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However, certain elements of traditional Christian theology are centered on Mary, and the degree of emphasis that those elements receive can be very telling about Mary's actual role in the religion. For example, the connection between female chastity and religious observance seems to have been established by God's choice of a Virgin to carry his son. God did not have to choose a virgin to bear his child, but could have impregnated any woman, regardless of her sexual status. Moreover, God did not have to choose birth as the means of bringing his son into the world; Scripture reveals that he created Adam without the aid of a womb and that he created Eve from Adam's rib. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Mary's sexuality has received such incredible emphasis over the years, or that this emphasis has also focused on Mary's sexuality after giving birth as well as her sexual status at the time of Jesus' conception. It should also come as no surprise that there has been a resulting correlation in Protestantism, as well as in Christianity in general, between virginity and spiritual purity. Furthermore, throughout the history of Protestantism, Mary has stood as an example of the ultimate Christian, because, regardless of what else they reveal about Mary, all of the stories surrounding her demonstrate that she was consistently and absolutely willing to submit to God's will. As a result, Mary has generally been treated as an example of the good Christian, and certainly as the image of a good woman. While modern time Protestantism has not reflected this belief to the same extent as historical Protestantism, many modern Protestant churches continue to laud Mary as one of the best examples of devout Christianity.
However, it is precisely these more traditional elements of the theology surrounding Mary that give some modern Protestants the most problems. Instead of believing that stories about Mary demonstrate the ideal obedient Christian, more and more people are indicating a belief that these stories merely reveal the patriarchal attitudes that have permeated the Protestant church from its inception. As a result, they challenge some of the most basic notions of Mariology, hypothesizing instead that Mary's importance was not because of a virgin birth, but because she carried the son of God. They also hypothesize that the Gospels fail to reveal the extent of Mary's participation in the formation of the early church, and indicate a belief that Mary was not merely Jesus' mother, but also one of his most respected and important disciples. To back up these claims, they point to evidence of Mary's involvement in many of the significant events that led to the development of Christianity and the early church. While Protestantism has traditionally de-emphasized Mary's role as Jesus' birth mother, while emphasizing the role Mary played in mothering Jesus, many of modern challengers suggest that such an emphasis is completely off-base. While they acknowledge that Mary carrying Jesus was important, they find her actual parenting of Jesus, and the influence that she had upon his life and character, to be of far greater importance. Moreover, they suggest that the information necessary to support their claims will not be found in traditional Scripture because such Scripture has been excised by the patriarchal Protestant leadership that has been in control of the religion, and therefore in control of what material has been considered part of the Bible. As a result, some of these critics are suggesting that Christians engage in a reexamination of what is considered Scripture, and investigate whether the role that Mary plays in Jesus' life is adequately and fully detailed in the books that are considered part of the Protestant Bible, or whether there are books that were omitted from the New Testament that suggest that Mary's role in Jesus life and in the early church was broader than currently acknowledged. The resulting information might change Protestant theology and the resulting liturgy.
Even if such changes occurred, it might be difficult to document them because of the widely-varying nature of Protestantism. For example, because Protestant liturgy varies widely, not only from denomination to denomination, but also between individual churches, it can be extremely difficult to prove that Protestant Mariology is developing to include a more expansive role for Mary. However, there is evidence that some individual churches and even some major branch denominations are giving Mary more respect as a founder of the early church and emphasizing her role as Jesus' parent over her role as a womb. This is reflected by Mary getting respect and attention outside of the story of the nativity. One area that these churches concentrate on is Mary's Magnificat. While Mary's Magnificat has always commanded considerable respect and attention from Protestant clergy, that respect and attention has been focused on her prescience about the birth of Christ. However, today the Magnificat is being viewed in a different light by modern scholars. Instead of simply revealing what Mary was told about her role in Christ's life, the Magnificat is viewed by some as an indication that Mary was prophetic, if not a prophet. This is significant because all of the major Biblical prophets were male, but if Mary is considered a prophet and her prophecy accurately predicted the coming of the Messiah, then there is substantial reason to believe that Mary should be factored among these prophets. Further support of Mary's prophetic abilities is given by demonstrating that Mary's mother, Anne, prophesized that her daughter was special to God, which resulted in Anne dedicating Mary to God at an early age. If Anne is also considered a prophet, which only strengthens the notion that Mary, a descendant of David, was not randomly chosen by God to carry his son. These two revelations would highlight Mary's importance, not as an ideal Christian, but as an ideal Jew, who was chosen to bring life to the Messiah. Not only would this challenge traditional Protestant notions about Mary's religious affiliations, but also reinforce the fact that Jesus was Jewish and that Christianity was not God's goal when he fulfilled his promise of a Messiah, nor was it Jesus' goal during his lifetime.
Despite this growing awareness of Mary's importance as an ideal Jew and devout follower of God, one of the main ways that Mary is regarded and respected continues to be as the model of the ideal Christian; and it is difficult to separate these modern representations of Mary from older representations. As a result, it is difficult to determine whether modern representations of Mary as an important founder of the church and as an ideal Christian actually reflect an increase in respect for Mary or signal something sinister, such as a Protestant backlash against feminism. This is due to the fact that one of the ideals in Christianity is that its followers be submissive to God. The demand for submission was present in Judaism, but was not stressed nearly as much in ancient Judaism as it has been in Christianity. On the contrary, Judaism was governed by a series of laws that directed people to observe various laws, which demanded both more and less than simple submission. Therefore, the emphasis on Marian submission, while a consistent element in Christianity, may be misplaced.
However, recent history has revealed trends away from simple Marian submission. In fact, there are theological developments in Protestantism that clearly indicate a desire, at least on the part of some Protestants, for Mary to play a broader role in the religion. This broader role is both symbolic and actual.
One example of Mary's broader symbolic role in the Protestant church is that some Protestant churches have even gone so far as to include statues of Mary in their churches. These physical depictions of Mary in the church signal a departure from traditional Protestant decoration, which typically concentrated merely on depictions of the Christ. Even more important than Mary's increased symbolic representation is the fact that she is being called upon to play a more significant role in modern Protestant worship. For example, Mary currently plays a more significant role in the prayers in many modern Protestant churches than she has in during any other time in the recent history of Protestantism. Although Mary still is not called upon to play the role of an intermediary, this omission does not reflect a lack of respect for Mary, as one might initially believe. On the contrary, if Protestants were asking Mary to play the role of an intermediary in their prayers, that behavior would actually demonstrate a lack of respect for Mary. In order to understand this apparently dichotomous statement, one must understand one of the central tenets of Protestantism, which is that Christians have a direct relationship with God. In the Protestant tradition, no person, no matter how special, can…[continue]
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