The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University
by Kevin Roose
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Summary: Brown University student Kevin Roose spent a semester studying at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. As a liberal, Roose had little idea what he would find at Liberty. The Unlikely Disciple is an entertaining, surprising account of Roose’s experiences.
Review: It has become a cliche to speak of the United States as two camps – Blue versus Red. Kevin Roose chose to attend a blue college – Brown University. But he took an undercover tour of reddest America by spending a semester at Liberty University posing as an evangelical Christian.
Many of Roose’s findings are surprising. I believe that he went with an open mind and tried to move beyond the cliches that dominate the media’s coverage of evangelicals. To Roose’s surprise, he liked his fellow students. Roose learned that young evangelicals struggle with many of the same issues that his Brown classmates are also addressing. Of course, Roose feared that he would be discovered as an interloper and his undercover status created many issues, such as when he began dating an evangelical woman to whom he was very attracted.
Roose tried to immerse himself in the evangelical culture. He took classes in which instructors taught the “young earth” theory of our planet’s beginnings. He also sang in the choir at Jerry Falwell’s church. Perhaps the most-memorable experience recounted in the book is Roose’s spring break trip to Daytona Beach. Rather than going for the beach and beer, Roose and his group proselytized to other spring breakers. Suffice to say, it was not an easy job.
Though Roose is positive about the Liberty students that he meets, the same cannot be said of those who run Liberty. Roose finds that a number of Liberty’s students are struggling with their sexuality, but he makes clear that – in his opinion – Liberty’s treatment of gays and lesbians is abhorrent. In fact, the evangelical attitude toward sex mystifies Roose.
Roose is similarly disdainful of Liberty founder Jerry Falwell. He recounts many of Falwell’s most-controversial remarks, including his early support for segregation and his declaration that Teletubby “Tinky Winky” had gay mannerisms. Roose manages to interview Falwell for Liberty’s campus newspaper and the results are interesting.
The Unlikely Disciple is the best sort of nonfiction – if you are not an evangelical, you get to travel to an exotic world. Moreover, Roose is a great tour guide as he challenges you to drop your preconceptions. The Unlikely Disciple is terrific – don’t miss it.