Megan Phelps-Roper Left Westboro Baptist Church — Facts about Fred Phelps' Granddaughter
Megan Phelps-Roper was once a faithful member of the Westboro Baptist Church, but now she denounces their exclusionist message.
Megan Phelps-Roper is the granddaughter of Fred Phelps, the Westboro Baptist Church founder, but her life path has taken her in a different direction.
The world first saw Megan as a five-year-old at an anti-gay protest extolling the death of homosexuals. 29 years later, Megan is a grown woman and mistress of her own voice, and she no longer preaches discrimination and hate.
Megan Phelps-Roper's rejection of hatred has cost her her family's love
THE CHILD WITH THE HATE SIGN
In 1991, a small breakaway Kansas Church with less than 100 members reached international notoriety when its congregation was photographed picketing a local park popular with gay men.
Among the protesters was an angelic-looking five-year-old with a sign in her hand. The child's sweet innocence and the message of hate she was unknowingly proclaiming, "Gays Are Worthy of Death (ROM. 1:32)," made a shocking contrast that stunned the world.
What was even more shocking was that the little girl was the granddaughter of the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps. Westboro, although it claimed to be part of the Baptist movement, was not recognized by Baptists as such.
PREACHING DEATH AND DESTRUCTION
Phelps dominated the Westboro Baptist Church he had founded by instilling a cult-like fervor among its members, and preaching that the end of the world was imminent.
According to Phelps, war, disease, terrorist attacks, and even natural disasters were punishment visited by God on the unworthy. Megan explained:
“According to Gramps, what we were doing was ‘the definition of love thy neighbor.’ He would say that we weren’t hating other groups — we were warning them of God’s hatred."
No disagreement here. But also, it’s easy to feel superior to people like Westboro members. Harder to recognize how lucky you are not to have been similarly indoctrinated—or if you’re like me, to have stumbled on a way out of it. It’s luck, not intelligence, that separates us. https://t.co/aVWUKGk0ry— Megan Phelps-Roper (@meganphelps) March 18, 2020
Over the next 21 years, Megan was a feature at the Westboro protests at the funerals of soldiers fallen in combat in the Middle East, victims of the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers, and of people Phelps considered "sinful" and deserving of death.
“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Job 13:15.— Megan Phelps-Roper (@meganphelps) March 18, 2020
Westboro beliefs are a closed system. Unfalsifiable. No matter what happens—even if they all caught the virus & perished—they interpret all evidence as supporting their beliefs.
(Thank you for hoping for their good.❤️) https://t.co/a7yawZY2dr
CELEBRATING THE DEATH OF BRITTANY MURPHY
When actress Britanny Murphy passed away in 2009 at the age of 32, Phelps declared a celebration, something that shocked Megan profoundly, and brought her suppressed doubts into focus -- as had images of starving children which her grandfather declared were suffering the righteous punishment of God.
A HAPPY CHILDHOOD
Nevertheless, Megan revealed in her 2019 memoir, "Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope," that her childhood was singularly happy and secure, surrounded by a loving community. Her own parents, Fred and Shirley, were adoring but had volatile tempers.
The young Megan admits she was "good" and obedient, and desperate to please her parents. "Unfollow" points out the disturbing allure of the cult-like environment: a community where every problem has a ready solution, and all doubts can be answered and dispelled, a community that provides acceptance and emotional security.
BREAKING THE SPELL
Curiously enough, Westboro's dominion of Megan was broken through what was to become one of the church's most powerful tools for disseminating their beliefs: Twitter. Megan joined Twitter in 2009 in order to expand the church's ministry and expose their views in a public forum.
On Twitter, the fundamentalism of her beliefs, allied with her sharp wit and unshakable certainty, quickly gathered her a large following and a series of sparring partners. It was during these online debates that Megan was to see her blind faith in Phelps' dogma badly shaken.
Talking to young kids about Westboro did not seem like a great idea, but it turned out to be a really beautiful experience. These kids give me hope.❤️https://t.co/roJGfTTd8p— Megan Phelps-Roper (@meganphelps) December 22, 2019
In order to maintain her "faith," Megan withdrew from Twitter. Still, the blinders had been ripped from her eyes, and she found it increasingly difficult to accept the precepts of the community, especially the hatred of all who differed from what they found acceptable.
Jesus told a story to clarify the meaning of “love thy neighbor.”— Megan Phelps-Roper (@meganphelps) November 15, 2019
It was the story of the Good Samaritan, who:
—saw a man in need
—bound up his wounds
—took care of him
—gave money for future care
Good example, no? Not just a “general platitude.” https://t.co/fIAkw7VH8I
THE LIES THEY TOLD
Most shocking to Megan was the church doctoring images of the 2011 wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, and the 2012 funeral of singer Whitney Houston to induce the belief that the church had picketed both events.
If the church was wrong in this, Megan asked herself what else they might be wrong about. Megan admitted in her book:
“The question felt like an iron key sliding into the lock of a long-sealed door. I could almost hear it swinging open on hinges groaning with age, unleashing a surge of memories buried inside."
The pain, sadness and shame that the West Bororo Baptist Church have caused LGBTQ+ people around the world is hard to comprehend. Today we chat to former member @meganphelps about leaving the church and dedicating her life to love 🏳️🌈 #Unfollow— A Gay and A NonGay 🏳️🌈 (@gaynongay) November 14, 2019
Listen 👉 https://t.co/8pH6spMbv9 pic.twitter.com/lvxPB00DkT
In November 2012, Megan and her sister Grace left the church, and its seductive promise of absolute truths and safety and embarked on a new life.
For Megan, the decision brought a bitter acknowledgment: for decades, she'd been wounding people and spreading hate, and she felt compelled to atone.
A month after Megan left Westboro, a 20-year-old invaded Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 26 people, 20 of whom were children between the ages of 6 and 7.
Westboro announced that it would be picketing the memorials for the murdered children, holding signs emblazoned with the sentiment "Pray for More Dead Kids."
A NEW LIFE
It was then that Megan revealed that she had left the church and no longer espoused their beliefs or their actions. Curiously enough, her former beliefs had introduced her to her future husband, attorney Chad Fjelland, whom she had met on Twitter. Megan revealed:
"His [Chad's] first tweet was kind of nasty, mean. But immediately his tone shifted. Some other people on Twitter were making more theological arguments. His were more emotional."
Today, Megan is happily married, living in South Dakota, and is the mother of a two-year-old daughter, Solvi, and a member of Twitter's Trust and Safety Council.
Though she has often reached out to her family still within the Westboro church, they have never responded, and she sadly admits, probably never will. Megan Phelps-Roper's rejection of hatred has cost her her family's love.