In the latest of a liberal genre of "going undercover" into evangelical Christianity, atheist author Gina Welch submerged herself as a Christian in Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church. She wasn't converted, but she did tell Time magazine's Kristi Olofsson that the media coverage is unfair:
The media often portrays evangelicals as brainwashed, simpleminded and angry. My book isn't the story of falling in love with everybody. There were some people who seemed to sit perfectly into the picture that I'd always had of evangelical Christians. For me what was missing from the media portrait was complexity.
The death of Jerry Falwell affected her, and again she felt the hostility [like this?] didn't capture the whole picture:
I felt unexpectedly saddened. In my [nonreligious] world people were celebrating, people were exuberant. I felt that he wasn't being fairly represented. I'd grown this affinity for him simply by being intoxicated by his charisma. That sadness was unacceptable to show to people from my world because it seemed like it might suggest that I was supporting Jerry Falwell.
Reading Welch's interview makes you wonder if perhaps those "objective" media people who rain fire on evangelicals ought to immerse themselves a little more. Welch felt she learned a little about how evangelism doesn't have to be hostile:
Evangelism seemed invasive to me. I thought of it as an imperialistic arrogance — that they wanted to overpower people. My experience with evangelism was something very different. They felt that they could do something about the eternal suffering of others. I came to see evangelism instead as a kind of empathy. That made me feel like there was something in it I could respect.
You talk a lot about evangelicals' mission to save souls. Did you ever get the sense that being a Christian was about more than just a pass into heaven?
I think that there are some people who are just motivated by the glory awaiting them in the next life, but the experience that I had of most people was that they were very concerned with being good in this life. They wanted to do as Jesus would do in this life.
Did you feel like they really did as Jesus would do? Were they really living what they said?
In many ways, yes. The selflessness that I saw there, the willingness to sacrifice, was very impressive to me. But I think there's [also] a lot of bigotry there that did not strike me as being synonymous with Jesus' attitude.
Welch clearly had a problem with "homophobia" in the church she investigated. It wasn't explained how Jesus would have favored "gay marriage."