African American History Month – Michele Andrea Bowen

Michele Andrea Bowen Fan Page | Facebook

This post is part of a feature at Jorie’s Reads by Starry Night Elf called “Celebrating Authors.” It’s also in honor African American History Month.

Back in my college days, my mom recommended I read Michele Andrea Bowen’s Church Folk. I heeded her recommendation and finished the book during spring break. Church Folk offered a realistic Christian romance between two African Americans set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement. Bowen’s book raised the bar for Christian Fiction in my opinion. I revisited and reviewed it in one of my library school classes. Check out my 2007 review of it by clicking on Well, isn’t that special? The story of Church Folk by Michele Andrea Bowen.

Bowen has gone on to write more stories, including a sequel to Church Folk. I recommend her writing to anyone seeking historical fiction and/or no-nonsense Christian fiction.

Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love: A novel

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers | LibraryThing

Rivers, F. (2005). Redeeming love: A novel. Sisters, Or: Multnomah. 9781590525135

A number of my friends enjoy Christian Fiction. This is a genre I haven’t explored deeply. When I heard that Redeeming Love paralleled the Old Testament book of Hosea, I placed a request on it through HCPL.

Set during the California Gold Rush of the 1840s – 1850s, Rivers writes the story of Angel (Gomer), a beautiful prostitute, who is saved from a bordello by Michael Hosea, an honest farmer. Angel suffered much as she was sold into the trade as an eight-year old girl and trusts no one, especially not men. However, Michael hears God tell him he is to marry Angel. While he doesn’t exactly want to marry a “soiled dove,” Michael does as instructed. Although Michael treats her with love and respect, Angel can’t resist the depravity of her “previous life.” Michael relentlessly brings Angel back to his farm.

I wouldn’t call this a replica of Hosea but Rivers weaves the Gold Rush into the plot quite well. Also, Rivers paints her version of Gomer with living color. Through Angel, Rivers explores God’s grace and unfailing love. I could also detect Rivers’ previous experience as a secular romance writer. I also appreciated the expression of God’s love. Rivers nor her characters were preachy or sanctimonious and I thank God for that. Love scenes were present but so discreet that I didn’t even notice the first one – definitely for the Christian reader. This may not have been my favorite book for stylistic reasons (repetitive in words and events) but I did like the message.

Three and a Half Out of Five Pearls

Song: YouTube – Third Day – Gomer’s Theme

Places : New England, New York City, California

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For more on Francine Rivers’ Redeeming love: A novel, check out the following sites:

Well, isn’t that special? The story of Church Folk by Michele Andrea Bowen

Church Folk by Michele Andrea Bowen | LibraryThing

Bowen, M. A. (2001). Church Folk. West Bloomfield, Mich: Walk WorthyPress.978-0446615389

In 1961, Memphis Reverend Theophilus Henry Simmons finds himself emotionally drained after preaching a revival in Mississippi. Wanting a break from the demands of church, Theophilus heads for Pompey’s Rib Joint, “which had the best rib tip sandwiches around – not to mention being known for hosting some of the best blues artists in the region” (Bowen 2001). Not only does Theophilus discover the truth about the goodness of the food and music but he sees the cook, Miss Essie Lee Lane. Immediately, he is attracted to lovely, no nonsense, Christian, diamond in the rough. Essie is drawn to Theophilus as well even though she wants no part of being a preacher’s wife. After a long distance “courting,” Theophilus and Essie marry and Essie becomes the First Lady of Theophilus’s Memphis church, Greater Hope. Human flaws as well as church politics and civil rights are seen as they play into the relationship of the Reverend and Mrs. Simmons.

Church Folk is a publication of the Walk Worthy Press, part of Warner, whose target audience is Christian African-American (May 2007). Most, if not all, characters are African American. Since it is set in the early 1960s South, Civil Rights play a big role in the book. Protagonists seek direction from prayer and Bible study in how to move in gaining equal rights. For the most part, main characters determine early in the novel that African Americans must love each other before they can move forward in Civil Rights. This means cleaning up the acts of ill-behaving preachers and “walking the talk.”

The protagonists in this novel are definitely prayerful Christians. When the protagonists commit sins, they do confess to God and fellow Christians, and ask for forgiveness. Bowen has created a morality play in this novel and she holds her characters accountable for their foibles. God and The Bible drive the action of Theophilus and Essie among many other “good guys.”

However, Bowen does break the cardinal rules of Christian Fiction. Bowen mentions sex on the very first page of the Prologue. “Sex below the neck” does take place in Church Folk (May 2007). In numerous cases, characters having sex outside of marriage is mentioned but not described in full detail. While a forgiving tone exists, having unmarried sex is definitely not condoned by the author. Usually, characters suffer bad consequences for these actions. Also, some characters do use “bad language” but this is a device the author uses to help readers identify hypocrites among badly behaved clergymen.

My mom picked up Church Folk at the library and found the novel refreshingly honest and realistic. Immediately, she encouraged me to read it as an example of Christian Fiction because the people acted like people and not sanctimonious goody-goodies. We both were chagrined to see the “African American” sticker which the library put on the spine of Church Folk. Although neither Mom nor I are African American, we are Christians who enjoyed reading the book. Bowen illustrates Christian characters so well that anyone should be able to enjoy Church Folk. I really liked the down to earth Theophilus and strong, smart cracking Essie as well as Essie’s family and Theophilus’s mentor, the Reverend Murchison James. Additionally, the good characters all possess a good sense of humor and they say the funniest things. This humor makes events memorable and enjoyable for readers. Characters such as the uppity Saphronia McComb, crazy Glodean Benson, and the crooked Reverends Marcel Brown and Sonny Washington are despicable as well as recognizable.

I would most assuredly recommend Church Folk to readers who want realistic Christian Fiction. As previously mentioned, readers can tell from the first page about the sexual content of Church Folk. If a reader finds this offensive, then he/she can move on to another book. I believe audiences of Historical Fiction or those interested in Civil Rights Movement would appreciate this book, too. Also, readers who like to read funny stuff would enjoy Church Folk. Last but not least, this book would attract readers of Romance.

Four and a half Out of Five Pearls.