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October 6, 2018

Saturday Link Love is a feature where I collect and post links to various articles I’ve come upon over the past week. Feel free to share any interesting articles you’ve come along as well! The more the merrier.

The rape culture of the 1980s, explained by Sixteen Candles, on Vox—-“Some of the most popular comedies of the ’80s are filled with supposedly hilarious sequences that portray what in 2018 would be unambiguously considered date rape.”

Are evangelical adoption agencies stealing children? on Dame—“According to historian Arissa Oh, author of To Save the Children of Korea, the original Holt International Children’s Services application form for prospective parents was only a half-page long. The application requested the following information: husband’s name and job; wife’s name (her profession was not requested; she was expected to be a homemaker); sex and ages of children desired; and a description of the prospective parents’ personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

The Abandoned World of 1982, on The Atlantic—“Cheerful teen movies aimed at the high-school audience—John Hughes films among them—accurately reflected commonly held American attitudes about the male need for sex and the comic nature of the extremes a normal, suburban male would go to extract it from girls, often against their clearly stated wishes.”

Why Conservative Women Are OK with Harassment, on Harper’s Bazaar—“But these women appear to be engaged in a campaign to make the world worse for themselves. It’s deeply counterintuitive. It’s like seeing someone get punched and shouting, ‘this is fine, because I have experienced harder punches.'”

Men Are Defending Brett Kavanaugh Because They’re Afraid, on Vice—“This argument smells of fear. If expressions of male violence that were once justified as ‘boys will be boys’ are no longer permissible, it will mark a major cultural shift, one which many men are not prepared for.”

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September 22, 2018

Saturday Link Love is a feature where I collect and post links to various articles I’ve come upon over the past week. Feel free to share any interesting articles you’ve come along as well! The more the merrier.

What David French’s Atlantic Piece Is Missing, on Slate—“The problem was that most of those children weren’t orphans in the way people generally think of the term. The vast majority had lost only one parent or lived with extended family.”

The Complicated, Messy Identity of a Transracial Adoptee, on Slate—“In the Atlantic, David French says questioning a white family’s ability to raise a child of color is wrong. I know it isn’t.”

She Never Saw A Classroom Until College. Now She Has A Ph.D. And A Lot Of Thoughts About Education, on Forbes—“Much has been written about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her brother, the gaslighting from her parents, and how she ultimately gained the courage to break away. Less has been written about the title and central theme of her story: the power of education.”

Between Brock Turner and Brett Kavanaugh, when do girls matter? on Simcha Fisher—“If you don’t want men to be dragged down by decades-old accusations of rape, then you need to crack down on minutes-old accusations of rape as they happen.”

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August 2, 2018

riEarlier this summer, a mother of six wrote a letter to the editor of the the Billings Gazette about a Ren fair she said was spoiled by a gay wedding. The Gazette published her letter.

I took my household (six children, ages 3-15, and myself) to the Renaissance Festival at the Billings zoo this past weekend. It was our first time to go, and overall, the kids enjoyed it very much.

We attended the parade, a barbarian raid, jousting and a royal wedding, as well as hearing numerous musical groups and looking through many booths. I expected some cleavage and wondered if there would be profanity and rough language. I heard no rough language, for which I was thankful for.

However it was shocking and disappointing that the “royal wedding” was a gay wedding with a long, deep-throated kiss at the end. I took my whole crew to this, as when one of the girls saw it on the program, she wanted to go. There was no parental warning anywhere that this was going to be a gay wedding, and I left it sickened and angry that that was presented with no warning. I apologized to my kids, and told them I would not have subjected them to that, if I had known.

She was sickened and angry, she writes, when she attended the advertised “royal wedding” at the Ren fair and witnessed a “long, deep-throated kiss” between two women. Would she have been similar sickened by a “long, deep-throated kiss” if it had been between a man and a woman? One things not.

In our current era, many of those who oppose homosexuality argue that they only on the grounds that the Bible says marriage should be between a man and a woman. They claim that it is not about disgust, not about bigotry—that it is simply about what the Bible says. Leaving aside the fact that Bible-based bigotry is still bigotry, the author of this letter to the editor makes it clear that disgust does play a role in her views.

Those who oppose gay rights today often claim that they object to gay sex in the way same that they object to premarital sex—because the Bible (they say) states that sex should take place only between a husband and a wife, not an unmarried man and an unmarried women, and not two men or two women, whether the state considers them married or not. They assert that there is no difference in how they view a sexually active gay man and a sexually active unmarried straight man.

But is that really the case?

Let’s leave aside the fact that there is a difference in the way they view these situations—in their eyes, after all, a sexually active straight man can get married, but a sexually active gay man cannot. But set that aside.

Consider this: When this mother attended the Ren fair, she surely cannot have assumed that the “royal wedding” would take place between an actually married couple. She likely assumed that they were actors. Any kiss that took place as part of the “royal wedding,” then, ought to be considered sexual promiscuity, regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of those doing the kissing.

