L.B.: Cruel to be kind, pt. 1

Left Behind, pp. 367-377

Rayford was as earnest, honest and forthright with Hattie as he had ever been.

The authors don’t mean this as tactful ambiguity (“I’ve never heard you sing better”) — they mean this. Rayford is intended in these pages to be a portrait of sincerity, honesty and candor. More than that, though, he is meant here to serve as a model of real, true Christian evangelism. The key to appreciating these pages is found near the end of this section:

Rayford felt much like Bruce Barnes had sounded the day they met. He was full of passion and persuasion, and he felt his prayers for courage and coherence were answered as he spoke.

Rayford, in other words, is divinely guided here to become the ideal evangelist. He has been transformed through prayer into a soul-savin’ mofo with a spirit-led mojo. If readers want to know how to witness/evangelize/proselytize/lead-others-to-a-saving-knowledge-of-Jesus-Christ-as-their-own-personal-Lord-and-Savior, then these pages here are where LaHaye and Jenkins show them how to do it.

That makes this section of Left Behind strange and alien-seeming even for lifelong natives of the evangelical American subculture, because this is unlike any kind of evangelism even they have seen before. Rayford does not tell Hattie that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” He doesn’t walk her along the “Romans Road” or draw for her the “Bridge Illustration” or read to her from the kente cloth of the Wordless Book.

Rayford never even mentions Jesus. At all. His approach, instead, is to make Hattie squirm until she cries, and then to start in on the prophecy stuff:

They sat across from each other in overstuffed chairs in the corner of a large, noisy room where they could not be heard by anyone else.

“Hattie,” he said, “I’m not here to argue with you or even to have a conversation. There are things I must tell you, and I want you just to listen.

“I don’t get to say anything? Because there may be things I’ll want you to know, too.”

“Of course I’ll let you tell me anything you want, but this first part, my part, I don’t want to be a dialogue. “

So Rayford was as creepy, controlling and condescending with Hattie as he had ever been.

“I have to get some things off my chest, and I want you to get the whole picture before you respond, OK?”

She shrugged. “I don’t see how I have a choice.”

“You had a choice, Hattie. You didn’t have to come.”

“I didn’t really want to come. I told you that and you left that guilt-trip message, begging me to meet you here.”

Rayford was frustrated. “You see what I didn’t want to get into?” he said.

This is what the authors mean by courage and passion. If it seems more like bullying and badgering to you, then you just don’t appreciate what’s at stake here. Rayford is fighting for Hattie’s very soul. With eternity at stake, he can’t afford to be polite and he doesn’t have time for a conversation or a dialogue. The authors earnestly, honestly and forthrightly believe that this is how evangelism works. They’re kind of like Amway reps, except that they believe you will die if you don’t buy the soap and join the sales team.

To get a better sense of their perspective, here’s Jerry Jenkins sharing his favorite analogy, one that he employs and alludes to repeatedly in the Left Behind series:

I’ve often said that if I had a neighbor who truly believed that the only way to heaven was by wearing a purple necklace, I might find this humorous or even repugnant, but I would be offended if he didn’t at least tell me. Not telling me for fear of my negative response would prove he doesn’t really care about me.

Apart from his reducing faith to merely “the way to heaven,” that’s not a terrible illustration of why evangelism is often a loving act. It can be, and should be, an invitation. If you’re going to extend an invitation, however, you have to be willing to take No for an answer. Otherwise you’re not making an invitation, you’re making an offer they can’t refuse.

In his purple necklace illustration, Jenkins wants to have it both ways. He wants others to understand that when he tells them about his magic Jesus necklace, it is a sincere (“earnest, honest and forthright”) expression of his concern. It is evidence that he “really cares” about them. But if they find his evangelizing “humorous or repugnant,” or merely unconvincing, then he wants to keep on telling about his necklace, over and over, because he’s sure that anyone who really understands about the necklace will accept the truth of it and join him in wearing the necklace and hectoring others to do the same. Thus we have Rayford Steele here with Hattie, refusing to allow her to speak until he has finished explaining his weird prophecy-gospel.

Think of those sexual harrassment seminars they have at the office. Asking a co-worker out on a date is not sexual harassment. That’s merely an invitation. But refusing to take No for an answer — refusing to accept that your invitation has not been accepted — that is harassment. In this chapter, Rayford the evangelist isn’t just a harasser, he’s a stalker — calling her dozens of times a day, following her home and hanging out in the bushes outside her house. This behavior, L&J tell us, is evidence of his “passion” and “courage.”

