Thinking Out Loud

February 11, 2013

Westboro: Two Phelps Family Members Flee

Megan Phelps-RoperTwo members of Fred Phelps’ family have exited Westboro Baptist Church including one who was considered an heir apparent to give greater leadership to the clan in the future.  Megan Phelps-Roper and her younger sister Grace have posted their news online and Megan has given several media interviews.

The Toronto Star reported last week:

“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,” wrote Megan Phelps-Roper. “What we can do is try to find a better way to live from here on. That’s our focus.”

The Westboro Baptist Church was started in 1955 by Fred Phelps, Grace and Megan’s grandfather, exclusively for the Phelps family. The parish has been lambasted for protesting the funerals of American soliders, whom they claim died because of America’s acceptance of homosexuality.

The family gained notoriety after a 2007 BBC documentary by Louis Theroux, The Most Hated Family in America, was broadcast. Since then, they’ve gone on to protest at Michael Jackson’s funeral, gay pride parades and other churches. A White House online petition to have the church declared a hate group has garnered more than 330,000 signatures.

Megan Phelps-Roper, 27, was an active voice in the church; she spearheaded the church’s social media presence and was often the brain behind the controversial protests, including one in Newtown, Conn., after the Sandy Hook school shooting.

“She was the visible presence for the younger generation at that church, she was a leader,” said Nate Phelps, Megan’s uncle…

…“The rapid percentage of young people leaving has left this fragmented group,” Phelps told the Star, saying that the [church] has shrunk from 100 members to about 50. “Eventually this will die off. It can’t survive.”

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In her online post, Megan Phelps-Roper demonstrates a very balanced perspective on her situation:

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. As parents, they are attentive and engaged, and the children learn their lessons well.

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.

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The Christian Research Network points out a danger inherent in coming out from a group such as Westboro:

Here lies the tragedy of Megan’s story. In escaping a false, legalistic expression of Christianity, Megan Phelps-Roper finds herself without the saving truth of the gospel. Here it sounds as if she rapidly is wandering into a softer version of the common, yet damning, gospel of good works and a “right life.” And just as Westboro Baptist removed Jesus Christ from their message, so too is Megan Phelps-Roper, now separated from WBC, in danger of proclaiming a gentler message that is just as erroneous if it does not proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

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In the view of Westboro, the sisters are now consigned to the same fate as those they regularly picket, they are going to hell. The Kansas City Star reported:

Steve Drain, a spokesman for the church, said in an interview Wednesday that the sisters had rejected the Lord.

“We can’t control whether or not somebody decides, when they grow up, that they don’t want to be here,” Drain said. “Those two girls were kind of straddling the idea that they wanted to be of the world but that they would also miss their family, the only thing they ever knew. If they continue with the position that they have, those two girls, yeah, they’re going to hell.”

Megan and Grace are among 11 children of Brent and Shirley Roper, who is the daughter of Westboro pastor Fred Phelps.

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In an article subtitle, Salon asks, “[W]here do kids raised in hate go now?” The article continues:

And now … two members of the Phelps clan have shown that old Phelps’ revolting influence may not persist into a new generation…

…It’s almost impossible to imagine what it must be like to be that deeply steeped in a culture that almost anyone on the outside looking in would understand to be reprehensible. How strange and confusing it must be to grow up loving and depending upon people who would stand outside a dead soldier’s funeral screaming…

…Megan says, “The environment we grew up in was very ‘us vs. them.’ It’s been nice to see that the ‘them’ have been overwhelmingly kind — as we’d kind of hoped and suspected.” Welcome to the other side of the picket line, Megan. Welcome home.

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Indeed, welcome home.

Related article at Thinking Out Loud: The Westboro Children (story of Lauren Drain)

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7 Comments »

  1. We need to pray for them not to become ungodly Libertines when they swing from the extreme of godless Legalism…and that they discover the Christian Gospel

    Comment by SLIMJIM — February 15, 2013 @ 2:38 pm

  2. How exactly does this change things?Is the hurt that she and her family caused supposed to be forgiven and forgotten?Bereaved families,9/11 survivors,homosexuals,cancer sufferers,AIDS sufferers,survivors of mass shootings and all other people may forgive her,but should never forget the disgusting,nauseating behaviour of her and her hateful sickening family.Her actions will haunt her-and they should.She still has a lot of explaining and a lot of apologising to do to a lot of people.She has everything and more to prove now-whether the do-gooders,religious or atheist,like it or not.

