Stephanie's Reviews > In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church

In the Land of Believers by Gina Welch
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Oct 17, 10

bookshelves: book-club
Read in October, 2010

I found this book disturbing. Welch is a solid writer and she tells an okay if not overly drawn-out story. That being said, what she did is wrong. I’m not opposed to the going undercover part, but what gets me is the utter lack of respect she has for the culture of Evangelicals. Her decision to get baptized and to participate regularly in Communion—sacred acts for Believers—is completely demeaning and dehumanizing. Would she approve this approach for any other culture—would she think it okay to imitate rituals of a tribal people or Hasidic Jews? It is dishonest and paints her own bias: she doesn’t see these people as people, but as an “other” group not worthy of cultural respect. As a self-acknowledged liberal, this behavior comes across hypocritical and undermines the compassion she claims to have throughout the book.

Because Welch is biased going in, her mode of research is questionable. It is clear that after two years she still hasn’t a clue what it means to be an Evangelical Christian. She defines the group based on externals: a style of worship, a set of political beliefs, a way of talking and dressing, a way of praying, a type of sermon, a particular view of money and how they witness. What she misses completely is that being an Evangelical Christian is about having a set of core beliefs that are non-negotiable. Beyond that, Evangelicals Christians are as varied and diverse as any other group. My jaw dropped at the behavior of the Christians at Thomas Road, and her assumption that because they act and think this way all Christians do is offensive. In the end, she does to Christians exactly what she accuses them of doing to others.

The other huge issue I have with this book is that she chooses the most extreme Evangelical church she can find, and then proceeds to clump all Evangelicals into this group. She is constantly describing how “Christians” act and attempting to analyze why this is so, but all she really accomplishes is an analysis of a particular group. The title of this book should read “An Evangelical Church” not “The Evangelical Church.” She generalizes and stereotypes and does little (beyond bonding with certain individuals and enjoying herself more than she thought possible) to insightfully understand the group she set out to study.
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Cara You saved me from having to write out my own review (plus, in good conscience, I can't write a review if I didn't finish the book). Perfectly stated, Steph!


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