(originally published July 2014)
Content note that what follows contains references to abusive behavior.
So what do we do with this? A book that is supposed to give us a living picture of love gives an image instead of a woman being manipulated, controlled, and abused. Angel is not able to choose what she wants or have any type of self-defining power. Michael knows what she wants more than she does and won't let her choose anything else.Angel is also the one who is consistently portrayed as sinful, fallen, and living a life of sin away from God -- even though her "sin" was that she sold into child prostitution at age eight and was abused her entire life. The whole story just left me feeling gross. My conclusion after finishing this book was that Michael Hosea, who Rivers tries hard to portray as the embodiment of all that is good and beautiful in the world, was actually someone I would have to call abusive. His abuse was not always as obvious or overt to Angel as the men in her past because he couched it in language of love and because she had never experienced a loving, healthy relationship. Her self-worth was low and she trusted the first man who did not treat her like crap. But more "benevolent" abuse is still abuse.
What does it mean that these are the dominant images of love for evangelical Christian women? How does that affect how we view boundaries, relationships, our own voice or understanding of self-worth? How does it affect how we see God if we believe that God will "drag us back" from our idolatry?I would argue that we need better images of love. We need healing, liberating images. We need images that do not conflate abuse with love and that respect the agency of the other.