Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper, daughters of the notorious Shirley Phelps-Roper and granddaughters of the infamous Fred Phelps, have defected from the Westboro Baptist Church (of “God Hates Fags” fame). Writing for a blog called Turning Points in an entry titled Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise, Megan says:
I never thought [my world] 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.
We know that we can’t undo our whole lives. We can’t even say we’d want to if we could; we are who we are because of all the experiences that brought us to this point. What we can do is try to find a better way to live from here on. That’s our focus.
Up until now, our names have been synonymous with “God Hates Fags.” Any twelve-year-old with a cell phone could find out what we did. We hope Ms. Kyle was right about the other part, too, though – that everything sticks – and that the changes we make in our lives will speak for themselves.
Jeff Chu, author of Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Pilgrim’s Search for God in America, first met Megan in 2011 when he was doing research in Topeka for the book. When Megan left Westboro she reached out to him, and he posted a fascinating, in-depth piece today that fills out the story a little more, touching on their reasons for leaving, their future plans, and the process of exiting the Westboro Baptist Church. It’s remarkably candid and worth reading in its entirety. Here’s Phelps-Roper describing the current state of her religious beliefs after stepping away from Westboro for the first time in 27 years:
“I’m trying to figure out which ones were good and smart, and which ones shouldn’t be there anymore,” she says. “I don’t feel confident at all in my beliefs about God. That’s definitely scary. But I don’t believe anymore that God hates almost all of mankind. I don’t think that, if you do everything else in your life right and you happen to be gay, you’re automatically going to hell. I don’t believe anymore that WBC has a monopoly on truth.”
And her future plans?
She hopes to emerge from this season “with a better understanding of the world and how I fit into it,” she says, “and how I can be an influence for good.” This all sounds lovely and rainbows and unicorns, but really? You may believe it or you may not, but Megan won’t budge on this—and a trace of the characteristic Westboro stubbornness that I experienced in Topeka resurfaces. She is emphatic: “It’s true! I wanted to do good! I thought I was. And that wish hasn’t changed.”
The Phelps-Roper sisters follow in the footsteps of high-profile Westboro defectors Libby Phelps-Alvarez, who left in 2009, and Nate Phelps, who ran away from home when he was 18. If I had to guess, I’d say this departure is probably a particularly bitter pill for the Phelps gang because Megan was widely seen as the heir to the Westboro Baptist Church “legacy” — her grandfather Fred is largely removed from day-to-day operations, her mom Shirley runs things, and Shirley has described Megan as her “right-hand man.”
I can’t imagine how jarring and uncertain these first steps on Megan and Grace’s new journey must be for them, but I’m sure glad they’ve started out.