One of the biggest personal challenges Roose faced while attempting to fit in at Liberty was trying to ignore the overt homophobia that was all too apparent in his professors and classmates. Misinformation about homosexuals was actively taught in his General Education classes, and his friends threw the words "homo"and "gay" around regularly as insults. My middle-school aged daughter is mature enough not to do this. Conflicted about defending his lesbian aunts, and his gay friends from Brown, he goes to talk about the issue with one of the school's pastors, who clearly assumes Roose is worried about himself and discusses reparation therapy, and group counseling. To be fair, Roose does not defend his Liberty friends to his family and friends from Brown, who clearly have their own prejudices and beliefs about his new classmates.
In a strange twist of fate, Roose becomes an instant celebrity when it is discovered that he conducted the last print interview with Jerry Falwell, a soft piece about the man himself - hobbies, idosyncracies, etc. for the Liberty University student newspaper. Falwell died two weeks after the interview was published, just as students were winding up their final exams. I remember living in South Texas when Selena was murdered. And I was a relatively new Bay Stater (that's the official name for one who lives in Massachusetts, really!) when John John Kennedy's plane went down. The wall to wall coverage of both of these events was surreal to me, but I doubt it could even begin to compare what it must have been like to have been at Liberty when Falwell passed. Roose questions writing the "fluff" story, even after Falwell's death, but he does recognize what he gained from it - he was able to humanize the man who he had usually known to be demonized. Roose cites some of Falwell's writings in the Selected Bibliography at the end of his book, but does not mention the only one I read: If I Should Die Before I Wake (1986), his book about abortion. I read it when it first came out, when the Moral Majoirty was in its heyday, and I remember being surprised that I wasn't horrified by this work, even though I knew before I read it that my opinions were at complete opposition to his. What I found out by reading the book though, was that Falwell was actually trying to help unwed mothers by providing shelter, food and clothing for them and their babies, and assisting with finding adoptive families for those who wished to it. I imagine that this minor realization is the closest I will come to feeling what Roose did at the time.
Roose finds community among his friends at Liberty, and at Thomas Road Baptist Church. As a choir member he experiences a "tingly feeling" in his fingers during worship. This actually happens to him twice. He never converts, though. I think that the tingly feeling he described had more to do with the spirit of community than the holy spirit. I sometimes get a similar feeling when I am with my women's spirituality group and we call in the four directions. Do I think the spirits of the north are entering my body? No. Do I think getting out of the house for an evening and spending some time with some like-minded women is a spiritual experience? Definitely. Ecstatic experiences are common in all religions. I think they come from community.
My final thought, after reading Roose's book is simply a question: How do evangelicals justify their belief in a "loving" God, with the wrath that they think He will unleash on non-believers for all eternity? How can eternal punishment be just?