"In the Land of Believers"
Note: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for a unsolicited review.
I finished this book about 2 weeks ago. It chronicles Welch's 2 year undercover journey into Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road church. Now, if you follow my blog closely (you silly goof), you may recall another book that I read that was somewhat similar in approach. However, Roose's book is from the college's perspective (Liberty University); Welch's is from the ... well, mid- to late-20s. She joins a single's group to start out, eventually becomes baptized, and finally goes off on an evangelizing trip to Alaska.
Overall I liked this book. Welch, like Roose, portrays the fear and confusion of trying to play an evangelical well. It definitely has its own "lingo" and if you don't know really live it, it feels bizarre to talk about being saved "by the blood of the lamb." It was also very disturbing to read about just how much money a church like Thomas Road has. From page 41:
I had just read in a newspaper article about the $1 billion Liberty University fund-raising campaign Pastor Jerry had in the works to prevent ever having to turn a student away for an inability to pay.
This is a university that openly mocks evolution. That's frightening to me that they have that much money in their accounts. Yikes.
The story about the woman who had a daughter killed at Columbine was very sad to read. Originally it was reported that the girl had died because she admitted her faith in God, but the reality is, that's just not true. She died because a pyschopath killed her. I feel for the mother, I really do, but ... something just feel even more tragic hearing her talk to this church about something that, according to the research done, didn't happen. It was also awkward reading Welch's missionary account in Alaska. She had to go through with it, but she felt like she could have done so much more if it wasn't all about tracts and the salvation "process".
In the end, Welch goes back to the church after a period of time and confesses to two close members what she was up to. This is where doing this kind of undercover work is hard. Humans are ... well, human, and you usually end up trying to find some kind of common ground to create friendships, which she did. To admit to them that all of her evangelical work was basically a lie must have been hard to do - I give her credit for going back and doing the right thing.
Between Roose's and Welch's books, I have to admit I lean towards the former, but that may be because I read it first. Both of them do a fine job of showing what's it like for someone who's never been part of Christianity to dive right in and "fake it" to find out what it's like. I wonder, though, just how much impact both books have. What I think I need to find now are some books from people (like Dan Barker) who were deeply rooted in their Christian faith and ended up leaving it - I think I would identify with that even more.
* Posted at 06.21.2010 08:15:22 PM CST | Link *