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Officials rescind Christian novel's award because it 'romanticizes' horrific treatment of Native Americans. Publisher argues theme of book is anything but.

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Opening of the Massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on Dec. 29, 1890. US Seventh Cavalry in battle with Lakota Native American. (Photo by: Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

For a few days, "At Love's Command" — a Christian romance novel — enjoyed its Vivian Award from the Romance Writers of America as the best Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements of 2021, Religion News reported.

But soon readers and other romance authors caught wind of the decision and criticized the RWA for bestowing the award upon Karen Witemeyer's book, claiming the novel romanticizes the killing of Native Americans, the outlet said.

Religion News said "At Love's Command" opens with the main character, fictional ex-cavalry officer Matthew Hanger, leading the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry against the Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee, South Dakota — the historical event now known as the Wounded Knee massacre.

What happened next?

In the wake of the backlash, the RWA's board held an emergency meeting and promptly decided to rescind the award it had given "At Love's Command," the outlet said.

The Romance Writers of America's board published a statement on its website saying, in part, that while the "RWA is in full support of First Amendment rights," since it's striving "to improve our support of marginalized authors, we cannot in good conscience uphold the decision of the judges in voting to celebrate a book that depicts the inhumane treatment of indigenous people and romanticizes real world tragedies that still affect people to this day."

Publisher defends novel

The Christian novel's publisher Bethany House told Religion News in a statement that it supports author Witemeyer and has heard from many readers who've been moved by the book's themes of redemption and hope.

"In the opening scene of the novel, Witemeyer's hero, a military officer, is at war with the Lakota, weary of war, but fully participating in the battle at Wounded Knee," Bethany House's statement reads, the outlet said. "The death toll, including noncombatant Lakota women and children, sickens him, and he identifies it as the massacre it is and begs God for forgiveness for what he's done. The author makes it clear throughout the book that the protagonist deeply regrets his actions and spends the rest of his life trying to atone for the wrong that he did."

The publisher added that the Wounded Knee massacre was one of "the darkest moments of our nation's history" and a "deplorable" act of violence, Religion News said, adding that Bethany House and Witemeyer intended to "recount this history for the tragedy it was."

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