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Review: In the Land of Believers

September 2, 2012

Gina Welch is a secular Jew who was raised in California by a liberal, single mother.  She says she’s never believed in God.  After getting her undergraduate degree, she relocated to Virginia for graduate school and “treated the South like a joke for a while.”  After a while, though, she discovered that she was starting to like it in Virginia.  She still struggled with the evangelical culture, though, and decided to immerse herself in it in order to understand it more.  So, in the fall of 2005, she joined Jerry Falwell’s church, Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg.  She was baptized and became active in the singles ministry there, even going on a mission trip to Alaska with them.  She was surprised by what she discovered:

When I started at Thomas Road I expected to go in as a sort of anthropologist.  I expected to discover the sociological underpinnings for evangelical wackiness.  I never imagined that I would feel a kind of belonging.  Because beyond basically appreciating my friends as fellow human beings, I finally understood what it felt like to believe you knew something that had the power to improve the lives of others.  You felt compelled to share it.

In the Land of Believers, by Gina Welch, is a memoir of Welch’s time at Thomas Road.  I really enjoyed the book even though I felt like Welch went in with something to prove.  It seemed she was expecting sad, judgmental people and was initially disappointed when she discovered kind, friendly, happy people instead.  That’s not to imply that they were always open-minded or that Welch always agreed with them, but she did end up liking most of them.  I think Welch learned as much about herself as she did about the evangelicals during her experiment.

Welch’s writing drew me in – it seemed like she was telling a very personal story just to me.  I think it helped that many of the places she wrote about are familiar to me.  I listened to In the Land of Believers on audio – it’s narrated by Judith Brackley.  Her voice is a little nasal, but she was a great fit for this book – she read the book so convincingly, she became the author in my mind.  The audio lasts approximately thirteen and a half hours.    If you enjoy memoirs or are curious about evangelicals, you’ll want to check this book out.

Review copy provided by Tantor Audio.  I am an Indiebound Affiliate.
22 Comments leave one →
  1. September 2, 2012 6:29 am

    Sounds like an interesting memoir. This made me laugh: ‘Her voice is a little nasal’. I’ve never listended to a book on audio but I can imagine the narrators voice can make or break it.

  2. September 2, 2012 7:35 am

    I do enjoy reading a memoir from time to time so I’ll keep this in mind.

  3. September 2, 2012 8:24 am

    It sounds like she joined under false pretenses for the sake of the story. Or did she tell them she was an unbeliever, and they let her join anyway? Hmmm. At first I thought this was a definite no, but it is a little intriguing, I guess!

    • September 2, 2012 8:34 am

      She did join under false pretenses in order to understand Evangelicals better.

  4. September 2, 2012 9:45 am

    I like these kinds of cross-faith books and this sounds really interesting to me. Thanks for reviewing it. I understand she joined under false pretenses which is not the most honest way to approach it but she probably worried that she would have been haranged nonstop to convert if she had gone in openly as a Jew.

  5. September 2, 2012 9:58 am

    I’m not a reader of either memoirs or evangelical stuff, so this one is probably not for me!

  6. September 2, 2012 10:17 am

    Sounds interesting, although it seems a bit extreme of her to join them when she didn’t believe what they did?

  7. September 2, 2012 11:48 am

    This sounds like an interesting read. Did she end up staying with the church?

  8. September 2, 2012 12:10 pm

    I was wondering the same thing as Vasilly – if she ended up staying at the end. I guess that would be spoiler information though. 🙂

  9. rosecityreader permalink
    September 2, 2012 12:25 pm

    Hmmmmm . . . the whole premise rubs me the wrong way — the idea that Evangelicals were such an odd bunch that they had to be studied anthropologically like a recently discovered gorilla colony. But it sounds like she became more sympathetic to her subject, which makes the book more appealing. I’ll see if my library has the audiobook.

  10. talesofwhimsy permalink
    September 2, 2012 2:24 pm

    This sounds kinda good. Thanks for sharing. I hadn’t heard of it.

  11. September 2, 2012 2:55 pm

    I really enjoyed this book when I read it as well!

  12. September 2, 2012 7:45 pm

    I don’t read a lot of memoirs, but it sounds like you enjoyed this one.

  13. September 2, 2012 8:01 pm

    This sounds like it would be a good companion read to Kevin Roose’s The Unlikely Disciple– where he goes “undercover” at the Jerry Falwell university there.

  14. bookingmama permalink
    September 2, 2012 8:04 pm

    This one didn’t really appeal to me originally but I bet I’d find it interesting.

  15. Patty permalink
    September 2, 2012 10:39 pm

    I love the way you always read lots of different and unique books…I am not certain this one is calling my name…but I am glad that you enjoyed it!

  16. zibilee permalink
    September 3, 2012 11:21 am

    I am not evangelical in the least, but do think that this book sounds interesting, and like it has something to offer me. I can’t imagine doing what the author did, especially since it went against all of her belief systems, but that’s why I think books like this are important. If we can walk in each other’s shoes for a moment, we can come to appreciate each other in ways we might never have thought of before. Excellent review today 🙂

  17. September 3, 2012 10:28 pm

    Hmmmm…I just may pick this one up!!

  18. September 5, 2012 1:28 pm

    I like the premise of this; I live and work with a lot of people who are wacky evangelicals (I live in the town John Freshwater made famous when he taught creationism in the middle school), and any attempt to understand and get along with them seems like a good thing to me.

  19. September 6, 2012 12:18 pm

    Sounds like an interesting memoir; normally, I shy away from all memoirs, but perhaps this would be one in which I could give it a try in the future.

  20. September 6, 2012 11:34 pm

    Probably not for me. Seems wrong to go into a church under false pretenses. I might be worried about being struck by lightning!

  21. September 7, 2012 10:19 am

    Not my cup of tea. If I read a memoir, usually I prefer it to be inspirational to be worth my while.

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