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Erika Rae

Devangelical

Emergency Press 2012

New Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in LiteratureNew Books Network April 26, 2013 Eric LeMay

During my first few weeks at college, I concocted one of those dumb ideas that you get when you suddenly have the freedom of...

During my first few weeks at college, I concocted one of those dumb ideas that you get when you suddenly have the freedom of an adult without the wisdom of one.  My new dorm-mates and I would go undercover, as it were, and spend a day as prospective students at the famous Evangelical college down the road, Bob Jones University.

Since we’d arrived in Greenville, South Carolina, we’d heard all sorts of rumors about Bob Jones: that you weren’t aloud to go out on a date without a chaperon; that the only place on campus men and women could mingle was a giant gymnasium filled with couches, and that you had to keep a couch cushion between you and the other person sitting next to you, presumably to block the demonic energy radiating from his or her genitals.  And, as if this precaution weren’t enough, this gym was spotted with lifeguard chairs, in which guards kept a wary eye out for the slightest chastity infraction.  We imagined the guards had whistles and Ray-Bands.

So we went and, as you can imagine, found nothing much out of the ordinary.  Our tour guides were welcoming, the campus was well-kept, the classrooms and dorms were spacious and inviting, and the student body, far from radiating religious zeal or sexual repression, looked pretty much like the one we’d just left, perhaps a little more friendly.  We didn’t see the mythic gymnasium, and no one ran around with a Bible, beating men and women away from one another.  We were, of course, disappointed.

As boneheaded as we were back then, I do think our undercover adventure stems from a curiosity shared by many of us who aren’t a part of the Evangelical church: what’s life really like in that community?  We might have heard about the alternative colleges and preschools, the prayer circles and the mega-churches, but, really, what’s the appeal?  This curiosity is all the more odd given that anywhere from a quarter to over a third of Americans identify themselves as Evangelical, depending on which study you consult.  It seems the Evangelical / non-Evangelical divide is just one of the many that currently mark our much divided country.

And now we have Erika Rae‘s new memoir, Devangelical (Emergency Press, 2012).  In it, Rae accomplishes a dual feat.  She gives those of us outside the Evangelical church a first-hand account of growing up within it–of its values and beliefs, of what it’s like to go to youth group or attend the Evangelical alternative to prom.  She even includes a pithy “Guide to Churchese” that gives the Evangelical take on such terms as “Alter Call,” “Christian Alternative,” or “Sexual Immorality” (“If it’s sexual, it’s immoral”).  But more importantly, Rae gives us a coming-of-age story, a story that’s at times hilarious and at times poignant.  Rae captures that struggle we all know and that may be even harder than fending off the demons that lurk in Ouija boards or rock-and-roll music: growing up.