For Rayford Steele, even “apologizing” doesn’t mean yielding an ounce of control:

“How can I apologize when all you want to do is argue about why you’re here?”

“You want to apologize, Rayford? I would never stand in the way of that.”

She was being sarcastic, but he had gotten her attention. “Yes, I do. Now will you let me?” She nodded. “Because I want to get through this, to set the record straight, to take all the blame I should …”

Notice the restriction, the limit, the way this apology is prefaced as also an accusation. This isn’t an apology, it’s a legal settlement. The party of the first part herein concedes responsibility and expresses remorse for the following aspects of the dispute, such expression, henceforth to be referred to as “The Apology,” shall be construed as applying exclusively to these aspects of said dispute and may not be interpreted as an acknowledgment of guilt, responsibility, liability, regret, remorse or shame with regard to any aspect of said dispute not specifically enumerated herein. …

“… to take all the blame I should, and then I want to tell you what I hinted at on the phone the other night.”

“About how you’ve discovered what the vanishings are all about.”

He held up a hand. “Don’t get ahead of me.”

“Sorry,” she said, putting her hand over her mouth. “But why don’t you just let me hear it when you answer Buck’s questions tonight?” Rayford rolled his eyes. “I was just wondering,” she said. “Jut a suggestion so you don’t have to repeat yourself.”

That was Hattie, there, who uttered the word “Sorry.” Rayford is the one rolling his eyes and holding up a hand to silence her. (I’m starting to think this scene would play better if the parts of Rayford and Hattie were played, respectively, by Dianne Wiest and John Cusack.)

“I don’t mind telling it over and over,” Rayford tells her, “and if my guess is right, you won’t mind hearing it again and again.”

Here’s the thing I don’t get about this scene — or, for that matter, about all of the subsequent stalker-evangelist scenes in this book and the rest of the series: It’s the End Times. Rayford has direct access to the divine decoder ring that tells him exactly what is going to happen over the next seven years. He doesn’t need persuasion, he’s got proof. He can demonstrate that what he is telling people is true.

All he needs to do is tell people about the next few items on the End Times Checklist and let them see for themselves soon enough: “… Then after that, there will be a ginormous earthquake, the sun will turn black, the moon will turn red and every mountain and island will be removed from its place. Here’s my card, you call me after the sun turns black and we’ll talk some more.” That seems like a potentially more fruitful approach than just cornering people and making them shut up until you’ve made your pitch “over and over … again and again.”

I feel bad breaking off here and leaving poor Hattie stuck on mute for another week, but Rayford’s lecture continues for several more pages, some of which is so skin-crawlingly awful that I can only take it in small doses.

  • Dan

    It’s not just fundamentalist christians who do this sort of thing. The last time I had a couple jw’s show up at the door, I felt exactly like the guy invited to a dinner party, only to be told “before dessert, we’d like to share his amazing opportunity with you. . .”

  • Fraser

    “a soul-savin’ mofo with a spirit-led mojo”
    Who is the man
    Who would witness aloud to his brother man—
    Steele!
    Who’s the cat who won’t cop out
    When there’s skeptics all about
    Steele!
    He’s a complicated man
    And no-one understands him but his pastor—
    Steele!
    I hear that Steele is an overbearing sexist mother—
    You shut your mouth!
    I’m talking about Rayford Steele
    Oh. Then we can dig it.

  • http://accidental-historian.blogspot.com/ Geds

    Rayford was as earnest, honest and forthright with Hattie as he had ever been.
    Remember, kids: sincerity. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.
    “You had a choice, Hattie. You didn’t have to come.”
    “I didn’t really want to come. I told you that and you left that guilt-trip message, begging me to meet you here.”
    Rayford was frustrated. “You see what I didn’t want to get into?” he said.

    Okay, seriously, show of hands. Who would stick around for the conversation after an exchange like this?

