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

L.B.: Cruel to be kind, pt. 1 December 7, 2007

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.

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