We’re at the Heart of America banquet and it’s time for Peter’s speech. Peter has been instructed (by Humphrey, of course) to talk up the role Heart of America’s donations played in making his case possible. After introducing Peter, Humphrey gives him a check for $7500—to much applause. Peter explains the basics of the Supreme Court case in about ten minutes, and then thanks the donors present at the banquet. “Thanks to your generosity, Heart of America has raised over $600,000 to support this case,” Peter began.
“With this generous check I received tonight,” Peter continued, “nearly $30,000 of the amount raised has been received by my office to pay for the expenses of this case. I am sure that Mr. Humphrey will tell all of you all the wonderful things he has been able to accomplish for Heart of America with the balance of the money.”
Humphrey is, of course, freaking out. After starting another song, he confronts Peter.
“What are you doing? You ingrate! You don’t know what you are talking about!” he whispered with forcible anger.
“It’s all in this package I got from your girl, Cindy Walters. She sent it to me here at the hotel.”
“That little bleached-blond bimbo!” Humphrey exclaimed. “What am I going to say now?”
“Try the truth,” Peter said. “But suit yourself. Gwen and I are leaving.”
Oh my god so much sexism. First Peter, referring to Cindy as Humphrey’s “girl.” Then Humphrey, calling Cindy a “bleached-blond bimbo.” It’s interesting to note the different kinds of sexism at play here. Farris would probably admit that Humphrey is sexist (or maybe he’d just say he “takes advantage of” women or “doesn’t respect women” in their God-given role or something to that effect). But think of all the remarks Peter has made about Gwen. Even his comment that with her looks,t hey should win the Supreme Court 9-0 was uncomfortable.
Sexism doens’t have to be overt, in-your-face, and obvious for it to have an effect. Peter may not be going around calling women “bleached-blond bimbos”—though he came close when he was angry with Gwen earlier in the book—but his use of the term “girl” to refer to Humphrey’s secretary makes it crystal clear that he’s sexist nonetheless. I am suddenly curious whether Farris would ever hire a female lawyer to his practice. He has Sally, his secretary/office manager. Gender has always seemed to affect the way he looks at Gail. Actually, I have a way to check this, of sorts.
Of the twelve listed on HSLDA’s attorneys page, only one is a woman—and she became a lawyer after spending twenty years homeschooling her children, which probably puts her on Farris’s “safe woman” list, much like the female psychologist earlier in this book, who had raised her children before going back to school, thus earning Farris’ (and Peter’s) fervent praise. Further, this female lawyer—the only one listed on HSLDA’s attorneys page—is listed as “of counsel” rather than as a staff attorney like the others. Peter is Farris’s stand-in in this book, and HSLDA is Farris’s practice.
Anyway, Peter and Gwen head out, but not before the McElliot (whom Farris constantly calls “the Congressman”) whispered to Peter:
“The board will look into this at our next meeting in June. I’ve wondered about this Humphrey. Can you leave me your package?”
Peter nodded and handed it over.
“Thanks for doing this,” McElliot whispered. “It’s a little embarrassing, but well-done.”
Okay, but here’s the thing—that’s the end of it, for Peter. Peter never reports the organization’s fraudulent fundraising practices to anyone. He never publicly exposes them, beyond this banquet. And when he’s leaving, Humphrey is talking about all the important work they’re going to do with the rest of the money—he might just be slimy enough to slide out from under this. After all, Peter never told the crowd fraud had taken place. He wasn’t upset he wasn’t paid more (although he should have been). He even suggests that Humphrey will be doing “wonderful things” with the remaining money, although he doesn’t actually believe that. And if McElliot does bring this up to the board, it will be handled privately.
In some ways, this is symbolic of a greater evangelical problem vis a vis reporting abuse or fraud. Instead, there’s a tendency to engage in coverups. If Peter’s speech is Farris’s idea of what exposing fraud looks like, there is reason for concern. Nothing is reported publicly, either to government agencies or to the organizations’ donors writ large. The only exposure happens at a private banquet and in such a way as to set Humphrey up well for explaining his way out. This is a problem.
Next we cut to Donna and Stephen, who are arguing.
“Yes, there was a redhead,” he finally admitted. “And a blonde, and a brunette.” He yelled, too angry to care.
“What are your intentions with me, lover boy?” Corliss snarled. She was hoping for an abject apology, a little groveling, and then a plea for mercy. She needed him back.
No, no she did not. Farris introduced Donna to us as a feminist, a successful career woman, an independent woman who made her own choices about where she went and who she slept with. What even is this. I understand that Donna feels she’s invested a lot into Stephen and into their relationship. She’d probably rather not head back out into the dating field. But her rhetoric here doesn’t even work. “Lover boy”? What is that? Even the “what are your intentions” comment feels out of place—it reads as evangelical rhetoric (although I could be wrong).
Stephen decides to end it.
“You can’t trust me with other women. I guess I’ve proven that. And I cannot trust your fundamental honesty after what you did in this case. Donna, it’s over.”
Something about Stephen’s phrasing makes me uncomfortable. Stephen was discomfited when he found out at the beginning of this book that Donna was fudging case files. He was really upset, actually. Donna managed to persuade him that it was for the good of the children, but his discomfort with her actions never really left. I almost wonder if Stephen cheated on Donna so flagrantly because he wanted her to break up with him. It’s as though he wanted to break it off over her questionable ethics, but couldn’t figure out a way to do so. So he slept around, hoping she would do it.
I’m not sure whether Farris intended any of that, though. As the author, Farris sometimes seemed to suggest Stephen slept around because Donna is an independent career woman who hadn’t kept up her looks. That never read as realistic to me, though. It always read as Farris applying his own conservative lens to the situation—in his world, women are supposed to be submissive homemakers, and if they aren’t, bad things happen to them, like getting ugly and losing their men.
“Honesty!” she screamed. “You’re the one who is a liar. Your’e been stringing me along while sleeping around like an alley cat. You pig, you filthy, ungrateful pig!”
And so ends Donna and Stephen’s benighted relationship.
Next week should be the last installment of this series. What predictions do you have? What will happen in the last section? To whom will the Supreme Court grant victory? Stay tuned!
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