Christian fundamentalism. Secularism. Sex. These three things don’t easily exist together. In fact, they are usually mutually exclusive. But Emily Maguire, in her novel The Gospel According to Luke, has brought them together in a powerful story of a clash of world views that is explosive and with lots of fallout.
Luke is a fundamentalist Christian pastor working in a youth centre. He is absolutely certain of the truth and knows that God has called him to this ministry. His purpose in life is to save souls for the kingdom. Across the road from the youth centre is a secular Family Planning Clinic where Aggie, a social worker is employed to help young women in crisis. She is an atheist. Her boss is gay.
Another Christian group is on the rampage, using violence and public shaming, to try to force the closure of the Family Planning Clinic on the basis that the clinic helps young women obtain abortions if necessary. And, according to the anti-abortion group, abortion is murder. It follows, then, that Aggie and the clinic are murderers.
The story opens with Aggie visiting Luke to try to discuss a leaflet that the youth centre has been distributing that, as far as Aggie is concerned, is designed to lure people into a cult. And then the unexpected happens - Luke and Aggie are deeply attracted to each other and fall in love. But they live on different "planets" and as they struggle to live according to their beliefs, their emotional worlds are ripped to shreds along with profound challenges to their identities.
Throw into the mix a young, single, abused, pregnant woman, Honey, who visits the clinic and wants to have an abortion and we have the makings of a riveting story that explores ’the battle between religious belief and secular society.’ (back cover)
As the story progresses, issues of sexuality, evangelism, homosexuality, faith, temptation, love, and living all raise their heads. It’s a compelling story that is never romanticised. Lots of questions are raised but the reader is left to explore them without simplistic answers being given. It’s a deeply disturbing but important novel.
Be warned: The Gospel According to Luke contains very coarse language and explicit descriptions of sexual behaviour.