One evening years ago in Nashville, I stood with about 500 LGBTs and allies in front of the Metro Courthouse, where the City Council was meeting. We were standing in support of adding sexual orientation to the city’s nondiscrimination code. We ultimately lost that round, but some years later, won. One memory of that evening was the presence of about 8 members of the Westboro Baptist Church, including the leader, Fred Phelps. What I primarily recall was a young girl, I’d guess about 7, holding one of the “God hates fags” — or one equally as awful — signs, and thinking, “That’s child abuse.”
I thought about this when I read that two of Fred Phelps granddaughters, Megan Phelps-Roper and her sister Grace, left the Topeka, Kansas, church. Jeff Chuin, at Medium has the story, “A Westboro Scion Leaves Her Church.”
For nearly all of her twenty-seven years, Megan believed … what her grandfather Fred Phelps preached from the pulpit; believed what her dad Brent and her mom Shirley taught during the family’s daily Bible studies … .
Megan was the one who pioneered the use of social media at Westboro, becoming the first in her family to go on Twitter. Effervescent and effusive, she gave hundreds of interviews … . Organized and proactive, she, for a time, even had responsibility for keeping track of the congregation’s protest schedule. She was such a Westboro fixture that the Kansas City Star touted her–improbably, … because a woman could never have such a role at the church–as a future leader of the congregation.
Then, in November, she left.
The sisters stayed for a while in a “tiny Midwestern town.” They needed some time to adjust to the huge change in their lives.
They needed space–to think, to read, to imagine what had previously been unimaginable. Their lives had largely been scripted, and ‘now that we’re writing our own script, everything seems a lot more tenuous,’ Megan says. ‘We needed to think about what we believe. We need to figure out what we want to do next. …’
Once a constant Tweeter, she hasn’t posted anything online since October. ‘I don’t know what I believe, so I don’t know what to say,’ she explains. … She’s only doing so now, and briefly, because, she says, ‘I was so proactive before and vocal about the church. … I want people to know that it’s not now how it was.
From the outside, Fred Phelps’ Westboro Church appears to be very much like a cult. Among other things, they are apparently convinced their understanding of “what the Bible says” is absolutely correct. Of course, that kind of dogmatic position isn’t limited to cults, or for that matter, to religious viewpoints. Leaving such a close knit, insular world isn’t easy. Going from certainty to “I don’t know what I believe” is scary.
Megan, writing for Grace as well, has a post at Medium, Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise. (emphasis added)
In a city in a state in the center of a country lives a group of people who believe they are the center of the universe; they know Right and Wrong, and they are Right. They work hard and go to school and get married and have kids who they take to church and teach that continually protesting the lives, deaths, and daily activities of The World is the only genuine statement of compassion that a God-loving human can sincerely make. …
This is my framework.
Until very recently, this is what I lived, breathed, studied, believed, preached — loudly, daily, and for nearly 27 years.
I never thought it would change. I never wanted it to.
Then suddenly: it did.
And I left.
Where do you go from there?
I don’t know, exactly. My sister Grace is with me, though. We’re trying to figure it out together.
There are some things we do know.
We know that we’ve done and said things that hurt people. Inflicting pain on others wasn’t the goal, but it was one of the outcomes. We wish it weren’t so, and regret that hurt.
We know that we dearly love our family. They now consider us betrayers, and we are cut off from their lives, but we know they are well-intentioned. We will never not love them.
The confusion is clear, and understandable. The process of breaking away and finding a new way is complicated.
I’ll admit I winced at her description of her family as “well-intentioned,” but I don’t doubt her. She, too, was “well-intentioned,” certain — because that’s what a family who loved her taught her — that she was doing what was good and right, what God wanted her to do.
More from Chuin’s article:
(Megan) … kept trying to conquer the doubts. Westboro teaches that one cannot trust his or her feelings. They’re unreliable. Human nature ‘is inherently sinful … completely sinful,’ Megan explains. ‘All that’s trustworthy is the Bible. And if you have a feeling or a thought that’s against the church’s interpretations of the Bible, then it’s a feeling or a thought against God himself.’
This, of course, assumes that the church’s … interpretation of the Bible is infallible, that this much-debated document handed down over the centuries has, in 2013, been processed and understood correctly only by a small band of believers in Topeka. ‘Now?’ Megan says. ‘That sounds crazy to me.’
I wish Megan and Grace well. I hope they find some clarity — something I wish for all of us — and direction and purpose, and family. There are lots of LGBTs who could tell them about what that’s like, finding a new “family.”
And maybe some people from Westboro Church — or from, say, the National Organization for Marriage or the Family Research Council or the American Family Association — will see what’s happening with the two sisters, and have their own “epiphany” (see Chuin’s article for details about that of Megan), and realize that an emphasis on hate is, to quote Grace, “crazy.”
(God Judge sign via Wipe Out Homophobia on FB)