|
Movies Books Music Food Tv Shows Technology Politics Video Games Parenting Fashion Green Living more >

Lunch » Tags » Book » Reviews » In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church » User review

Outside Looking In

  • Jan 11, 2012
Rating:
+3
When I turned thirteen, I joined a youth fraternity that was aimed at young men. The organization does a tremendous amount of good work in the communities where a chapter is located. The people who belonged as young men have gone on to be some of the most respected men of their communities. Some have even obtained national and international status. I was told when I was being recruited for the group that once I was in, my membership alone would be enough to get me into places that other people couldn't go. Bright a boy as I was, I had no idea what that meant. I decided to join because most of my friends had abandoned our local Scout troop (which I was a part, too) and joined. I also wanted to know what a "fraternity" would be like. In my mind, I pictured a fraternity being a highly secretive organization where everyone wore crazy costumes and where, as part of my initiation, I would have to ride a goat or drink lamb's blood. Reality was nothing like my exciting visualizations. For initiation, I had to memorize a few lines and repeatedly say "I will" after a series of very serious questions. In all honesty, it was rather boring. I left the group a few weeks later and stuck with the Boy Scouts where I eventually earned the rank of Eagle.

Gina Welch did something similar. However, she wasn't curious about a young men's fraternity. She was curious about a segment of a particular religion: evangelical Christians. As a young woman from California who came from a Jewish background, but was an atheist, she had been hearing a lot about "evangelical Christians" in the news. According to the types of media she paid attention to, these people were the reason her candidate had lost the past two Presidential elections to a rich cowboy from Texas. She wondered who these people were, what made them tick, and why did it seem there was such a divide from her own life and theirs. To better understand "Evangelicals" she went undercover at Thomas Road Baptist Church, the church started and ran by Jerry Falwell. In order to get a better perspective on things, Welch pretended to be someone who was seeking answers. She joined a Bible study. Eventually she faked a conversion and was baptized. She attended worship services faithfully each week, joined a young adult singles group, and eventually went on a witnessing mission trip to Alaska. She sometimes agonized over her deceit because she soon came to see many of the people she was associating with as real people and one of them became so close to her that they actually became friends.

I really enjoyed IN THE LAND OF BELIEVERS. The book is well written and, though it tackles some difficult issues, it's easy to read. Perhaps that's because instead of an expose it's a memoir. There are descriptions of events and conversations that the author has that are startling, if not shocking. However, as the author eventually learns, all of the people she meets aren't exactly the same. They have a core set of beliefs they all agree upon, but beyond that they can be very different.

There were times that I was fascinated by what I read; not so much by what the author encountered, but by her own reactions and interpretations. For instance, the author describes that during one Sunday while singing, she experiences what she decides to describe as "Feeling X". During this time, she doesn't enjoy most of the songs she sings in church and as she mentions near the beginning of the book, she still viewed the people she voluntary decided to surround herself with as "shrill and prudish, they loved bad music and guns and Nascar, told corny jokes, and spoke in sound bites." She can't explain it and has no idea why it happens, but she gets this new, strange feeling. From the way she describes it, this new sensation is comforting and positive. Since she doesn't know what it is, she begins referring to it as "Feeling X". As the story progresses, Welch finds herself experiencing this emotion more often. I was fascinated by this account because Welch never seems to actually seriously consider that, perhaps, "Feeling X" is actually God or his presence. If one is truly open to all possibilities, then even that possibility, no matter how improbable, could be possible.

What I found most fascinating by the whole story is how little the author seemed changed by the experience. At the end of the novel she tells her friend Alice, "Church had changed me…I loved having the sense of community and also that serious, regular, self-inquiry. Our relationship had changed me; feeling so happy in our friendship had made me think differently about Christians."
Friendships are important and I'm glad that the author now thinks differently about Christians, but beyond that, how did her life change? After she quarantines herself from all church activities as a way to detox herself from the life she had been living, it seems from the text that the author went back to being the same person she was before the whole experience. Granted, once we experience something we are never the same people because each experience changes us. Still, beyond the section in the epilogue, I never get a sense from the text exactly how the author changed as a result of her experience.

There are many Christians who might find it difficult to read IN THE LAND OF THE BELIEVERS. Some will find it difficult to read because of the way "evangelical" is used. According to the Bible, all believers should be evangelical. However, the term has a different meaning when used by those outside the faith and it is this use and its perception that some will take issue with. Other Christians will find the book difficult to read because they will let their emotions overcome them (something that Welch points out in the book as a kind of fault of the people she worships with for two years) at the deceit of the author in pretending to be converted, her fake baptism, and the two years she spent hiding her true life from all of her church "family" and friends. Personally, I can't fault the author for what she did. I can understand why someone completely unconnected from Christianity would pretend to be a Christian for two years. After all, there are many people who attend churches who every Sunday for years on end for most of their lives who do the very same thing; they pretend to believe but never really do. Welch was correct in that the only way she could ever get a true inside perspective was to pretend to be something she is not because even though many of the people at Thomas Road would have been open and honest with her, she never would have been a part of the "inner circle". She writes about this somewhat when she talks about a meal she attended just before Christmas when she was still pretending to be someone who was seeking. Despite her deceit, at least Welch eventually admitted what she did and came clean.

I think Christians can benefit a great deal from reading IN THE LAND OF BELIEVERS. I am a Christian and I think it's beneficial for us as believers to really know what people outside of the faith think of us. Though we are not of the world, we are IN the world.

What I found most fascinating by the whole story is how little the author seemed changed by the experience. At the end of the novel she tells her friend Alice, "Church had changed me…I loved having the sense of community and also that serious, regular, self-inquiry. Our relationship had changed me; feeling so happy in our friendship had made me think differently about Christians."
Friendships are important and I'm glad that the author now thinks differently about Christians, but beyond that, how did her life change? After she quarantines herself from all church activities as a way to detox herself from the life she had been living, it seems from the text that the author went back to being the same person she was before the whole experience. Granted, once we experience something we are never the same people because each experience changes us. Still, beyond the section in the epilogue, I never get a sense from the text exactly how the author changed as a result of her experience.

IN THE LAND OF BELIEVERS is a fascinating book that I highly recommend especially for Christians. Non-believers can enjoy the book, too, but I think Christians can take away the most from reading the book.

What did you think of this review?

Helpful
3
Thought-Provoking
3
Fun to Read
3
Well-Organized
3
Post a Comment
More In the Land of Believers: An O... reviews
review by . December 05, 2009
Kevin Roose's The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University has apparently started a sub-genre of "Ivy League impostors infiltrating Jerry Falwell." As you will know if you read my review of Roose's interesting book, I have a vested interest in Liberty University, so when this became available for review through Amazon Vine I jumped at the chance.    These journeys through Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church (both undertaken explicitly …
About the reviewer

Ranked #39
I like to read and watch movies.
Consider the Source

Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.

You
tomtom13
Your ratings:
rate more to improve this
About this book

Wiki

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
view wiki

Tags

Details

ISBN-10: 0805083375
ISBN-13: 978-0805083378
Author: Gina Welch
Genre: Religion & Spirituality
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
© 2014 Lunch.com, LLC All Rights Reserved
Lunch.com - Relevant reviews by real people.
()
This is you!
Ranked #
Last login
Member since
reviews
comments
ratings
questions
compliments
lists