the divine vehicle carrying the biblical image of Mary. I see Mary responding with a good DeNiro sneer saying “I know a few things about a few things”.

  5. Total agreement on the Scriptural response. However created by God free from both original and personal sin so she could be the living Ark of the Covenant, the Immaculata did not have the blindness to understanding the Scriptures that the rest of us have. Far from being impregnated without consent, she is the only human person in history, besides her Son and our First Parents, who ever made a truly free choice. Presented with the same choice as Eve–one cosmos-shattering choice of “yes” to God or “yes” to Satan–she chose wisely. She is one of the few people in Scripture with whom God converses almost casually–He presents her, through Gabriel, with a challenge. She asks a question, not out of doubt like Zechariah or Abraham but out of concern for her consecrated virginity (see the Levitical Law), and rather than getting struck deaf, or turned to salt, or presented with proof (since she needs none), Gabriel simply answers her question.

  6. I would like to engage you in some, hopefully, respectful questions: 1) what if this song is posing Gabriel’s statements in a question form. Yes, playing on the Gospel of Luke but taken from this point of view the song could be more meaningful.
    2) You state that Mary was to be violated. Believing in the Triune God, are you saying Mary was violated by the very God that created Jesus and all of creation. If so, are you trying to imply rape?
    3) you state that this is highly manipulative and patriarchal. Isn’t the entire scripture, maybe save Ruth, written by men as far as we know? And Isn’t this all part of the prophetic formula that God uses (could use violates) people in order to use them for God’s purpose?
    4) you made some leaps in that her value depended on whether Joseph would continue on to marry her. you also stated that she will be shunned. Scripture says that did not happen. Isn’t that conflating or interjecting your thoughts into scripture? Just curious.
    Lastly, I know you don’t like the song…that is obvious, but someone’s hated song is another person’s lyrical sonnet. I ask if you are using the same brush that the songwriter uses to put down something you don’t like. And if this is all offensive, why do you call yourself “curly girl.” If you are over 18 you are an adult and I would hope someone that wants to be respected. I don’t mean to be personal. It seems that the use of that term is putting one’s self down rather than being on an equal level.
    While I disagree with some of this, I think your point that this is all about being messy and not some peaceful pretty night is right on. We tend to want to look at the sugar coated version and think about Mary singing a lullaby when, in actuality, she was probably screaming her head off in the process. Thank you for your time.

    • Chris, while I will engage your questions because I like lively debate, I will not engage in your “getting personal” because I don’t know you and you don’t know me.

      1) this is an interesting point of view and if Mark Lowery had written that way then I would use another song to illustrate American’s biblical ignorance in Christmas music! (there are plenty to chose from)

      2) Some, smarter than I, have made arguments that Jesus birth was a sexual assault. This has not something I have researched in the greek extensively and will not claim to be an expert. However, the Holy Spirit “will overshadow” her (or come upon) and that’s difficult language that as Christians we should wrestle with. As for the triune God argument, that gets a little incestuous in this conversation and makes me dizzy! I do know that I have given birth to two living children and that the process of carrying a child was a violation of my body. It may be a violation in the best possible way, but my body was no longer my own. It was a vessel and for those that have not experienced it, it is both a wonderful and terrifying thing. However, I chose to be that vessel, Mary was told. She accepted this fate, as some do with accidental pregnancies, but a violation (along with privilege) of body to carry a child for God, yes.

      3) I don’t think you can compare one Christmas song to the entire canon of scripture. Is scripture patriarchal? absolutely, is it manipulative? It depends on how you use it.

      4) I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Mary would be shunned. See John 8 as an example of the way people reacted to a woman who committed adultery. Plus, there is not a detail to know if that happened or not anyway. You say scripture says “she was not” shunned, we actually don’t know every detail. Maybe she was being taunted and that’s why she went to see Elizabeth. There is precedent in scripture that Mary would be shunned. It wasn’t just human nature, it was also Leviticus law.

  7. Pingback: A Feminist Weights in on The Annual “Mary Did You Know” Debate. | The Lewis Crusade

  8. I cannot understand why this article was written. It seems to me that the author has a great deal of anger that she felt needed to be expressed. And so it is out there for all of us to see. This kind of writing doesn’t do anything good for anyone except the author. Let’s hope she feel better for having written it.

    • I see, by your response back to me that you were offended by the fact that I voiced my opinion. Please accept any apology you feel owed to you. But, I did and do feel that this article was more rant than educational or helpful. You are the preacher, not me, so I am sorry if my words made you feel even more anger. I explained why I wrote my comments in a post that has been eliminated. mia culpa

      • The interesting thing is this. I wasn’t angry when I wrote the post nor was I when I replied back. You’re the one that reads anger into all of this. If you didn’t like the post that’s fine, then it’s not for you.

      • yes, how awful of me to write my honest opinion. so, my apologies once more. Now, it is not easy for me to believe a little girl of perhaps 13 who found herself pregnant with God’s Only Son, had a clue about what all He was going to accomplish while on earth. I was 13 once myself. I gave birth to 3 sons, all grown men now and accomplished citizens, but did I know how they were to bless the lives of others after they were grown? No. Furthermore, what I really think is…..

  9. Thank you for this article. It brings together a lot of the concerns I have had about this song. I wonder if even a flawed text like this might be used helpfully for a congregation by following it with the Luke 1 text as a response?

    • I think that’s a great idea. A few years ago I did a sermon series on Christmas Hymns and you just sparked an idea of a sermon series of “the real story” and where our “religious” Christmas songs get it right or wrong.

  10. I wanted to write and say that I think this blog post raises excellent points and presents a clear, well-reasoned argument for recognizing Mary as more than a silent, unknowing participant in the Nativity. You are right to point out she knew the risks her son would go through. It was that paragraph that, for the first time, made me realize Mary knew the physical risks *she* would go through, as a teenager giving birth at a time when maternal death rates were devastatingly high in comparison to today.

    Thank you for writing this. I’m sorry, though not surprised, at the personal pushback and “mansplaining” going on in the comments. (This would fit in with the #RendTheHeavens devotional happening on social media through Advent, too.)

  11. Yes, evidently the anger coming through the piece is anger not felt by the author of the piece. That’s fine. I understand. We don’t always see things the same way. I have many many more questions about this piece that have little to do with any emotion on the writer’s part. The anger that comes through to me is deep seated anger against the song; the songwriter; his education and the popularity of the song which has greatly and erroneously influenced a nation of Christmas Story lovers.

  12. Pingback: Reinvent Advent: Mother Mary of Aleppo – Theo-Logical

  13. Pingback: Yes “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is Rapey | pulpitshenanigans

  14. Pingback: The candle called Peace. – Plot Threads

  15. Reblogged this on What I Know Now and commented:
    I’ve never ever liked the song “Mary Did You Know?” For the longest time, there was just something that I hated, something that set my teeth on edge, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then came along the mansplaining movement and a lot of things that angered me started to make sense. Two days ago I heard this damn song on the radio and immediately realized why I hate it so much. Freaking Kenny Rogers was mansplaining Christ to his own mother!

    Now I’m in an argument with my recently conservatized father over the song (his argument is that it’s a nice song someone spent a lot of time working on and me saying how could he stand behind someone who comes from a faith background that belittles women and thinks of them as 2nd rate human beings). I haven’t been feeling this holiday season. This just made it worse.

    We can talk about mansplaining in another post but read this one for all the problems with the “Mary, Did You Know?” song. Thank you, pulpitshenanigans, for the great piece!

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