I realize I will anger some people with this post, but it’s been burning inside my head ever since I read the novel by Francine Rivers when I was fifteen, and now that the movie is a “thing,” I want to talk about it. Because it needs talked about. Both its toxicity and its double standards.

In my opinion, Redeeming Love is “Christian Porn” masquerading as an allegory, and it has all of the toxic religious tropes that show up in a lot of Christian fiction, plus a few more. I could talk about how there’s sensuality on every page, written by a previous erotica author who knows how a woman thinks and how to ‘arouse’ her in certain ways to feel certain things (since this is Christian fiction, that’s okay!). This book was so saturated in sexual themes that I hid it from my mother, afraid she might ask to read it when I was done, and then she’d know I read a “dirty book.” But… let’s talk about the problematic subtext.

Let’s start off with the BIG one, and frankly, the one I find the most repugnant:

Redeeming Love is an allegory of God’s love for us, with God symbolically representing the male protagonist, while the female protagonist represents the human race.”

That’s the summary. Now, what is the book of Hosea about?

God ordered Hosea to marry an adulterous wife, Gomer. Their children are told to drive the unfaithful mother out of the house; but it was her reform, not her riddance, that was sought. The prophet was ordered to continue loving her, and he took her back and kept her in isolation for a while. The affair graphically represents the Lord’s relation to the Israelites, who had been disloyal to him by worshiping Canaanite deities as the source of their abundance. Israel was to go through a period of exile. But the Lord still loved his covenant people and longed to take them back, just as Hosea took back Gomer.

In the book, the God character is named Michael. He goes in search of a wife, and God tells him to marry “Angel,” a prostitute. Instead of paying for sex, he pays for an hour of her time and tells her “God told me to marry you.” She thinks he is insane, but he persists in repeating this message. After Angel is almost beaten to death by a customer, Michael asks her to marry him and she consents… as much as a woman can who is half dead and barely conscious. (In other words, she did not consent. She was not of sound mind.) So they live together, and Angel keeps running off. Why? She didn’t want to marry Michael and doesn’t love him. He chases her down and brings her back, again and again, to his cabin where they live. Alone. Where sometimes they have sex, even though she doesn’t love him… yet.

In another book, this would be the horror story of a woman abducted and forced into marriage by an insane rapist who insists she has to stay there because God said so. Take out the allegory and what is it? A guy who tells a girl who isn’t interested in him that God told him she belongs to him, who takes advantage of her after she’s been beaten up, marries her under dubious consent conditions, prevents her from running away when she doesn’t want to live with him, and sleeps with her because he wants her to have a good view of meaningful sex.

If you just said, “What the actual hell?” … yeah. This is the book my pastor’s wife recommended I read and that has 5 stars on Goodreads, because in the 90s we knew nothing about consent and it showed.

I hate the idea of equating Michael with God, because I don’t think God is toxic or a metaphorical rapist. I expect that behavior from Zeus, not God, because it’s not free will if you have no choice, and there is a distinct lack of free will in this story. Angel has no choice, she has to stay with Michael and give in to him, body and soul. Then there’s the larger issue of toxic masculinity, otherwise known as a man’s controlling behavior toward a woman. I hate to use that term, because I happen to like and respect men, but it’s appropriate in this story. “God told me you are mine” is possession, not love. A guy telling a girl “God told me you are mine” is not okay. Stalking her is not okay. Repeatedly visiting her when she asks you not to, is not okay. Not letting her leave when she doesn’t want you is not okay. It’s not romantic to be stalked and have a man not take no for an answer. It’s scary, especially when he claims it’s God’s plan for your life.

Here are a few things that I believe about godly relationships:

  • No woman belongs to a man, and should not be controlled by him or told what to do.
  • No means no inside and outside of marriage, in bed or outside of it.
  • If you don’t want to be married anymore, you can leave without being a “bad Christian.” Divorce isn’t ideal but is sometimes necessary and appropriate response to a bad situation.
  • If God intends for you to marry each other, you both get the message. It’s never a case of “God told me this, but didn’t tell you, so now I need to talk you into it.” If it’s God’s will, it’s no secret. Everyone will know. When one person is saying it, who is to say it is God? Humans are really good at doing what they want and saying that’s what God told them to do.

Adapting Hosea is problematic in the first place. That book was written in a time where women were property. Owned. Traded for a goat. Not allowed to say no. Its author saw God in the way all ancient people did, which was a God of Ownership and Boundary Issues. “You are mine, even if you don’t like it. I’m not taking no for an answer.” You see this theme repeated in many Old Testament books, including Jonah (do what I say or spend a week in a whale’s stomach), but when you contrast that to Jesus in the New Testament, you see that was the ancient people’s view of God (much like the pagans around them at the time), not how Jesus sees Him: “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” Jesus never forced anyone to follow Him. He asked. If they said no, He left them alone.

A TRULY godly man would have left Angel alone when she said no.

I know so many female readers who idolize Michael, and I don’t understand why, because he’s not a good man. The author wants him to be godly, but how can he be if he does not respect Angel’s person-hood? He blames her for her own rape after his brother forces her to pay him with sex (“What did you do to make him want you?”)! And then later, he wants a girl she rescues from a brothel to marry his brother, the rapist. No. Just no. I won’t forgive that. Ever.

This book bothers me in the same way Twilight did. It makes it seem romantic to be stalked, possessed, and controlled. In Twilight, Edward removes Bella’s engine from her truck so she can’t spend time with a boy he doesn’t like (Jacob). In real life, this is part of the isolation tactic that controlling men use to separate women from their friends and anyone who might consider their behavior “toxic.” It is painted as romantic, not problematic, and millions of women swooned over it.

Just like they swoon over Michael chasing Angel again and again and again.

Women are emotional creatures, most of whom want love and to feel desired. The idea of being pursued is exciting; the idea someone could want only us, that we could make them tremble with desire, is an erotic fantasy that arouses our imaginations. Being sexually desired but not touched is a Christian fantasy, in particular. It’s all about longing and the fulfillment of that on the wedding night. Premarital sex isn’t allowed, but that doesn’t mean the boy can’t want us. And an arranged marriage in a book allows us to read about their hot sex, without it being “dirty,” while the two of them are falling in love.

There is a double standard in Christian fiction: being aroused by two characters is okay, as long as they are married. Most books manage to avoid being explicit, but Redeeming Love is extremely erotic. It is not graphic, but it doesn’t need to be, because its author wrote erotic fiction throughout her early career and knows what turns a woman on, emotionally. Either we are called to have pure thoughts or not. And while it’s more Biblical to strive for pure thoughts, human beings are extremely sexual creatures and are drawn to things that arouse them. I’m not here to judge whether it’s a sin to enjoy a sex scene, but to say it’s wrong to romanticize toxic masculinity under the banner of “but they are married, so it’s fine.”

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I heard it’s the first “Christian” movie to have long sex scenes.

But it’s okay, right? Cuz they’re married?