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Commentary: A gift from God is not a cause for shame

12/11/2003 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn

A head-and-shoulders photo of Connie D. Rouse is available at http://umns.umc.org/photos/headshots.htm.

A UMNS Commentary By Connie D. Rouse*

What must Mary have thought way back then? She was a young woman, a virgin, the Bible says. She was engaged to Joseph but not married. Then one day, out of nowhere, an angel appeared to her and told her that she would bring forth a child and that this child would be blessed. What must Mary have thought? Did she really understand what was being told to her?

What must Joseph have thought? He came from a fine family and was engaged to a woman in what should have been the happiest time in his life. Then he discovered that Mary was already with child. The Gospel of Matthew says that Joseph was a good man who was unwilling to put Mary to shame. He decided to marry her and then divorce her quietly. Shortly afterward, the angel came to him and said that he should not fear, for the child that Mary had conceived was of the Holy Spirit. What must Joseph have thought?

What must the people have thought? It was shameful for a woman to be an unwed mother. They must have been puzzled as they observed the joy of Mary and Joseph over a birth that should have been disgraceful to them. None of them had seen or heard the angels.

One recent evening, my husband and I were eating in a restaurant, when we spotted a young lady who had cheered on the same high school squad with our youngest daughter. Jane (not her real name) was celebrating her daughter's sixth birthday. It was a joyous celebration for the entire family.

However, I recalled a time when it wasn't quite as joyous. Jane conceived this child when she was in high school. I remember the cruel things that were said about her. Yet, I knew that Jane was a United Methodist and had been brought up in a Christian home.

Her parents were greatly disappointed when Jane became pregnant, but they surrounded their daughter and grandchild with love and support. On the occasion of their granddaughter's sixth birthday, it was evident that Jane had matured into a beautiful young woman with a bright future. Her child already shows a sense of self-confidence. With God's continued blessing and family support, they will do just fine.

Then I think of Sally (also not her real name) who came into the church one day requesting financial assistance. She received no support from her family. They were bitterly disappointed that their 15-year-old daughter had conceived a child out of wedlock. Since the parents were unable to get past their own pain and embarrassment, they could not empower Sally to get beyond similar feelings.

Sally is a respectable person, but her child is now surrounded by things in the community that are not so decent. She is concerned that her child might end up in a similar situation, and statistics indicate her concern is justified. Sally has a job, but the money never seems to be enough. Sure, she made a mistake, but her child is not one. Her child is a blessing, and shame is an inappropriate response to a blessing.

Yet, the world does not let her forget her mistake, and sometimes, it grieves me to say, neither does the church.

Oh, we Christians buy the baby a gift and offer shallow, sweet words to the young mother. However, as in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, we seldom see truly the value this child will have in God's world because we are blinded by how it was conceived.

While the need to care for unwed mothers and their children is crucial, I am somewhat fearful of discussing this need as people may believe that I am condoning sex outside of marriage. I am not; such action is wrong for both youth and adults. But we, as Christians, must denounce the sin and still find ways to love the sinner.

We are all sinners who have been saved by the grace of God. We cannot judge others, and we cannot predict what a child will do in the future by what his parents have done in the past. If we fail to care for unwed mothers and their children, it will be as if we tread on coal, never realizing the diamonds that lie beneath.

As we stand beneath our Christmas trees lavished with gifts, may we understand that all children, regardless of their beginnings, are gifts from God.

May we know this by the birth of a Savior who was born to a homeless, unwed woman.

Merry Christmas, and may there be peace on earth and good will to all people!

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*Rouse is a free-lance writer and columnist for the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate in Greenville, S.C.

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