Undercover at Thomas Road: An Interview with Gina Welch
- Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Recently, I posted a review of Gina Welch's book, In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church. In case you aren't familiar with the book, it tells the story of how Welch faked a conversion experience, got baptized, and spent two years at Thomas Road Baptist Church [Jerry Falwell, Jr., Liberty University]. She even participated in evangelism on a mission trip. During this time, she kept a detailed journal of her experience, which she has now turned into a book that chronicles her journey into evangelical America.
Today, I'm glad to have the opportunity to post a Q&A with Gina.
Trevin Wax: Have you ever doubted your doubts about God? You describe moments at Thomas Road in which you considered living as a Christian the rest of your life. Did you doubt your atheism? Does Christianity seem plausible at all?
Gina Welch: I've examined my doubts about God, but my doubts always seem more authentically reasonable than the calculus of Christianity, or the emotional intoxication I experienced at church. My moments of wanting Christianity to be true were in part born from a reluctance to leave church and begin the process of accounting for my deception, and in part because there were features of the evangelical message that I wished were true.
Trevin Wax: What are the aspects of evangelical Christianity at Thomas Road that you found attractive?
Gina Welch: There are plenty of ideas in evangelical Christianity that appeal to me. It would be nice to know that even the most hideous acts of violence and destruction happen for a reason. It would be nice to know that this short life isn't the end, that there's something better on the other side, and that when I lose someone it's only temporary. It would be nice to know what's expected of me. It would be nice to know when I have dark thoughts or do something I know I shouldn't it's because that's my natural sinful wiring, that I shouldn't feel guilty about it. I think that's why evangelical Christianity is such a popular formula-because it answers our common longings.
Trevin Wax: Do you still maintain close relationships with some of the friends you made there?
Gina Welch: It's difficult to be close given the geographical distance, given the weight of my deceptions, given the fact that I've stolen their narratives for my book, refracting them through a nonbeliever's prism. But I'm lucky to exchange messages with people from church and I have plans to get together with a couple of them in the coming months.
Trevin Wax: Have you read any substantive defenses of Christianity besides C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity? (I'm thinking specifically of a book like Tim Keller's The Reason for God).
Gina Welch: I haven't read Tim Keller's The Reason for God, and I'm open to it, but investigating Christianity's truth is sort of not the project of my book. I leave theological argumentation to other writers.
My interest was in understanding the psychological architecture behind evangelical Christianity in a way that might make it easier to relate to, in order to promote mutual understanding. I think evangelical Christians have got to accept that some people are always going to be nonbelievers and vice versa, and we've got to figure out how to coexist and be respect each other's ideas even while we disagree.
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