This mother had no problem taking her children to see a kiss between two unmarried people who likely had no intention of actually marrying. Her objection was not to the sexual promiscuity involved in a deep-throated kiss. It also had nothing to do with what God does or does not allow vis a vis marriage. It had everything to do with viewing sexual activity between those of the same sex as repulsive.

The woman’s letter continued as follows:

If the Renaissance organizers wished to have their royal wedding show be between a lesbian couple, then I feel they should have put that on the flyer or been a warning at the beginning of the show, so that families who believe that is perversion could make the choice of whether they wanted their children exposed to that or not.

I believe that my rights as a parent were violated when the lesbian wedding was presented without warning. I came very close to leaving the fair because of it, but after driving 100 miles to come, standing in line for an hour to get in and paying the entry fee, decided to go to one more show and then decide.

The fair is presented as a family event, and other than this very disappointing choice by the organizers, I felt that it was. I hope that the organizers will give this consideration as they prepare for next year and if they want adult-only or gay presentations, then I ask them to make that clear in the program, so parents can avoid what they feel is inappropriate.

I’m going to hazard a guess that this same woman is the sort that poo-poos the idea of trigger warnings in college classes and refers to liberals as “snowflakes.”

What exactly is a “family” event? Conservatives’ have a seeming stranglehold on the term “family.” They’re the ones who supported tearing families apart at the border. They’re the ones who support cutting welfare benefits for families. And yet somehow, they’ve seized hold of the label “family” and act like they own it.

I’m reminded of the 1980 White House Conference on the Family. At a series of three conferences held around the country, sponsored by the Carter administration, a wide variety of stakeholders met and set out an agenda for government policy vis a vis the family. But there was a sticking point over definitions.

Just what was a family?

Conservatives rallied and organized and sought to stack each of the meetings, which they viewed as a battlefield in the wider culture war that was developing. They had a very specific definition of family in mind. As the Christian Science Monitor reported at the time:

The pro-family groups want government approval for their definition of a family as persons related by blood, marriage, or adoption. The more moderate groups recognize a broader definition of families as anybody in a loving and caring relationship, sometimes including unmarried and homosexual couples.

For many conservatives today, an event that is “family friendly” means one that not only has no nudity or language, but also has no same-sex acts or portrayals. In the eyes of these individuals, affirming incorporation of same-sex transgender individuals make an event de facto not “family friendly.”

Portraying of LGBTQ affirmation as inherently not “family friendly” has dangerous consequences, not only because of the message it sends to LGBTQ children and teens but also because of the message it sends to LGBTQ individuals and families. This is wrong, and should not be catered to in any way shape or form.

If you go out in public, you will see other people. That is how going out in public works. Beyond basic decency standards that apply to gay and straight individuals alike, you cannot restrict the actions of other. You cannot require events that would not otherwise come with parental warnings to to offer a parental warning if they they involve same-sex individuals, couples, or portrayals.

Seeing gay or lesbian individuals be intimate in public—in the same ways straight couples are—is simply part living in a world full of people. We have basic decency laws that bar things like public nudity. Selectively applying rules like these—or parental warnings—to actions that would be considered appropriate if the couple were opposite-sex is wrong, inappropriate, and discriminatory.

If this mother did not want her children to see a “full, deep-throated kiss”—the genders involved should be irrelevant—she shouldn’t have taken them to a “royal wedding” event at a Ren fair, period and full stop.

People are allowed to exist in public without a parental warning.

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July 10, 2018

I have been studiously trying not to think about the Supreme Court vacancy Trump is busy working to fill. I have also not paid the attention to a few of the last Supreme Court rulings of this session that I should have. There is just so much.

When I was in the car the other day, NPR helpfully filled in some of the details on National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, the crisis pregnancy center case. Prior to this, I knew only that Becerra overruled a California law requiring crisis pregnancy centers to display information directing patients on how to access abortion services.

As the NPR commentators explained, the argument turned on speech issues—requiring centers to display the information, the Court ruled, constituted forced speech. There is a certain logic to this, and it’s not hard to see why many might find the Court’s decision reasonable—but this logic extends only so far, and is only surface-level. The illusion of consistency vanished the moment an NPR commentator read a section from Justice Breyer’s dissent.

Breyer began by citing Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1991), in which the Supreme Court held that states could lawfully require physicians to provide patients with information about adoption services before performing an abortion.

He then asked this question:

If a state can lawfully require a doctor to tell a woman seeking an abortion about adoption services, why should it not be able, as here, to require a medical counselor to tell a woman seeking prenatal care or other reproductive health care about childbirth and abortion services? As the question suggests, there is no convincing reason to distinguish between information about adoption and information about abortion in this context. After all, the rule of law embodies evenhandedness, and “what is sauce for the goose is normally sauce for the gander.”

