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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