Thursday, May 13, 2010

In the OTHER Land of Believers

I am knocked out by a new book that does for White evangelicals and secularists what my book does for Black fundamentalists and those in "alternative religion."  Young writer Gina Welch, a secular Jew who believes, "when you die, you just die,"  went undercover for two years to Jerry Falwell's church  in an attempt to understand this alien culture and build bridges to it. To do so, she fakes being saved and even baptized--except its not completely faking; some unexplained pull she calls "the X factor" overtakes her in  the worship music and draws her ineluctably forward to make the fateful declaration.

From there it's one harrowing moment after another as she makes friends, becomes integrated in the community, and comes to admire and even take on some of the best aspects of its culture--all the while abhorring the politics and  uncomprehending of the emphasis on a literalist interpretation of salvation. "Awkward" doesn't begin to describe some of the situations she gets herself in: like being offered a shot at a job at Evangelical hotbed Liberty University or finding herself encouraging the others as a salvation mission goes bad. She shows tenacity, compassion, and courage as well as transparency to her own gnawing doubts about her "disguise."

Along the way, Welch comes to many of the same conclusions  I do in "The Bishop and The Seeker." Homophobia can only be cured by intimate relationships with homosexuals; much evangelism is offered as a sacrificial form of social action, and the happiness of many Biblical literalists is real. Like me, she seeks to create bridges. (Luckily, my adventure in a Black church precluded even the possibility of  my "going undercover"). We do disagree on one thing though--the "emotionalism" of evangelical culture. While she sees it as trumping reason, I see it, along with emerging church activist Brian Mclaren, as perhaps too reason-bound in its wariness of direct revelation. But that difference can be explained by the different orientations Welch and I bring to the topic. When you die, I don't know what happens to you, but I don't believe you don't just die. Not the part of you that matters.

1 comment:

  1. Good post.

    One thing I didn't follow: what do you see as reason-bound about a wariness of direct revelation?

    I think there could be a lot of emotion wrapped up in tradition and authority that might equally well lead to a wariness of direct revelation.