  • ako

    All he needs to do is tell people about the next few items on the End Times Checklist and let them see for themselves soon enough: “… Then after that, there will be a ginormous earthquake, the sun will turn black, the moon will turn red and every mountain and island will be removed from its place. Here’s my card, you call me after the sun turns black and we’ll talk some more.” That seems like a potentially more fruitful approach than just cornering people and making them shut up until you’ve made your pitch “over and over … again and again.”
    Yes, but if they die in the next disaster, he becomes blameworthy for not telling them. So it’s pester, pester, pester, and if they’re killed in the earthquake, it had better be after they’re saved.

  • ako

    Okay, seriously, show of hands. Who would stick around for the conversation after an exchange like this?
    I might, because I’m easily drawn into arguments. I wouldn’t let him keep control of the conversation the way he is, but I might stick around to shout back. Which would obviously be a bad idea, but the ensuing screaming match might be more interesting than this bizarro apology.

  • Jos

    Okay, seriously, show of hands. Who would stick around for the conversation after an exchange like this?
    I would. Because, apparently, I can’t not. I don’t have a choice any more. Rayford Steele has suspended my free will/basic human rights.
    Yeah. Probably the creepiest passage so far.

  • kodiak

    “Okay, seriously, show of hands. Who would stick around for the conversation after an exchange like this?”
    /kodiak sits on her hands so as not to be accidentally mis-counted
    That whole exchange reminds me of trying to deal with my parents during their divorce:
    me: I love you both and don’t need to hear you belittling the other in my presence no matter what you may feel the cause.
    them: I understand that, but you have to see how he/she is wearing me down, being malicious and hurtful, spiteful, and/or unfair about the financial settlements* and…
    me: ok, stop the car now, I’ll find my own way home
    I only had to do that twice with each of them to get the message across that I wasn’t going to sit there and let them browbeat me to their way of thinking. The way Hattie’s been described (some of the time… in glimpses) I don’t think she’d stand for this loser either.
    *no, they weren’t really being any of those things. Not deliberately, it was just a standard divorce… and that was bad enough imho.

  • Elmo

    witness/evangelize/proselytize/lead-others-to-a-saving-knowledge-of-Jesus-Christ-as-their-own-personal-Lord-and-Savior
    Please try to keep the hyphenated words down to 60 or 70 characters.

  • Bugmaster

    I used to be on a different schedule, where I had to be awake in the morning, but didn’t have any actual work to do. At that time, I actually looked forward to the various JW/Mormons/whatever visiting. They gave me something to do, especially if they were the starry-eyed kind whose religion was based entirely on creationism. But, after a while, they just stopped coming… I wonder why that was…

  • mmack

    That makes this section of Left Behind strange and alien-seeming even for lifelong natives of the evangelical American subculture, because this is unlike any kind of evangelism even they have seen before. Rayford does not tell Hattie that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” He doesn’t walk her along the “Romans Road” or draw for her the “Bridge Illustration” or read to her from the kente cloth of the Wordless Book.
    Jumping in early on the comments, but does he at least hand her a ChickTract?

  • http://plantsarethestrangestpeople.blogspot.com/ mr_subjunctive

    “You had a choice, Hattie. You didn’t have to come.”
    “Oh my God, you’re right. That means I don’t have to stay, either. Good-bye, Rayford.” Hattie picked up her bag from the floor and started for the door.
    Rayford stepped in front of her. “I wish you would just listen –”
    “I wish you would get the fuck out of my way.”
    “No, c’mon. Hattie.”
    Hattie pulled a taser from her purse and zapped Rayford with it again and again, over and over, muttering all the while: “Leave me in a goddamned taxi . . . .” Then she stepped over his charred remains and into a new book, a different book, where she could find a man who would talk to her without condescension.
    And she lived happily ever after.

  • http://accidental-historian.blogspot.com/ Geds

    Then she stepped over his charred remains and into a new book, a different book, where she could find a man who would talk to her without condescension.
    Ah, metafiction.
    Good show.

  • Jeff

    “You had a choice, Hattie. You didn’t have to come.”
    “Actually I do, motherfucker. This is a restraining order — if you attempt to contact me in any way, shape or form, or come within 40 feet of me, you’re ass will be in prison so fast you’ll think you were Raptured there. By the way, I’ve contacted the airline and told them about the order. You’re going to be flying the 1 AM Juneau to Anchorage flight from now on. So shove off, creep, before I call the cops.”

