In the Land of Believers
An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church
By Gina Welch
(Metropolitan Books, Hardcover, 9780805083378, 352pp.)
Publication Date: March 2, 2010
An undercover exploration of the world of evangelicals, offering an extraordinary behind-the-scenes look at the faithful
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. Who are evangelicals, really? What are they like in private, and what do they want? Is it possible that beneath the differences in culture and language, church and party, we might share with them some common purpose?
To find out, 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 a 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. This is her first book.
“Excellent prose with a laudable purpose: to promote understanding of evangelical Christians...
An engaging, personal look at one variant of Christian fundamentalism.”
—Library Journal “Memorable... A genuinely inquisitive memoir about the complicated nature of religious belief.”
—Kirkus Reviews “With compassion, wit, and verve, Gina Welch has gone where few secular liberals have dared to go—the late Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church—and emerged with a compelling story that transcends stereotypes and builds common ground. Both sides of the Great American Culture War should read this refreshing call for a cease-fire.”
—Kevin Roose, author of The Unlikely Disciple “Gina Welch’s story of her immersion in Jerry Falwell’s Evangelical church is riveting. Welch is a fair, compassionate, very smart writer—and one of the most arresting narrators I’ve encountered in a half-century of reading.”
—John Casey, author of Spartina