Undercover Atheist Infiltrates Evangelical Congregation

The outcome may surprise you, though. The book she wrote is called In the Land of Believers: An Outsider’s Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church. Here’s the blurb on an interview with her on Patheos.com:

Gina Welch grew up in an atheistic, anti-religious household in Berkeley, California.  After she moved to Virginia for graduate school, she found herself surrounded by evangelicals, at the very time that evangelicals were credited (and often blamed) for the re-election of George Bush.  To investigate what makes evangelicals tick, and to confront her own personal prejudices, Gina resolved to go “undercover” and fake a conversion at the fundamentalist Thomas Road Baptist Church, where the pastor was a certain Jerry Falwell. . . .

as Welch attended the church for two years, something entirely unexpected happened: she began to fall in love not only with the people she met, but even with the rhythms of the life of the church.  Even what seemed most foreign, the drive to evangelize, was eventually understood to be an act of profound compassion and social responsibility.  Yet after a mission trip to Alaska, Welch was increasingly haunted by the seriousness of her deception.  She left Thomas Road without explanation, but so longed to return to the church that her friends and family worried she had lost her way and gave her books on escaping the grip of cults.  When at last she returned to Thomas Road to explain what she had done, she received forgiveness and grace from those she had deceived.

Although her basic beliefs regarding God and the afterlife have not changed, Welch admits that “there were times that I felt moved in ways hard for me to account for.”  Welch’s attitude toward evangelicals certainly changed.  Now, as in this recent post at On Faith, Welch serves as an interpreter of evangelicals to secular progressives.


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