Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Romancing Religion: Amber Belldene's NOT A MISTAKE

Though religion plays a large role in the lives of many Americans, not just evangelical Christians, it's rare to find mention of spirituality in romance fiction outside the Inspirational subgenre. And as All About Romance's article on the Inspirational Romance points out, "the audience and the characters are almost all evangelical or fundamentalist Protestants and have been so from the very beginning," so finding an Inspy romance with feminist values is almost as difficult as finding a single needle in a very large haystack.

That's why I was so thrilled when Amber Belldene, an author who is also an Episcopal priest, sent me a copy of her latest romance. The first in a series cheekily titled "Hot Under Her Collar," Belldene's Not a Mistake does not link finding a romantic partner with discovering God, as do the majority of inspirational romances. Instead, it explores how two people's deeply-held religious beliefs can impact the course of their romance.

"a blue shape appeared. A tiny little cross,
unmistakably positive"
Belldene's story opens not in church, but in a drugstore, where newly minted Episcopal priest Jordan Sykes is scouring the aisles, searching for a pregnancy test. Only two weeks into her appointment as rector of St. Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church, Jordan doesn't want to believe that her unexpected one-night stand on the night of her graduation from seminary could have led to an even more unexpected conception. The birth control shot she'd got before spring break surely should have protected her. Shouldn't it?

The Reverend Doctor Dominic Lawrence, religious ethics professor at Jordan's seminary, had long been attracted to his kind, whip-smart student. But with a father who had abused the authority of his religious position to coerce women into sexual relationships, Dominic has long been committed to stamping out all sexual improprieties in the church. His book on the topic, Sins of the Fathers, has made him the go-to guy whenever potential sexual improprieties in the church raise their ugly head.

When he is called in to consult on a case of a priest accused of having an affair with his secretary, Dominic tells himself it's only right to visit Jordan, who is working in the same town as the accused. Guilt over their one night stand, guilt over taking advantage of her, has plagued him for months, and he owes Jordan an apology for his hypocrisy.

The Episcopal church: 40+ years of women priests
But Jordan isn't happy to see him, isn't happy to hear his mea culpa. "If I accept your apology, I'm letting you take responsibility for something we did together. And, honestly, I should have known it would eat you up like this. If anything, I'm the one who needs to day I'm sorry" (Kindle Loc 154). Dominic, with his background of investigating sexual improprieties, cannot help but see himself as a perpetrator, with Jordan as his hapless victim. But Jordan refuses to accept being cast in that role. She had a long-time crush on Professor Lawrence; she accepted his invitation back to his house; she engaged wholeheartedly in their hot sexual tryst. Her misjudgment of the date of her birth control shot may have been a mistake, but her decision to sleep with Dominic definitely was not.

Their disagreement here mirrors the clashes they'd often had during his ethics classes, over whether the letter or the spirit of the law is most important. Is keeping a secret a nod to privacy, or is it a lie? Is it better to trust in grace and forgiveness, or rules and consequences? To love others like hell, or to hold them to the hardest line?

With such differing approaches to religion, is it any surprise that when Dominic discovers that Jordan is pregnant, the sparks, both physical and intellectual, continue to fly?

In her humorous, sexy, and above all compassionate story, Belldene combines romance and religion with a respect for the passion that lies at the heart of both. And with a respect for a woman's agency and power that is all too rare in Inspirational Romance.

Not a mistake, indeed.

Photo credits:
pregnancy test: Youtube

Not a Mistake
Hot Under Her Collar series
March 2016


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