Abortion opponents have spent decades crafting dozens of requirements to be placed on abortion clinics and abortion providers—they must provide information about parenting and adoption, they must provide information about the health risks of abortion (including things that are not actually health risks), and on and on it goes. It is only logical that a blue state like California would require similar disclosures of crisis pregnancy centers.

This made me curious about the content of the notices the California law required crisis pregnancy centers to display. So I did some poking around. According to Reason, the requirements were as follows:

[A.] California law required any licensed medical facilities that had the “primary purpose” or “providing family planning or pregnancy-related services” to disseminate (by posting, distributing in print, or providing digitally) a notice that said,

California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office at [insert the telephone number].

The rule covered facilities that did at least two of the following: (1) offering obstetric ultrasounds, obstetric sonograms, or prenatal care, (2) providing or counseling about contraception, (3) offering pregnancy testing or diagnosis, (4) advertising sonograms, pregnancy tests, or pregnancy options counseling, (5) offering abortion services, (6) or collecting health information from clients using staff or volunteers. And it exempted certain categories of clinics, such as those enrolled in a state program that required clinics to provide sterilization and emergency contraceptives.

[B.] California law also required certain facilities that were not licensed by the states to provide—both on-site and on all advertisements—a conspicous notice that said,

This facility is not licensed as a medical facility by the State of California and has no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services.

This requirement applied to facilities that engaged in at least two of items 1, 3, 4, and 6 above (basically offering ultrasounds, sonograms, prenatal care, pregnancy testing, and pregnancy options counseling, and collecting health information). California doesn’t require licenses for engaging in such actions, but does require disclosure of the facility’s unlicensed status.

This seems completely reasonable.

Remember my posts last week about how crisis pregnancy centers are increasingly advertising themselves as women’s clinics? In fact, they have become so good at this deception that many women think they are walking into a licensed medical clinic, when in fact they’re walking into a facility that only offers pregnancy tests and ultrasounds as a way to bring women in and dissuade them from getting an abortion (often through a combination of false information about health risks and religious rhetoric positing that abortion is murder and cohabitation is sin).

It is reasonable for the state of California to want to ensure that women who enter such clinics know, first, that these clinics are not licensed, and, second, have access to a number to call if they want more comprehensive help offered by the state, including state-funded prenatal care. And that first requirement—ensuring that women know about state reproductive health services—applied to all clinics that dealt in family planning, not just those opposing abortion.

So let’s be clear, here—the Court ruled that requiring a crisis pregnancy center to display a notice stating that the clinic is not licensed, and a number to call for information about state-offered reproductive services, violated the center’s right to free speech. What of women’s right to truth in advertising?

In fact, it strikes me that Becerra could be used to strike down all truth-in-advertising laws. Except that it probably won’t be used that way, since it seems to merely be women who do not have the right to truth in advertising. Make a licensed doctor claim falsely that abortion leads to increased risk of breast cancer when it doesn’t? Conservatives are all for it! Make an unlicensed clinic state that it is unlicensed? Conservatives protest, and win.

I am suddenly remembering why I stayed away from most news about this case when the ruling first came down in June. This ruling is so fundamentally wrong that reading about it is depressing as hell. The only silver spot is that the case has to go back to the lower courts, but given the strong wording of the Supreme Court, findings there are unlikely to change (i.e. the process appears to be merely procedural).

This is wrong. It is injustice. And the only way to fight it is to change the Supreme Court. But—oh that’s right—we’re screwed there too. I’m not really sure what to say to my daughter’s generation other than I’m sorry.

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July 3, 2018

A recent Essence article about anti-abortion pregnancy centers highlighted a problem with these centers that I had not thought about before. I knew that these centers shamed the women who came into them and spread misinformation about the risks associated with abortion. I also knew that these centers out on sex-education programs in local schools that involve both shaming and misinforming students.

I had not, however, thought about the full implications of these centers presenting themselves as though they were medical facilities. It’s not just that misleading people is wrong—although it is. Making someone think you are a medical facility when you are not is also dangerous.

Anti-abortion pregnancy centers have for many decades presented themselves as places where women with unplanned pregnancies can go for solutions—or in other words, as abortion clinics. The idea was that by luring women considering abortion into their facilities, they could dissuade them and change their mind. However in recent years these centers have become more medical in their presentation.

In other words, anti-abortion pregnancy clinics are no longer simply masquerading as abortion clinics. They’re masquerading as medical clinics where a woman might come for prenatal care—even though many of these clinics neither provide prenatal care nor have medically trained professionals on the premises.

Compounding this problem, Tatsha Robertson writes in her Essence article, pregnancy care centers often target neighborhoods that are low income and minority majority—areas where what looks like a free medical clinic (but is not) is especially appealing. Robertson centers her story on Dartricia Rollins.

In December 2013 Dartricia Rollins had a hunch that she might be pregnant.

