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In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church Hardcover – March 2, 2010
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A secular Jew raised by a single mother in Berkeley, Welch became an outsider in a strange land when in 2002 she moved for graduate school to the heart of the Bible Belt near Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. She saw everything around her ironically, treated the South “as a joke” and her time there “as a kind of elaborate performance art project.” Then something miraculous happened. The jaded Californian began to like Virginia. She’d arrived to a Virginia on the verge of a demographic shift as a new, progressive population burgeoned. But she also grew to like the Old South—its manners, easygoing nature, and friendliness. She got serious, cast aside her cynicism, and sought to know her evangelical neighbors “as people.” Why did they think as they did? Why were they so determined “to convert non-Christian America?” She went “undercover” to attend Falwell’s church. The resultant portrayal of evangelicals as she sees them and of how she transcended the popular media caricatures of them constitute an insightful, frequently funny book. --June Sawyers
An engaging, personal look at one variant of Christian fundamentalism.”
—Kevin Roose, author of The Unlikely Disciple
—John Casey, author of Spartina
Top customer reviews
Anyone can find fault with anyone else if they look hard enough. You would think that such a "liberal" person would be a little more open to the way others think and live. Sadly, it appears that Welch found the opposite to be true - those hateful, "homophobes" (oh how I hate that word) were more accepting and loving.
Gina Welch, raised in a secular household in California, moved to Virginia to attend graduate school. Once here, she found herself in a rather different culture than what she was used to in California. She got interested in investigating the core of the differences in these belief/cultural/spiritual systems, and committed years of her life to this effort.
In her new book, In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church, Gina Welch details how she joined the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia (some say this is ground-zero of Evangelicalism) to learn more about the types of folks around her in her new Virginia home.
Why Thomas Road Baptist Church?
"Regionally, church membership was in the thousands and growing and Liberty University was fast becoming what the founder had hoped it would be: a Brigham Young University for Evangelicals."
The founder, of course, being Jerry Falwell.
Note, however, that the matter of Gina joining Thomas Road Baptist Church was not a trivial step. Says Gina:
"I am a secular Jew raised by a single mother in Berkeley.... I cuss, I drink, and I am not a virgin."
She realizes that the people she wants to learn about would not be forthcoming if they knew she was writing a book about them, so she invents a story about herself. This deception allows her to join the church and make friends there, but comes back to haunt her in the end.
The book is mostly about her experiences of joining the church and developing relationships with people. But while in the church she witnesses several key events in the history of the Thomas Road Baptist Church, including the transition from the original church site to the new site (formerly the Ericsson cell phone plant) as well as the death of Jerry Falwell.
Also, in her journey she herself becomes changed, and discovers flaws in the caricatures the media paints of "Christian America". There are actually real people behind those images:
"And yet...against logic, as a liberal secular Jew, born to a Communist father, raised in Berkeley, educated in the Ivy League--I had been charmed by Jerry Falwell."
Gina takes a fair look at the church and its members, and, I think, all sides--the pro, the con, and the indifferent--can learn something from her experiences.
In the end, Gina has to deal with the deceptions she has committed, as well as the friendships she has created.
The result, I think, is a valuable insight into a segment of society where, currently, at the interface with the rest of the world, there is some distrust and misunderstanding.