Ever since evangelical Christians rose to national prominence, mainstream America has tracked their every move with a nervous eye. But in spite of this vigilance, our understanding hasn’t gone beyond the caricatures. In search of further understanding and perhaps a common purpose amongst the American people, despite the differences in culture and language, church and party, Gina Welch, a young secular Jew from Berkeley, joined Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church.
Over the course of nearly two years, Welch immersed herself in the life and language of the devout: she learned to interpret the world like an evangelical, weathered the death of Falwell, and embarked on a mission trip to Alaska intended to save one hundred souls. Alive to the meaning behind the music and the mind behind the slogans, Welch recognized the allure of evangelicalism, even for the godless, realizing that the congregation met needs and answered questions she didn’t know she had.
What emerges is an informative and riveting account of a skeptic’s transformation from uninformed cynicism to compassionate understanding, and a rare view of how evangelicals see themselves. Revealing their generosity and hopefulness, as well as their prejudice and exceptionalism, In the Land of Believers is a call for comprehending, rather than dismissing, the impassioned believers who have become so central a force in American life.
Gina Welch, a 2001 graduate of Yale University, teaches English at George Washington University. Her writing has previously appeared in Meridian, Time Out New York, and Playboy.
THE PART OF YOU THAT’S YOU FOREVER
WHEN I BEGAN AT THOMAS ROAD IN THE FALL OF 2005, I WAS more worried about telegraphing a plausibly conservative image than I was about the scruples of telegraphing at all. It wasn’t that I had zero misgivings about going undercover—I did meditate on the wrongness of lying and the string of betrayals my project would likely leave behind—it was that I sort of managed to balance the whole messy moral equation on an unsteady ball bearing of cliché: You have to break some eggs to make an omelette.
Gina Welch Discusses In The Land Of Believers