“I went to apply for Medicaid and they gave me a list of places I could go to get a free pregnancy test, because obviously if you don’t have health insurance, you more than likely don’t have a doctor, and more than likely you can’t afford to pay for a blood test,” she says.

She was only 22 years old—a freshman majoring in psychology at Atlanta Metropolitan State College. On the list was a pregnancy services center in Marietta, Georgia, which was located close to her home in the suburbs of Atlanta.

“D’Juan, my boyfriend at the time—he’s my husband now—looked them up online. We didn’t see anything alarming. We called and scheduled an appointment for later that weekend,” she recalls.

Rollins walked into a well-lit facility with staff members in medical scrubs. She provided them with her medical records, her driver’s license, her social security number and a urine sample and was immediately called in to see a counselor to talk about her pregnancy. She was given an ultrasound as well.

Rollins believed the staff who served her, including the person who had conducted her ultrasound, had medical backgrounds. She was likely wrong. She assumed that they were there strictly to provide medical services. She was probably wrong about that too.

In a letter to state legislators, Dartricia Rollins, who is now 26, explained that the deception was more than frustrating for her. She believes it was fatal to her unborn child.

Yes, you read that right—fatal. Remember when I said that pretending to be a medical facility when you are not can be dangerous? This is what I was talking about.

Before explaining what happened in the aftermath of her visit, Robertson writes about what Rollins went through at her appointment at the clinic:

Although Rollins and her boyfriend told the counselor at the center they wanted to keep their child if they were pregnant, the counselor spent hours trying to persuade them not to get an abortion, scolding them about their sex life and their lack of religion and trying to persuade them to get married.

“I came in for an ultrasound, but instead I was subjected to hours of invasive questions about my sexual and religious life. Instead of being told about prenatal care, I received hours of hurtful comments about how my loving boyfriend could never be a good father unless he had the same religious beliefs as the people in the center,” Rollins wrote in her letter.

“We ended up leaving crushed and frustrated. We both respected the counselor’s religious beliefs, but I was there for medical care and medical care only, and I am hurt and angered by the fact that convincing my boyfriend to attend church was more important to her than making sure I had the information I needed to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby, and the consequences of that were fatal.”

Yes, fatal.

Before leaving the clinic, Rollins was given an ultrasound and was then told she was in the earliest stages of her pregnancy. Two months later she visited a doctor, who told her she was actually much further along.

On March 12, 2014, Rollins began cramping and bleeding at work. She called her doctor, who told her to head to a nearby hospital. “I found out that day that I had an incompetent cervix,” she notes. “But because I came to him later than normal, due to misinformation I’d received earlier in my pregnancy, I did not have the proper procedure to confirm this condition and treat it, resulting in the loss of my baby. His name would have been Noah.”

I am not a medical professional and am not qualified to assess Rollins’ belief that the misinformation she received at an anti-abortion pregnancy care center led to her incompetent cervix going undiagnosed. I looked the condition up and it appears that it often goes undiagnosed, but also that it can sometimes be detected by tracking the cervix to assess any dilation.

Regardless of whether the information she received at the pregnancy care center played a role in her incompetent cervix going undiagnosed, Rollins alleges that she received misinformation, and that misinformation led her to delay her first pregnancy-related doctor’s visit.

Rollins tried to forget what happened: “I was sad about it for a long time, and I just let it go. I was in the middle of midterms, and I just tried not to think about that again.”

She doesn’t know if she or husband D’Juan will ever get over the loss or the deception. “My friend asked, ‘Do you think that is why you are afraid to have a baby now?’ And it totally is. We have been trying to make sure everything is perfect—that our health is perfect, that we have health insurance.

Plenty of our friends say, ‘People can get pregnant at any time. You shouldn’t worry too much.’ But I need to worry. I need to be sure of the doctor. I need to make sure I never go to one of these places again.”

Robertson adds this as well:

Yashica Robinson, M.D., who runs both a large medical practice and a health clinic that offers abortion in Huntsville, Alabama, says the CPCs are so integrated in the medical system that patients often believe they have to get referrals from them before coming to see her.

“The CPCs’ goal is to capture those abortion-minded people, so
 if that means they will have to lie, then they will do that,” she says.

Although some crisis pregnancy centers hire legitimate medical experts, Robinson says, many do not, which can create a big problem. When counselors at the clinics don’t have medical training, a woman can get misinformation, such as an incorrect due date, which will delay visits with a prenatal doctor. Some are told they are not pregnant at all or that they are earlier than they really are and must come back over and over.

“This can be dangerous to women because most are not aware these are not real clinics,’’ Robinson says. They may think these visits count as prenatal care. The centers can get away with it because they are practicing free speech and offering free services, she says.

Go read Robertson’s entire article.

Three decades ago, these offices advertised themselves as “crisis pregnancy centers” and were more transparent about what they offered—they were designed for women undergoing a crisis pregnancy, in an effort to dissuade these women from seeking an abortion and to push them toward parenthood or adoption, often employing a mixture of shame and religion, and scare tactics vis a vis the risk of abortion.

