Title: In the Land of Believers: An Outsider’s Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church
Author: Gina Welch
Release Date: March 2, 2010
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Audiobook
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
In this memoir, Gina Welch, an atheist from California moves to Virgina and finds herself intolerant of the evangelicals around her. Disturbed by her closed-mindedness, she decides to go “undercover” at Thomas Road, Jerry Fallwell’s church, in order to understand more about the Christian faith and what drives evangelicals.
I’ve been wanting to read In the Land of Believers, so when I discovered my library had it available for download on audio, I immediately put it on my iPod and began listening. Though I also own a print copy of the book, I really feel like I made the right choice listening to it in audio.
I found Gina’s journey into the Thomas Road community absolutely fascinating. Growing up in Oklahoma, I’ve had experience with evangelicals. I have no problems with religious differences or our varying choices, but I did find it difficult when they become convinced that I needed to be saved. While I appreciated the thought that went behind it, I constantly found myself irritated that they felt the need to force their beliefs on me and couldn’t just live and let live. Therefore, I was very curious about Gina’s experiences.
I appreciated that Gina put a human face on the people we’ve lumped together as the “moral majority.” She describes the people she meets, and unexpectedly becomes good friends with a few of them. It’s at this point when she really starts to ponder the moral implications of what she’s doing. Being curious about other cultures and religions, though, I can completely understand her motivations. While I wouldn’t have made the same choices as her, she would not have had the in-depth experiences she did if she had remained an outsider. Still, she grapples with the consequences of her deception more and more as the book progresses.
Gina found evangelizing one of the most difficult parts of being a member of Thomas Road. I was surprised to find, though, that most people she met agreed with her. There was a time and place for evangelizing to others, and it was not in an airport security line or a busy coffee shop line. Many of them were uncomfortable approaching total strangers and trying to save them. However, they disagreed on the implications of evangelizing to children, one of the most disturbing parts of the book for me. Telling children that they can either go to heaven and be happy and live with Jesus or go to hell and live without Jesus and be subject to physical torment is sheer manipulation in my eyes, as it was in Gina’s. While I don’t begrudge anyone their choice of religion, I also don’t like the idea of trying to push children who don’t know any better one way or another.
As the book progressed, I was surprised at how much Gina enjoyed church. Not necessarily what they taught or the religious factor, but she really appreciated having a community. The people she was lying to genuinely liked Gina, and she found herself caring for them. They had become living, breathing people rather than just a stereotype.
In the Land of Believers is a book that really made me think. It made me question any stereotypes I subconsciously have or judgments I may have rendered without thinking. It also opened my eyes a little to evangelicals’ motivations when they try to save others (though this is still frustrating in my eyes, being a non-Christian). If you are an evangelical, this book will likely anger you (judging from some of the Amazon.com reviews), so I’m not sure I’d recommend it. But if you aren’t one, and are curious about Gina’s journey and her discoveries, I definitely think you should pick up this fascinating book.
A quick note on the audio production: the narrator of the audiobook version of In the Land of Believers is Judith Brackley. It was difficult to get used to her narration at the beginning, as it really seemed like she was reading a book rather than telling “her” story (since the book is told in the first person). But I quickly got used to her and enjoyed her voice. The audio production runs about 14 hours long and is unabridged.