Here’s an unlikely story. A young woman, raised in Berkeley in the best Berkeley fashion — left wing and atheist — spends two years “undercover” in Jerry Falwell’s church in Virginia to write a book about Christian evangelicals today. The unlikely part? She re-examines her former intolerance to evangelicals and finds real human connection and warmth. Even after she reveals her deceit, the friends she made in the church extend “acceptance, affection, and forgiveness”.

That’s the story behind Gina Welch’s In the Land of Believers (no Amazon link: go to one of Berkeley’s remaining independent bookstores instead, please). Full disclosure: in addition to being a Berkeley-bred author, Welch is my niece. Here’s her description of how she came to write the book:

I conceived of the book in 2005, when I was living in Charlottesville, VA, where I had moved for grad school. Having grown up in Berkeley I always thought of myself as pretty open-minded about other lifestyles, approving of whatever personally-designed patchwork of identity a person dreamed up. But when I moved to Virginia I found a huge blind spot in my tolerance: evangelical Christians. They embodied everything I proudly did not: their political views on all the issues I cared about were anathema to me, their cheerfulness seemed somehow calculated, and they organized their lives around a God I felt very sure did not exist. The only thing we seemed to have in common was our certainty that we were right about everything.

You can hear Welch at Books Inc on Fourth Street next Monday, you can read her interview on The Huffington Post, and read her blog on True Slant.

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...