As the years went by, many of these centers had begun to disguise themselves as abortion clinics, with similar names and locations in the same building or nearby. This I knew. I’d read articles of women who thought they were walking into an abortion clinic, but instead found themselves being confronted with pictures of bloody fetuses and pamphlets linking breast cancer to abortion.

Until reading Robertson’s article, I hadn’t considered the extent to which many these clinics are now presenting themselves as free medical clinics, rather than disguising themselves as abortion clinics. As a result, these offices are now pulling in women like Robertson, who was not actually considering abortion.

There is an argument to be made, within the pro-life framework, that misleading women about the nature of these centers in order to dissuade women from having abortions is ethically responsible. That argument becomes far more shaky if these clinics are pulling in non-abortive women and providing substandard medical care, as Rollins, Robertson, and and Robinson allege.

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April 12, 2018

Growing up, I don’t think I ever read Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love. I know my sister did. Published in 1997, the book was all the rage in evangelical circles in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Since I have spent the last couple years reviewing another of Rivers’ books, A Voice in the Wind, I decided it was high time I read Redeeming Love—especially since it just happened to already be on my bookshelf (I actually don’t remember where I got it).

Samantha Field has a review series on Redeeming Love, and I’ve already reviewed one work by Rivers, so I don’t intend to give this one sustained treatment. However, I did want to touch on a few thoughts I had while reading it. Let’s start with the teaser on the back cover of the book:

California’s gold country, 1850. A time when men sold their souls for a bag of gold and women sold their bodies for a place to sleep. Angel expects nothing from men but betrayal. Sold into prostitution as a child she survives by keeping her hatred alive. And what she hates most are the men who use her, leaving her empty and dead inside.

Then she meets Michael Hosea.

A man who seeks his Father’s heart in everything, Michael obeys God’s call to marry Angel and to love her unconditionally. Slowly, day by day, he defies Angel’s every bitter expectation, until despite her resistance, her frozen heart begins to thaw. But with her unexpected softening come overwhelming feelings of unworthiness and fear. And so Angel runs. Back to the darkness, away from her husband’s pursuing love, terrified of the truth she no longer can deny: Her final healing must come from the One who loves her even more than Michael does … the One who will never let her go.

Yes, it really is that horrible.

The book treats Angel as the one with the problem. Angel is a child sex abuse victim. She was eight when a wealthy businessman bought her as his sex slave. She had a troubled life before then, too—her mother was a married man’s mistress, with her own little cottage, until Angel was three. After that the man cast her mother aside, and they lived in a hovel by the docks where her mother found a way to sustain them by working as a prostitute.

When Angel’s mother died when she was eight, a kindly drunk arranged what he thought was an adoption for her into a wealthy family, but was actually a life of child sex slavery of the worst, most abusive kind you can imagine. After Angel grew a few years older, she was trafficked to a wealthy clientele, still owned by the same abuser.

When Angel was sixteen she successfully ran away, and boarded a boat to California. Once there, she was abused on the street and lived in squalor until a madam picked her up, along with some other girls, and started a brothel. Life there was better for Angel than it had been before, but even then, the madam was increasingly controlling, kept her money under lock and key, and kept a “bodyguard” to make sure none of the girls ran away.

And yet, throughout Rivers’ book, we’re to think of Angel as bitter and angry. The real problem with Angel is that her dream is to save enough money to buy a small cottage and live on her own, away from men. No really—that is Angel’s dream and it is a problem, because God has told Michael Hosea, a California farmer, to marry her, whether she wants to or not—and she most certainly does not.

The book is a fictional retelling of the story of Hosea and Gomer. In the book of Hosea, in the Old Testament, God tells the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute, Gomer. He does so. Gomer proceeds to run away from him multiple times, and to be unfaithful to him. Each time, Hosea goes back and retrieves her.

Okay, so, here is the weird thing. In Rivers’ book, Michael is aware of the story of Hosea and Gomer. He thinks it is an odd coincidence. But to this reader, it seems like something simpler than that. See, Michael concludes that God has told him to marry Angel one day when he is getting supplies in town and sees her walking down the street with her bodyguard/jailer. He sees her, and suddenly concludes that he is supposed to marry her.

No, really.

Michael Hosea was unloading crates of vegetables from the back of his buckboard when he saw a beautiful young woman walking along the street. She was dressed in black, like a widow, and a big, rough-looking man with a gun on his hip was at her side. All along Main Street, men stopped what they were doing, took off their hats, and watched her. She said not a word to anyone. She looked neither to the right nor the left. She moved with simple, fluid grace, her shoulders straight, her head held high.

Michael couldn’t take his eyes off her. His heart beat faster and faster as she came near. He willed her to look at him, but she didn’t. He let out his breath after she passed, not even aware that he had been holding it.

This one, beloved. 

Michael felt a rush of adrenaline mingle with joy. Lord. Lord! 

