Column: Going undercover: Atheist author joins Falwell's church to try to understand conservative evangelicals

Evangelical Christians were a mystery to Gina Welch.

She was raised in a secular Jewish family in California. Her parents were atheists and political liberals, and so was she.

All she really knew about conservative evangelicals was that they were trying to change the country in ways she didn’t like.

Then she found herself living among them when she moved to Virginia for graduate school in 2002.

She found that the more she learned about them, the less she understood.

So she decided to undertake an audacious experiment in the fall of 2005. She would go undercover and pretend to be one of them. And she would do it in — of all places — Jerry Falwell’s church in Lynchburg, Va., the belly of the beast, you might say.

But the project didn’t turn out the way she expected.

She found a world more complex than she anticipated and deeper friendships than she imagined possible. And eventually her deception became so troubling to her that she vowed never to lie to anyone again.

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