Forbid Them Not: Billy Graham in the Thirty-Year-Old Body of Matt Damon

Forbid Them Not: Billy Graham in the Thirty-Year-Old Body of Matt Damon August 3, 2018

Forbid Them Not, pp. 127-140, chapter 10

Two things happen in this chapter. First things first. Cooper gets a phone call from Jacob Purves of the Center or Constitutional Litigation. Jacob would like to fund the Thomases’ and Garvises’ case. This is fantastic, because, as Peter reveals, he’s in the hole—a lot—and they can’t pay him. Cooper is familiar with the Center for Constitution Litigation from his time on Capitol Hill, and he thinks very highly of them.

But there’s a catch.

The center, Jacob tells Cooper, would take the case over entirely. Cooper would be out. they would pay for his outstanding expenses, and then argue the rest of the case through the courts themselves. Cooper says that his clients would need to be the ones to make the decision, and asks for time to talk to them about it.

Rather than calling his clients, Cooper calls Peter Barron, the lawyer he worked with in Spokane, Washington. Sally, Peter’s secretary, picks up the phone, and playful banter ensues.

“Peter Barron & Associates,” Sally’s familiar voice rang out.

“Well, Miss Sally, just as pleasant as always,” Cooper says.

“No one else could call me Miss Sally and live, Cooper Stone,” she laughed. “How are you anyway?”

Sally says she’s been following Cooper’s case in World Magazine. I was a regular reader of World in 2005, when this book is set, and yep, they would have been covering it religiously.

Then Sally mentions something else—the case, she says, is a favorite with her chat friends. That’s right—her chat friends. Cooper asks what that means.

“You know—chat on the Internet. I go to this chat room on all the time. You know, gives me something to do at night.”

Cooper hadn’t had the courage to ask Sally if she were still single, but he did not need to, for her answer gave her away.

Awesome. I bet if she’d said she had three cats he would have concluded that she was single, too.

“So, what do they say about this case in chat?”

“Well, the parents want to talk about the case. The dads are furious, and the moms are scared.”

Which is interesting, because in the Thomas family, Deanna is furious and Rick is scared. Farris realizes that, right?

Now, be careful to make sure that you’re not drinking coffee when you read this next bit.

“I can understand that,” Cooper replied.

“And the single women…”


“They just want to know if I can get you to come to the chat room somehow. Ever since your picture appeared in World all they want to talk about is you. A few of the single guys give us a hard time. They say that we are lusting after the nonexistent perfect Christian man—Billy Graham in the thirty-year-old body of Matt Damon.”

“That so?” Cooper laughed, unable to find the right word.

“I tell them that description fits you perfectly, and they all go nuts.”

Billy Graham in the thirty-year-old body of Matt Damon.

Yeah, that happened.

That … that happened.

I’m curious why Cooper has never gone out with Sally. They’ve clearly known each other for a long time—Cooper worked at her office, after all. And clearly, she meets certain qualifications—it’s a Christian chat room.

At this point Cooper asks to be transferred to Peter. And then he asks Peter what to do about the offer from the Center for Constitutional Litigation. Cooper tells Peter that he believes he is called by God to argue the case.

I Farris’ first novel, Peter repeatedly insisted on continuing to argue the case rather than looking for a lawyer more qualified in that area of the law. While Cooper is likely somewhat more familiar with international law than Peter was with juvenile law—given Cooper’s involvement in the foreign relations committee on behalf of the senator he previously worked for—something at least slightly similar seems to be going on here.

Cooper cannot consider that he might not be the best lawyer for the case—that there might be another lawyer better qualified—because he believes God has called him to do it. Also, I suspect, because he likes having an excuse to be around Laura. Which, again, Peter was guilty of too.

Peter says it’s hard to evaluate the spiritual aspect of this from a distance—bless his heart—and asks if there’s anything wrong with the Center for Constitutional Litigation, any reason they shouldn’t do it.

“Not really, they have a very good reputation in Washington.”

“I know I have heard of them, but do you know if they are a Christian group?”

Of course that’s the top qualification. Because of course it is.

“Secular. In fact, they are a libertarian group. They hate any kind of government regulations, including several categories of regulation that you and I wouldn’t find excessive or intrusive.”

“Like what?”

“Well, they are in favor of the legalization of drugs, for example.”

“Oh … that kind of libertarian,” Peter replied.

How many kinds are there?

“Well, do you think they would do a good job on this case?”

“I think they would, for the most part.”

“What part do you have questions about?”

