Originally posted May 25, 2007.
Read this entire series, for free, via the convenient Left Behind Index. This post is also part of the ebook collection The Anti-Christ Handbook: Volume 1, available on Amazon for just $2.99. Volume 2 of The Anti-Christ Handbook, completing all the posts on the first Left Behind book, is also now available.
Left Behind, pp. 275-281
Rayford Steele is talking to Hattie Durham (on the phone, of course).
Hattie is the flight attendant Rayford was flirting with and stringing along for years. He used to always make sure she was assigned to his flights, and they would always go out for dinner and drinks in whatever city they were staying over in. But Steele, who was married, made a point of never touching her.
Rayford was proud of this, and the authors seem to want us to share his admiration. What comes across, instead, is the sense that he’s a creepy control-freak — full of himself over his technical fidelity to his wife and even more full of himself over the idea that, if he had wanted to, he could have invited the young flight attendant back to his room at any time. Rayford was a horrible, horrible person — unconcerned about whatever either Hattie or his wife might be thinking or feeling apart from what he imagined was their shared admiration, and desire, for him.
After The Event, everything has changed. Rayford’s wife is dead and he has been born again. In the context of this book, that metaphor does not mean what it meant when Jesus used it in his rooftop conversation with Nicodemus. What it means here is that Rayford has become obsessed with pseudo-biblical “prophecy” and now regards it as his duty to explain this prophetic gnosis to others.
This duty is difficult for Rayford, since he doesn’t really know anybody. Like most self-absorbed control freaks, he has no friends. He thus begins with the only two people he really knows: his daughter and Hattie.
A couple of chapters ago (i.e., earlier this same day), Rayford arranged to have Chloe ride along on a flight to Atlanta and back. He figured, correctly, that the lunchtime stopover would provide an ideal opportunity for them to have a serious talk about his newfound knowledge. At the same time, even though he is hoping for the opportunity to have the same conversation with Hattie, he has been avoiding having her assigned to any of his flights. Odd. Instead, Rayford has decided that the best setting for his gospel-ambush on Hattie would be dinner at his home, with his daughter there as chaperone.
Hattie is accustomed to mixed messages from the guy, but she is understandably confused by this latest two-step, in which he deliberately avoids her on the job while extending this unprecedented invitation to his home.
Their conversation here is too long, repetitive and garbled to allow for meaningful excerpts, but it’s an interesting scene because the authors seem to be attempting something a bit more subtle than usual. I suspect that part of what they’re getting at here is the futility of Rayford’s “flirt to convert” approach with Hattie. Chloe has already lectured her father on this point, and she’ll mention it again. He really is in no position with Hattie to attempt to evangelize her. After spending years trying to get her on her knees, he can’t suddenly expect to convince her to kneel in prayer.
I wish they’d thought more about this — about the implications of right relationship as a precondition for evangelism. That’s my phrase, of course, not theirs, and I rather doubt that Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins would agree with the idea beyond its application to the narrow particulars of adultery and Rayford’s clumsy attempt to witness to his former pseudo-mistress.
This is, however, an important truth, one wisely recognized by the 12-step programs. Their framework provides some insight into Rayford’s troubles here, and their language provides a way of stating this without relying on seminary-classroom phrases like “right relationship as a precondition for evangelism.” The Twelve Steps culminates with a kind of Great Commission “to carry this message to others.” That 12th step is the final one, however, only following the 11 preceding it, including these:
8. [We] made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. [We] made a direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Again, I doubt L&J would agree with all of that. They probably wouldn’t even agree with my characterization of Rayford as preying on poor Hattie. But they do, at least, seem to appreciate that their relationship is less than healthy and that therefore Rayford’s attempts at evangelism are misplaced. And, notably, we can see in this passage at least the possibility that Hattie may not be wholly to blame for Rayford’s thoughts of straying from his wife, even though she is a woman (and therefore sexual, and therefore dirty and evil, and therefore in need of control lest her dirty/evil/sexual ways lead men astray).
All of which is to say that I think readers are actually supposed to sympathize with Hattie, and to recognize Rayford as foolish, during this torturously long phone conversation. For example, when Hattie says that she hopes to get Buck to introduce her to Carpathia, Rayford thinks to himself that her mention of, and interest in, these other men is a “relief.” Then two pages later, he jealously asks why she’s “so interested in this magazine guy and the Romanian.” I think this is an intentional portrayal of Rayford’s contradictory impulses, although this book contains so many unintentional contradictions it’s hard to say.
Throughout this conversation, Rayford keeps Hattie at arms length while cryptically suggesting that he’s got something Very Important that he needs to tell her. We know, reading this, what that Very Important something is, but based on their conversation — and their intimate-yet-platonic history — I’m sure Hattie was thinking he was getting ready to come out of the closet:
“So, what’s changed?”
“Hattie, please. I don’t want to discuss this by phone.”
“Then meet me somewhere.”
“I can’t do that. I can’t leave Chloe …”
“Then I’ll come there.”
“Rayford! Are you brushing me off?”
“If I was brushing you off, I wouldn’t have invited you to dinner.”
“With your daughter at your home? I think I’m getting set up for the royal brush.” …
“If I didn’t want to have anything to do with you, I wouldn’t have invited you over.”
“I can see what that’s all about, Rayford. You can’t tell me I wasn’t going to get the ‘let’s be friends’ routine.”
“Maybe that and a little more.”
“Just something I want to tell you about.”
They cycle through this same conversation several times before Rayford finally blurts out what it is he wants to tell her:
“I really have something important to talk to you about.”
“Tell me what it is.”
“Not on the phone.”
“Then I’m not coming.”
“If I tell you generally, will you?”
“Well, I know what the disappearances were all about, all right? I know what they meant, and I want to help you find the truth.”
Hattie was dead silent for a long moment. “You haven’t become some kind of a fanatic, have you?”
Rayford had to think about that one. The answer was yes, he most certainly had, but he wasn’t going to say that. “You know me better than that.”
“I thought I did.”
“Trust me, this is worth your time.”
“Give me the basics, and I’ll tell you if I want to hear it.”
“Absolutely not,” Rayford said, surprising himself with his resolve. “That I will not do, except in person.”
“Then I’m not coming.”
She hung up.
I really am not sure what to make of this. Rayford certainly had it coming — she should have hung up on him several pages back. And I really do think Rayford’s confused and confusing behavior earlier in this conversation is meant to be seen as such.
Yet despite all of that, Hattie’s behavior in this conversation is later characterized as “nasty.” And her subsequent storyline is the classic cautionary tale of the “fallen woman” — the kind in which the authors make it clear that they think “fallen woman” is redundant. So despite the apparent criticism of Rayford’s motives and timing here, we’re apparently still supposed to interpret Hattie’s hanging up as a rejection not simply of Rayford’s clumsy overture, but of the gospel itself.
Chapter 15 thus ends with me thinking, “Good for her!” while the authors seem to be thinking, “She must suffer for this.”