Intrepid Village Voice reporter Donna Minkowitz thought she knew what she was getting into when she set out to go undercover among the religious right. She was going to observe "the enemy" close up, on its own turf. But Minkowitz, a feminist, lesbian, and "sex radical" who has won awards for her coverage of gay issues, found something else entirely -- a guide to some of the stormiest contradictions within her own soul.
Sex and love, good and evil, rapture and safety -- the religious right, it turns out, is as obsessed with these matters as Minkowitz is, as many of us are. During her adventures with the Christian right, Minkowitz finds all-women Pentecostal services that are as sexually supercharged as her own experiences having group sex with strangers in a lesbian backroom bar. The Promise Keepers, trying to be good in an age when "good" men are branded as sissies, alternately move Minkowitz to tears and provoke her mirth when she disguises herself as a teenage boy to join one of their all-male gatherings.
With hilarious, sympathetic writing, Minkowitz explores the things she and the Christian right have in common -- from their intense sense of "victimhood" to their desire to be loved at all costs. If the Christian right wants a God willing to die for them, Minkowitz wants a lover willing to suffer pain. "Because I have fallen in love with a masochist," she writes, "I think I have entered the Garden of Eden."
On this rollicking trip to hell and back, Minkowitz reexamines staples of gay life she once revered -- like Sex Panic!, a group that wants to applaud all that is "evil" and "transgressive" in sex. She wonders why she ever embraced the idealist assumption that gays are inherently freer, sexier, and "better" than straights.
And the more she visits the Christian right, the more she discovers that neither she nor they have been getting what they're looking for. Whether "getting slain in the spirit" with adherents of the Toronto Blessing, which Minkowitz calls the "punk-rock version of evangelism," or being given a female makeover by Total Woman Ministries, or engaging in mutual confessions with executives from Focus on the Family, Minkowitz comes to understand that both she and they have been using sex and God, not being saved by them.
In the end, Minkowitz discovers a very different kind of ecstasy. It is not the ecstasy of overcoming the Other; it is not the frenzied search for safety. It is an embrace of all the dangers and beauties that our deepest selves can offer. Here is a tour of the extremes of body and soul in America that may exhilarate and shock while it enlightens, but will remain indelibly stamped in the memory long after the last page is turned.