He has been praying for a wife. When he sees Angel, he hears the internal voice of God telling him that that is the woman he is to marry. He makes inquiries and learns that she is a prostitute. But to this reader, knowing that Hosea already knows the story of Hosea and Gomer, it feels like there is some personal confirmation bias going on here.

Michael wants a wife. He’s living in the middle of the California Gold Rush and there aren’t many women around. Already knowing the story of Hosea and Gomer, he picks out a prostitute to marry, like his namesake. To me, despite his protestations that he did not know she was a prostitute when he saw her, that does not feel like a coincidence.

And the whole voice of God thing—let’s just say that I’ve met people before who believed God told them who they were to marry. And you know what? It was some sort of huge wish fulfillment. It was, I’ve had a crush on that guy since 9th grade, and God has told me he is the man I will marry. Convenient much? This feels the same.

But without further ado, I’d like to list some of the things that particularly bothered me about this book, as individual items.

1. Michael never asks Angel to marry him. He goes to her and tells her he’s going to marry her. Actually, he tells her she’s going to marry him. “You’re going to marry me, and I’m going to take you out of here,” he says.

2. Michael sees Angel by paying for a half hour in her bed, and proceeding to use his time asking her questions and digging into her personal life. Don’t do this to service workers. They don’t owe you their life story.

3. Angel never actually consents to their marriage. She tells Michael no and he leaves, only to come back and find that she has been beaten unconscious by her madam’s muscle (for asking for her share of her profits). He buys her bleeding, unconscious body from the madam, takes her to a pastor, and marries her. While she’s like that. She wakes up in his home, in the middle of nowhere, with no recollection of having married him.

4. Michael never asks Angel what she wants. He works to make her settle in to domestic bliss while what she actually wants is a cottage of her own where she can live without dependence on any man. But when she repeatedly says she’s not going to stay with him, Michael assumes she wants to go back to the brothel and resume her life as a prostitute.

The first time Angel leaves Michael, she goes back to the madam for her money, only to find brothel and madam gone. She arranges a better deal with a nearby shopkeeper than she’d had with the madam—she gets room and board and 50% of her earnings, and the men pay her—and sets about sex work to save money for a cottage.

When Michael comes, he asks why she left. She says she wanted a cottage. He says she already has one—his—and ends the conversation there. He does not listen to her. He does not care what she wants. As far as he is concerned, God has told him that she is to be his wife, and that’s the end of it—what she wants is irrelevant.

Michael de facto assumes she ants to go back to being a prostitute, and that is why she keeps trying to leave him. Except that it isn’t.

5. Michael takes her back to his farm by force. When he returns to the town and finds her in the brothel, he attacks her client and any man who tries to interfere with him and takes Angel by force back to his wagon. After they start, she jumps off the wagon and runs. He goes after her and tackles her, dragging her back to his wagon.

6. Michael is not a mental health professional. At one point he tells Angel that she is “drowning” in “self-pity.” Michael, she spent ten years as a child sex slave and then as a trafficked prostitute. Leave her alone.

7. I’m stuck on the reality that Angel wanted nothing more to do with men and Michael forced her to marry him anyway. That makes me want to smash something. As far as I’m concerned, she has more than earned the right to never have to see another man in her  has lived a life of sex slavery and trafficking. . Instead, she is married against her will (she told him no) and dragged off to a farm in the middle of nowhere, where she has to live alone with a man she didn’t want, without access to transportation or anyway to leave.

And Rivers thinks Michael is awesome for doing this.

8. The book treats Angel as in need of forgiveness. At one point Michael wonders to himself whether there is “a sin this woman has not committed.”

9. When Angel asks Michael what he wants of her he says: “Everything. I want what you don’t even know you have to give.” This same basic exchange happens multiple times. This is not romantic. It’s creepy. Especially for someone who has spent her life as a trafficked sex slave, being literally owned.

10. Michael tells Angel that he knew how to please her when they first had sex—despite being a good Christian virgin with zero knowledge of female anatomy—because he had read the Song of Solomon. No, really.

11. Michael was the son of a wealthy plantation owner in the South and was brought to the Lord by “Old Ezra,” a slave on the plantation. This may seem an odd fit for a list like this, but there should be a specific category for this in Christian fiction. Elsie Dinsmore, too, became a Christian as a child through the influence of a kindly slave. I’m just saying, this should make the bingo sheet.

12. Michael says his brother-in-law, Paul, is a “decent man,” despite the fact that Paul is a horrible shit who made Angel have sex with him in payment for a trip into town (see the first time Angel leaves, under number 4 above). Rivers agrees with Michael’s assessment and marries Paul off to young Mariam, Angel’s first friend. We’re informed that all that Paul needed (he had some serious anger problems, among other things) was a little softening by a good woman.

Miriam deserved better.