    Comment by Atheist — May 6, 2013 @ 7:47 pm

    • I think you’re right when you say, “Her actions will haunt her;” but I’m not sure that the children of Westboro are not somewhat victims themselves. I don’t think leaving was an action easily undertaken, and I don’t think we should focus any contempt toward someone who had the good sense to get out.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 6, 2013 @ 8:10 pm

  3. Getting out is one thing-showing true remorse is another.She knows every funeral she and her family have picketed-so she should write an open letter to every one of those families and beg them to forgive her.A little bit much,I hear you say?Is she all of a sudden prepared to speak face to face with gays and lesbians?And that’s just for starters.Interestingly,”their god” doesn’t hate paedophiles,mass murderers or rapists.A huge step for her would be for herself,Nathan and Grace,if they really are genuine,to set up a campaign to end the Westboro baptist church forever-they are ex-members,they would have more power to do it and they would know how to stop this once and for all-family or no family.Remember-they have now been disowned,so they shouldn’t have any issues with their fellow freaks who obviously think an invisible man is thicker than blood.

    Comment by Atheist — May 7, 2013 @ 6:55 pm

    • I think we can anticipate a next step, but how it will happen and what it will look like remains to be seen.

      I can however safely bet the rent that they’ve been contacted by numerous publishers, so a book might happen at some point. And with every book comes a book tour; so they may be forced into a more public arena.

      For now, I would say we need to give them a little more time. Whether or not Nathan wants to be part of what the girls do is another matter. I get the sense the sisters desire to retain some elements of Christian faith — not throw out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak — while the last thing I read about Nathan was that he had abandoned Christianity, and all religion for that matter. http://natephelps.com/bio

      However, even if that’s the case, they do share a common perspective and might have some common goals.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 7, 2013 @ 8:00 pm

  4. Nathan seems to be making all the right moves-becoming an Atheist in my opinion alone was a positive step(I’d say that anyway,being an atheist myself).He seems to have rejected everything he represented before this,and has gone down the total opposite path.What is the general attitude and opinion of people towards Nathan at present?

    Do you think Megan and Grace should draw on this and follow Nathan’s example,once they sort their heads out,or will they become part of other religion(s) e.g. christianity,islam,judaism,which still see homosexuality as evil,and some of which will cover up child abuse and the perpetrators?

    And will the departures of Megan,Grace and Nathan ever be an incentive to other remaining members of the baptist cult to get the hell out of there?

    Comment by Atheist — May 8, 2013 @ 4:15 pm

    • You signed yourself as Atheist, so I took that into consideration. Fred Phelps is a mega-liability to those of us who believe and follow the teachings of Jesus. Every group has their black sheep, and Christianity has many; this blog has made no effort to hide that fact, and I’ve encouraged several of them to take an early retirement. (Do an internal search on this blog for Fred Phelps and you’ll see what I mean.) Christianity is capable of holding its own against any all perversions or twisting of it that people can devise. People leaving Westboro is not a giant FAIL for Christianity, if anything it’s a WIN. I have great sympathy for Nate, but as the years pass and he takes the long view, he may decided that the issue wasn’t Jesus after all.

      I think the line about “covering up child abuse and the perpetrators” is unnecessary here. If you want to talk about core beliefs and religious philosophy, it does your cause no good to introduce other elements into the discussion. In my personal sphere of lifelong contacts there are at least 5,000 people, and none of them are child abusers nor are they trying to cover up any such abuse. In that sphere of contacts there’s a few cases of divorce and the one guy that started a Ponzi scheme, but nothing more. You just can’t tarnish all Christ-followers with that accusation.

      I do agree — and personally hope — that the departure of some family members will inspire the remaining ones to rethink their involvement.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 8, 2013 @ 5:36 pm


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