by Gina Welch
[This is a preliminary preview and initial impressions of this book. When I have finished it, I will provide a more comprehensive review.–JLH]
A few weeks back, I was contacted by someone in the marketing department at Metropolitan Books and asked to review Gina Welch’s new, and first, book In the Land of Believers. I had previously written about Kevin Roose’s book The Unlikely Disciple here and here and so it seemed, to him, that I would be at least one good candidate to write a review. I accepted.
Or it could be that the marketer noticed that I am some form of a conservative Christian and that to get another slant, so to speak, on Welch’s book might be fun. Who knows the motivation, I was happy to be asked to write and get a free book along the way.
Here in this post I want to offer a couple of preliminary thoughts on the book as a way to tease you into my more detailed review that will come later. It should be noted that I am late to the game, again, and that the book is scheduled for publication in March 2010. Nevertheless, I was asked to read and review and that’s what I’m going to do.
First, you can get more information about Gina Welch here at her website. That’s a picture I borrowed from her website (I hope she doesn’t mind). She also blogs at True/Slant and slices and dices her way through the news with a typical liberal slant. Welch has a funny bone, sure, and I’d like to think that her funny bone will be enough to beat me into submission before I have to start wading through the thick and tired liberal rhetoric that defines most books of this nature. In that regard, her book is a sort of female version of Roose’s book: Skeptical, mocking, and inflammatory. I’m hoping (with closed eyes, crossed fingers, and held breath) that by the end of the book there is some sort of epiphany, some moral to the story, some bright as an August day realization that Christians are not the caricatures she paints–but I’m not really sure that many Christians who read this book will feel as if one page of epiphany appended at the end will justify the three-hundred and twenty nine pages of angst that went before. But I could be wrong (closed eyes, crossed fingers, held breath….)
She does say, in the introduction, and somewhat cryptically, “A long time passed before I understood that there was something serious behind the gloss, that there was meaning behind the music and minds behind the slogans” (5). I can’t hardly wait to see what she thinks it is.
Second, the book describes Ms Welch’s foray into the, surprise, surprise, Thomas Road Baptist Church which was founded and organized by the late Jerry Falwell. This also marks the book as different from Roose’s: he infiltrated, through lies and subterfuge, Liberty University. Welch did him one better by infiltrating, through lies and subterfuge, the church. That’s all fine. Frankly, I can think of no better place for sinners and saints to be than the church–the Body of Christ. And I don’t particularly care if they get there by hook or crook or publisher or subterfuge: just get there.
The subtitle of the book is: An Outsider’s Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church. A couple of thoughts here. First, the Thomas Road Baptist Church is not the heart of the Evangelical Church. It is one congregation among many in this world. So it is a misnomer and a mis-characterization to use the article ‘the’ in any sense as if Thomas Road Baptist Church has a monopoly on Jesus. I won’t dwell on it though because sensationalism sells books and my suspicion is that this is part of the marketing. Second, why is this the only church people infiltrate and write about, Jerry Falwell’s church? I have a theory about this that I think would stand up under scrutiny: I think it is about politics, pure and simple.
Seriously. When the author of a book, any book on any subject, writes in the introduction to the book that she has a ’soft spot for Dennis Kucinich’ and then a paragraph later writes, ‘Virginia wouldn’t go for Barack Obama until six years after I’d moved there…’ and then, on the same page, blames ‘Evangelicals’ for ’securing George W. Bush’s second term in office’ it seems fairly obvious why the author of this sort of book would go to Thomas Road Baptist Church where no less than Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority and bane to Tinki Winki, is the pastor. Real subtle; not too confusing: it’s politics.
By the end of the chapter she has made reference to John McCain and Mike Huckabee and another reference to President Bush. I think this is the reason for choosing Thomas Road as opposed to, say, Christ Redeemer Presbyterian in New York: Tim Keller presents no political controversy. Fact is, Ms Welch could have very easily found a liberal congregation to ‘infiltrate’ and spy on for year. She didn’t have to go to Jerry Falwell’s congregation. There are congregations in my own community who believe the way she believes about most social issues. No, I suspect the real motivation has nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus and his message and everything to do with politics and ‘those Christians’ who keep on inserting themselves into elections and winning them for marginal Christians.
I heard on the radio yesterday someone ask that very question. I listen to Limbaugh for about 2 minutes per day, after my part time job, on the way home, before the 1:45 commercial break. It was this very question a caller posed him yesterday: What are we going to do about the Christians in the Conservative, Republican party? The gentleman caller believes Christians are ruining politics for Conservatives just as Ms Welch believes Christians are ruining them, and America, for Liberals. It’s terribly unfortunate that both the anonymous caller and Ms Welch seem to think that the Christian has no right to an opinion–at least an opinion that should count in national elections.
Well good news Ms Welch and anonymous caller to Rush: some of us don’t give a damn about your politics or your president–conservative or liberal. Last election I voted for neither Obama nor McCain but instead some obscure Constitution party candidate who had not a snowballs chance in July of winning the election. That said, I do agree with part of the premise which governs their particular fear: if my theory is correct and Welch chose Thomas Road because it is a hotbed of political rhetoric where the pastor had ‘a standing weekly phone call with President Bush’ (6) then it is not atheistic conservatives and liberals who ought to be afraid, but Christians.
As Eugene Peterson writes:
“That throne [Christ’s throne] relativizes and marginalizes all earthly thrones and all the world’s politics” (Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 43)
I will have more to say later when I have read a bit further into the book. I hope to be finished before the end of March and I should make good progress when spring break gets here. So come back for more on this book.