  • Spalanzani

    “”You had a choice, Hattie. You didn’t have to come.”
    “I didn’t really want to come. I told you that and you left that guilt-trip message, begging me to meet you here.”
    Rayford was frustrated. “You see what I didn’t want to get into?” he said.

    I love how so much of the dialouge already reads like self-parody. In order to actually exaggerate it, you’d have to make it really over the top. Something like:
    “You chose to come here, Hattie.”
    “You brought me here at gunpoint!”
    “I don’t want to go into that.”
    (for all I know, this may actually happen in later Left Behind books)
    Geds: “Okay, seriously, show of hands. Who would stick around for the conversation after an exchange like this?”
    I would probably leave immediately. But if I was in an especially energetic mood, I might stay and try to subtly mock what they try to tell me. Or start throwing rocks at them.

  • joolya

    Ray rolls his freakin eyes at her? do manly men roll their eyes? Ya know who rolls their eyes when someone says something reasonable that they think is stoopid? twelve year old girls.
    no offense to young girls, though- I am not comparing you to rayford!
    no wonder hattie goes to the dark side. next to buck’s complete disregard and rayford’s creepy head games, the antichrist at least seems like the kind of guy who’d ask about your day and pretend to listen.
    how is anyone reading this drivel supposed to identify with ray or be on his side when he can’t even hide his contempt for a paragraph? if I were jesus, i’d fire this guy from my sales team.

  • PerfectBlue

    That was Hattie, there, who uttered the word “Sorry.” Rayford is the one rolling his eyes and holding up a hand to silence her.
    I just love the incredulity there.
    I have SO been waiting for this section (it’s my other favorite, just after the “But Rayford, how will we perform abortions if there are no babies??” conversation). I’ve been playing LB Fridays Read-A-Long (“turn the page when you hear the chimes ring like this…*ping*”) with my very own copy picked up just for that purpose, but started forging on ahead and seriously. And I have this section and the surrounding scenes bookmarked. It’s just such a massive train wreck.

  • mmack

    He wants others to understand that when he tells them about his magic Jesus necklace, it is a sincere (“earnest, honest and forthright”) expression of his concern
    Magic Purple Jesus Necklaces now available from http://www.leftbehind.com for $19.95 + S&H. Order by 12/14/2007 to ensure delivery by Christmas.

  • Cyllan

    At least it’s easy to understand why Hattie reportedly runs headlong into the open arms of the Antichrist.

  • burgundy

    how is anyone reading this drivel supposed to identify with ray or be on his side when he can’t even hide his contempt for a paragraph?
    It would depend on the paragraph, I guess. I know I’m having a hard time hiding my contempt for these paragraphs…

  • Keith

    no wonder hattie goes to the dark side. next to buck’s complete disregard and rayford’s creepy head games, the antichrist at least seems like the kind of guy who’d ask about your day and pretend to listen.
    Nicky is so smooth, he’d actually listen and then console you by calling you “Sweet baby girl” in thirteen languages, arranged alphabetically. Because sensitivity, Ultimate Evil and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are, apparently, the same thing.

  • Josh D

    Yayyyy! LB Friday!

  • cjmr

    But, after a while, they just stopped coming… I wonder why that was…
    After I had a JW assert to me that in every version of the Bible a certain verse had the word JEHOVAH in it and I pulled out all eight translations I owned and showed her otherwise, I got a personal phone call from her missions supervisor wanting to come over to see me himself. I think I would have preferred them to just stop coming.

  • A Kennedy

    Please try to keep the hyphenated words down to 60 or 70 characters.
    Wait… why should Germans have all the fun (a question I often ask myself.
    Re: Sticking around for a conversation about Jesus…
    You know, I’m a Christian, and I hate these things. Especially when I can agree with most of what my interlocutor says, but know I would never be accepted in her church… I have a very friendly JW lady who visits me almost every week with Watchtowers, etc. I really don’t have the heart to tell her I’m a Freemason, and have an interest in the Western Occult Tradition and Gnosticism, and believe in transubstantiation. It seems unfair to spoil her fun.

  • JoXn

    Call me Thomas, but I have to admit that when God protects Israel from an all-out no-holds-barred nukular attack by Russia, I won’t even need to wait for the Rapture / ginormous quake / black sun / blood-red moon / seven seals to convert; so I won’t have to suffer through an evangelecture by that era’s Rayford Steele.
    I’m not holding my breath, though.


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