13. Miriam’s father tells her that she needs “a strong man who’ll keep a firm hand” on her because she’s so headstrong. Miriam’s father is portrayed positively and held up as a model of a good father throughout the book. This leaves me with a question. How exactly is Miriam supposed to change Paul if he’s supposed to keep a “firm hand” on her? How does this work?

Miriam deserved better.

14. The second and third times Angel leaves Michael, she does not return to prostitution. Instead, she takes a job in a shop, then as a cook in a restaurant, and then, finally, she opens a home for prostitutes who want to leave the trade, gain some skills, and get on their feet. And yet, each time, she is expected to leave her life of independence—an independence she badly wanted—and return to Michael, despite never having intended to marry him and despite having been delirious when he married her (against her wishes).

15. The last time Angel leaves Michael, she does so because he wants children and she can’t have them—while living as a sex slave she had an operation (against her will) that rendered her barren. Angel believes she loves Michael by this point, and decides he deserves better. He refuses to move on and marry someone else, and eventually she returns to him. Then we get this:

Sarah [Angel’s birth name, which she returns to at the end of the book] and Michael shared many happy years together. On their seventh anniversary, their prayers were answered with the birth of a son, Stephen. Stephen was followed by Luke, Lydia, and Esther.

How very convenient. This just feels extremely insensitive to female readers who have experienced infertility. Rivers couldn’t let us actually see them have to live with this? Oh no, she couldn’t. She had to just tie it up with a nice neat bow. I’m weirdly angry at this.

Now, a few more thoughts.

When I started this book, it very quickly felt like some combination of watching Stockholm Syndrome develop and reading the Taming of the Shrew. Michael is portrayed as actively working to shape the kind of woman Angel will be. Michael literally purchases Angel from a brothel and sets about making her into his ideal of a good woman and wife.

Michael never gives Angel agency. He never tells her that she can decide whether she wants to be his wife or to leave and forge her own way. Instead, he tells her that she belongs to him—that she is his wife, and that means he owns her. How can Rivers not see how traumatic this could be for a survivor of horrific sexual abuse and sex trafficking?

In her review series, Samantha Field points out that at certain points in the book, Michael sexually assaults Angel, such as when he comes to take Angel back to his farm after the second time she leaves him.

When Michael shows up, the first thing he does is sexually assault her:

Michael caught hold of her and swung her around. “Oh, yes I do [know why you left]!” He pulled her into his arms. “You left because of this.” He covered her mouth with his. When she tried to push free, he cupped the back of her head. She struggled harder as the betraying warmth stole over her. (305-06).

Hoo, boy. This is the same rape myth that pissed me off in the “Breaker of Chains” Game of Thronesdebacle. It’s the myth that women don’t know what we want– if we resist, if we say no, we don’t really meanit. Here, that myth is combined with the prevalent idea that women are supposed to find sexual violence arousing. Angel is being attacked by a man she was actively backing away from — tripping over tables and boots– but when he assaults her she feels a “betraying warmth.” How many times have we seen this exactscene in other books, in TV, in movies? A woman backing away from a manly man who mans very manly-like until her back hits a wall and he’s suddenly there with his manliness and oh swoon.

Confusingly, Angel’s reaction to this whole confrontation again makes sense as an abuse victim. She begins “shaking violently” as he tries to get her things together to leave. Every other description of her emotional state and actions fits right in to what I feel when I’m trying to function through panic attack. Once again, though, Francine is going to ignore that she’s writing a textbook abusive relationship. In this scene, Angel accuses Michael of feeling a “sense of power” and he admits it, but then says “But it’s not a power I’m going to use against you.” Right. Like you didn’t just use your physical power one page ago to sexually assault the woman you have manipulated and kidnapped repeatedly.

Goddess above this is awful.

Rivers treats Michael as a good, godly Christian man throughout the book. Michael has this deep underlying confidence and peace (combined with good looks) that turns heads. He is a man of God. He is close to God, constantly in prayer. Angel’s young friend, Miriam, wishes repeatedly that there were more men like Michael out there. Nowhere in the book does Rivers castigate Michael.

It appears, then, that Rivers does not recognize sexual assault as sexual assault when she writes it. And that is rather horrifying.

Michael, by the way, is twenty-six when the book opens. Angel is 18. While an age gap would have been normal in this historical period and Angel is at least an adult, the power dynamics at play are worth looking at. Michael has land, a house, money, and years of experience on Angel. Angel has, well, nothing. She doesn’t have family connections. She doesn’t have friends. She has no money and only one set of skills (and not one she wants to go back to using). She is at Michael’s mercy.

Indeed the only reason she initially settles in and starts cooking and cleaning for Michael is that she figures she will need to learn how to do these things herself if she is going to fulfill her dream of living on her own, without being dependent on any man.

The last time Angel leaves Michael, she runs into and befriends a wealthy business man and his daughter, who are both Christians, conveniently,  and they help her start a home for prostitutes looking for a way out. The home Angel starts includes instruction in reading, something Angel did not know how to do until the businessman’s daughter taught her.

