From RNS, here’s a conversation with Mark Lowry, the composer of one of the most contentious Christmas songs of our time:
Mark Lowry co-wrote “Mary Did You Know?” with Buddy Greene, a well-respected songwriter and instrumentalist, in 1991, while both were on tour with famed gospel singers Bill and Gloria Gaither. Recorded first by Christian singer Michael English, the song has become a modern Christmas staple — covered by some of the biggest names in the business: Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd, Mary J. Blige, Clay Aiken, Carrie Underwood and the a cappella vocal group Pentatonix.
As for the controversy:
While writing lyrics, Lowry said he imagined himself as an overly enthusiastic angel who showed up at the manger during the Christmas story and was filled with questions. He used the phrase, “Did you know” to express that enthusiasm — as if the angel was bubbling over with joy for what the birth of Jesus meant. The questions in the song are the questions Lowry would have asked if he had been there.
But that phrase has gotten Lowry in trouble in recent years — seen as a kind of theological mansplaining.
“Listeners have complained that, yes, Mary knew that she was going to bear the Messiah, the promised salvation of Israel, and that, therefore, the rhetorical question upon which the song rests is either redundant or condescending,” author Joy Clarkson, host of the “Speaking with Joy” podcast, wrote in a 2018 article entitled, “Yes, Mary Knew.”…
… Lowry is pretty good-natured about the criticism of the song. He’s quick to admit it has shortcomings — which he thinks are more evident to his fellow Christians who are more familiar with theology than the average person who hears the song. The last thing he wanted to do was to insult Mary or anger his fellow believers.
“I never meant for it to start a war or irritate people,” he said. “I definitely didn’t want that.”
Below is an interview from 2020, in which he talks more about writing the song.