“They would be fine on parental rights for spanking. And home schooling, they’d be fine. But they are not real advocates of religious freedom. So I think they would give lip service to the right of parents to teach their children, but I don’t think their hearts would be in it.”

“Well, that is a valid, objective reason for hesitation. I suggest that you tell it just like that to your clients and let them make the decision.”

At this point it comes out that Cooper was considering just refusing the offer and not telling the Thomases and the Garvises, because Cooper believes he is called by God to argue the case, and he’s worried that the financial pressure on the Thomases and Garvises would be so strong that they’d dump him and switch to the center’s legal team. Peter’s all, no dude, you have to tell them. 

As to the rest—I imagine this is how Farris feels about cases where the ACLU takes religious freedom cases—that they aren’t “real advocates” of religious freedom, so their heart must not be in it. What makes a person a “real advocate” of religious freedom, exactly? I genuinely want to know!

Cooper tells Peter that he’s been meaning to call Concerned Women for America about financial assistance with the case—Farris actually worked for this group for a while in the 1980s—but he says he’s “a little chicken just to pick up the phone and ask for the money.” While I understand this, his unwillingness to place that phone call is creating serious financial stress on his clients. Peter makes that clear:

“Pick up the phone, Cooper. You need to do it so your clients know if they have a choice other than the CCL.”

Next they talk about Gwen and “the three kiddos.”

“Can you believe that Casey is a teenager?”

No. No, I cannot believe it. Anonymous Tip was published in 1996. Casey was 4, then. This book was published in 2002. It has been six years. Casey ought to be 10, or perhaps 11 at the most (did she turn five in Anonymous Tip?). While I understand that books don’t have to follow ordinary rules of time, and that more time can pass than that between publishing dates, I don’t see any particular reason Farris would have had to speed things up.

Peter mentions that he and Gwen are coming to New York over Memorial Day weekend “to see some plays on Broadway” and suggests that Cooper get together with them while they’re in town. Was Farris just trying to find some reason to get them together? Because growing up in Christian homeschool circles, I didn’t know any homeschooling parents growing up who would have flown to New York to see shows on Broadway.

Next, Peter asks about an offhand comment Cooper made about being “the world’s most rejected suitor.”

“Well, nothing is going on with me right now. I was hoping there would have been, but I have managed to fall in love with someone who is taken.”

“Cooper! You fell in love with a married woman? What?” Peter exclaimed loudly.

“Hush!” Cooper replied. “Sally will hear you and come to the entirely wrong conclusion. There is no married woman—you know me better than that.”

“Oh man, you had me scared for a second. So what’s the deal? Is she engaged or something?”

This whole passage will read somewhat oddly to anyone who read Farris’s first novel. Peter fell in love with a woman who was taken as well—she was divorced, and because her reasons for divorce were not “biblical,” Peter considered her just as taken as any woman who was still married, because before God, she was.

When Cooper explains who it is he has fallen in love with, Peter doesn’t ask Cooper whether that perhaps is clouding his judgement and making him think God wants him to keep the case. Instead, he says that dating a guy who hasn’t gotten around to popping the question isn’t really taken, at which point we get this:

“She believes she is taken, and that is all that matters, She told me she had given her heart away to this guy years ago.”

“And now you gave your heart away to her. Ironic.”

“I didn’t say that,” Cooper replied, uncomfortable with the way Peter and summarized the situation.

“You said you fell in love with her. I think that’s the same thing.”

“Did I say that?” Cooper asked incredulously.

“Yeah, I even wrote it down on the legal pad in front of me.”

“Wow. I am surprised I said that. I have never admitted that before, even to myself.”

So much is going on here.

It is May 19, by the way. Cooper first met Laura at the Thomases’ house on April 19. He has known her for a month. Their interactions thus far have consisted of two dinners at the Thomases’, one lunch at at a hotel with the Thomases and Garvises, a short conversation outside of Laura’s home, one court hearing, and one evening making copies in Cooper’s office. That is perhaps a fair amount of contact, given it’s only been one month.

I can tell you the exact moment I fell for my husband. I’d known him for a month, and had been thrown together with him regularly, as we both attended the same college and knew a lot of the same people. But I wouldn’t say that’s the moment I “fell in love” with him. It’s not. It’s the moment I went “hmm, I could see something happening here.” It’s the moment my interest was seriously piqued.

Cooper and Peter are suffering from a serious failure to define terms. What exactly does it mean for a party to “fall in love”? What does it mean for a party to “give away their heart”? These ideas are left undefined. They’re also equating Cooper’s month-long crush with Laura’s ten-year relationship with Terry—in both cases, the involved party has “given their heart away”—despite the two situations being very different.