That’s right—Michael have have taught April how to cook and clean and tend the vegetable garden, but he did not teach Angel to read. Why the blazes not?

As Angel oversees this new school and boarding home, I’m struck by a question—how different would Angel’s life have been if she had found this place, rather than being kidnapped and bought and paid for by Michael? All Angel wanted was independence. She wanted a chance to be dependent on no man. If she had had access to a home like the one she founded with the help of her new friends, she could have realized her dream.

Rivers doesn’t seem to ever ask that question. Instead, she packs Angel up and sends her back to Michael once again.

Angel’s time away from Michael this last time, by the way, wasn’t about her learning that she could live independently, or finding meaning in helping other women. Instead, for Rivers, Angel’s final time away from Michael’s was about finding Michael’s God—which she does. She needed to be away from Michael to do this, Rivers tells us, because she had put Michael in the place of God in her life. She needed to be away from him to find God—only then she would be ready to return to him, as she was always meant to.

You should definitely read Samantha Field’s review series. She goes into further depth about Michael’s abusive characteristics. As someone who experienced an abusive relationship herself, Samantha is deft at pointing to the cracks in Michael’s good, godly image. She points out, for example, that Angel frequently responds to Michael the way one would expect an abuse victim to respond to her abuser. Even though she is writing it, Rivers somehow doesn’t seem to recognize this portrayal.

Is it any surprise evangelical congregations have had such difficulty responding to abuse allegations, when this is what passes for good, godly Christian fiction?

In Friday’s Voice in the Wind review installment, I will draw some comparisons between the characters in Redeeming Love and the characters in Voice in the Wind. 

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April 10, 2018

The tragic deaths of the Hart children, whose mothers drove their van off a cliff in California at 90 miles per hour with them inside, has hit me hard. It has me thinking, too, about the political activism my parents involved my siblings and I in as children.

The Hart family, you see, was very politically involved.

This picture was taken in March 2016, two years before the children’s horrific deaths. Multiple pictures of the Hart family have surfaced—the Harts with their children at music festivals, at anti-brutality protests, and so on. And here’s the thing that has increasingly struck me as I have looked at these images.

The children are props. 

Look at the above picture. Look at all the matching shirts. The picture only means something with the kids. The picture is a statement. It is a political statement—a statement made by the parents.

The children are props. 

I remember being a prop. I’ve done that. Stand all in a line and smile sweetly while you hold signs that say “Adoption Saves” and “Abortion Kills Children.” Attendance is mandatory. No, you can’t stay home. Everyone is going. Line up, smile sweetly.

I’m not saying children can’t have political opinions. They most certainly can. But political opinions have to come with options.

Was the photo op above—with the matching Bernie shirt—optional? Would the Harts have taken the same photo with only five of their children, or three, or one? Were the matching shirts optional? Teenagers aren’t usually fans of wearing matching family shirts. And yet here they are—all six of them. Was opting out allowed?

The Harts did not shy from the spotlight. This 2014 photo of young Devonte Hart, with tears in his eyes, hugging a white police officer went viral in the midst of protests of police brutality:

And yet—and yet.

As the story was told, Devonte was standing at a police brutality protest holding a “free hugs” sign and crying openly when the officer walked up to him and spoke with him, and, ultimately, asked for a hug.

I’m left with questions.

Was Devonte required by his parents to hold that sign? Was he allowed to opt out? I remember traveling to rallies with siblings who didn’t want to be there. Certainly, we were on the other side of the aisle—we were protesting against same-sex marriage and abortion—but we were participating in what feels like a similar sort of theater.

We children were props. 

Good Christian homeschool family, stair-stepped children all standing in a role. It was an image. A theater. There was no opt-out. You go, you stand, you smile sweetly. You participate. You help craft the image. You are part of the family, and the family is a political image that is being sold. Good Christian homeschool family, stair-stepped children all standing in a role.

We children were props. 

The Hart parents crafted a different image, to be sure—but an image nonetheless. Happy same-sex parents with passel of happy adopted children of color. Good progressives, not racist at all, modeling love and unity. Performative white allyship. An image.

An act.

This is why I don’t take my own children to political events. They’re not props in an image I am crafting. My activism is mine. I am not going to bring them along to create a specific image. Granted, I have only two children, both white, both biological. Still. My daughter didn’t want to go to the Women’s March, so I didn’t make her. That could have been an image, after it’s own sort—mother and daughter, attending hand-in-hand. But she is not my prop. She is her own person. In our family, you own your own politics.

I am not against children’s political activism—to the contrary! I want to see teens taken seriously. But to get there, such activism has to come with an opt-out. If attendance and participation is mandatory, is it real? And whose is it, really?

Is children’s involvement really theirs, owned by them and them alone—or is their presence actually about creating a picture-perfect image, a political statement to bolster their parents’ activism—an act of performative theater?

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