This is why so many of the girls I knew growing up were terrified of guys—even a crush could be termed “giving your heart away.” It should be unsurprisin,g though, that Laura is loathe to leave Terry, even absent the religious context. She has been with him ten years. She has assumed they are going to get married. After pouring that much time and energy into a relationship, it can be hard to walk away and start over—even when you should.

This all said—Cooper’s “did I really say that” moment was actually very smoothly done. I liked that, as a piece of writing. Still, Peter really should have asked Cooper if his feelings for Laura were clouding his judgement on whether or not he should be arguing this case, or handing it off to more competent, better resources lawyers.

Scene change!

We’re in Geneva.

Jody has traveled to Geneva to give a report on the case to a meeting of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child. And once again, Jody feels out of place.

The boardroom at the UN office building was beginning to seem familiar to Ambassador Easler, bu the cast of characters still unnerved her at times. The fight for children’s rights evoked in her feelings of pastels and whites and brightness, not the black and charcoal and dark purple tones that colored every jacket, every pair of pants, every painted lip, and every head of tinted hair. Her tan pantsuit, subdued red lipstick, and light brown hair were the only ways in which she felt she could deviate from the norm.

Wait. I thought the other committee members were predominantly gray? Here it is, on page 13: “Their skin colors covered the entire range of humanity, but nearly all those at the table had gray hair, with the notable exception of the lead American.” Have they dyed their hair black and charcoal and dark purple in the past month and a half?

Regardless, Jody is uncomfortable. She doesn’t like the color tones in the room, and she doesn’t like how cold everyone seems, either—especially Erzabet Kadar.

“We are to hear this morning from Dr. Easler, who has just returned from the United States to report on the progressives of our case against the two fundamentalist families.” She paused and surveyed each face around the table to ensure that every eye had been focused where she intended it. “Fine,” she concluded. “Dr. Easler, please begin.”

“Good morning, Dr. Kadar and members of the committee.” She paused, expecting a return of greeting. Only the gentleman from Great Britain raised his eyebrows slightly and moved his lips in a nearly imperceptible move in the general direction of a smile.

Jody talks about their lead counsel, Randolph, and gives a summary of both Cooper and the judge who will hear the case. She talks about how the mainstream media is covering the case—they’re apparently burying the religious aspects and “playing this case as an anti-spanking case,” because—Jody says—they supported the treaty and don’t want to have to “explain to angry readers why they  supported the children’s treaty in the first place.”

“Anything else I need to add, Dr. Kadar?”

“Will we win?” came the terse question..

“I cannot say what will happen in the trial court, but that is of only momentary consequence. Mr. Suskins, who hunts three members of the Supreme Court as close friends, assures me we have at least a bare majority on the Court. It is the Supreme Court that matters in the final analysis.”

Is this ethical? For a lawyer to argue a case before the Court (as Randolph presumably assumes to) while being “close friends” with three of its members?

Also, I’m fairly certain that even the liberal justices on the Supreme Court would balk at the idea that the U.N. can tell churches what to teach in Sunday School. And given that this is not how the Convention is interpreted literally anywhere else, I don’t see any reason why they would have to uphold such an interpretation.

You know what else? I’m pretty sure the ACLU would side with the parents on the religious aspects of the case. The ACLU does oppose spanking—at least in schools, but probably in the home too, if pressed—but I cannot imagine them supporting efforts to bar Sunday schools from teaching that Christianity is the one true religion.

Farris’ assumptions about the Left’s goals do not reflect any Left I actually know in the U.S. today.

Anyway, Kadar asks to see Jody privately and tells her that they absolutely have to win this case, and that in order to ensure that they win, Jody needs to use her feminine wiles to ensnare Cooper and thus discredit him.

Yes, really.

“This is a tactic that your nation has embraced for some time now although we in the former Eastern bloc had perfected long before. You do not merely beat your enemy in the courtroom or in the legislative chamber. You do everything you can to discredit your enemy outside of these arenas to make it easier to win inside the arena.”

I am sensing some latent anti-Communism going on here. Kadar is such a perfect enemy, for Farris.

“Mr. Suskins informs us that you seem to have a natural affinity for Mr. Stone, so you are being enlisted for this additional aspect of the endeavor. … It will not be distasteful, Dr. Easler. He is a handsome man. I have seen the photographs myself.”

This reads like a bad spy novel.

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