By Megan Phelps-Roper
About the Author
Megan Phelps-Roper is a writer and activist. Formerly a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, she left the church in November 2012 and is now an educator on topics related to extremism and communication across ideological divides. She lives in South Dakota with her husband, Chad, and daughter, Solvi Lynn.
It was an upbringing in many ways normal. A loving home, shared with squabbling siblings, overseen by devoted parents. Yet in otherways it was the precise opposite: a revolving door of TV camera crews and documentary makers, a world of extreme discipline, of siblings vanishing in the night.
Megan Phelp’s Roper was raised in the Westboro Baptist Church – the fire-and-brimstone religious sect at once aggressively homophobic and anti-Semitic, rejoiceful for AIDS and natural disasters, and notorious for its picketing the funerals of American soldiers.
From her first public protest, aged five, to her instrumental role in spreading the church’s invective via social media, her formative years brought their difficulties. But being reviled was not one of them. She was preaching God’s truth. She was, in her words, ‘all in’.
In November 2012, at the age of twenty-six, she left the church, her family, and her life behind.
I had watched the documentary by Louis Theroux. There are two of them. The second one was when he returned to the US to catch up with Megan as she informed him that she had left the Westboro Baptist Church. It is fascinating. I later won her newly published book (2019) – Unfollow in a competition I saw on Twitter. It is with thanks to the publisher Quercus and Prima magazine reviewer – Nina Pottell that I have this book, so I decided I would write a review of it as I believe it is a book worthy of doing this for.
This book is brave. Brave can be a completely over-used word and one I often avoid using, but here, I think it is warranted. It is gripping in the fact it is a fascinating truth of an insight into her family and the church she was raised in and how she changed her views and walked away. Sounds simple, but reading this book will show that it was anything but as easy as that.
Megan doesn’t hold back in writing about the extremities of her grandfather’s (Gramps) beliefs and the same ones that were inflicted on her at such a young age, so they would become so ingrained that she would just follow-on. Imagine at the age of 5 being on a picket line, just because that’s where your parents tell you that’s where you have to be. Worrying isn’t it? And yet we see children everywhere, babies even on picket-lines, whether it is for something extreme or not…. makes you think doesn’t it? Or perhaps it will, reading this book.
It is enlightening to see both of what went on within the church, but also the family relations and the contrast between what would be considered average and the actual activities that were imposed.
Megan goes into detail about the protests the Westboro Baptist Church led. Seriously, even if you find parts upsetting, stick with it. This book is a book people need to read. This book exposes the Westboro Baptist Church and it tells of how she bravely left.
Megan was clearly born into a church which was powerful, extreme and cult-like in what went on within their belief system, the manner in which they learnt the bible and how it wasn’t the done thing to leave. This is her journey of living this and thinking it was a place she would stay forever to actually leaving it all behind.
The attitudes of the Westboro Baptists to major world events is interesting and shocking to read and aren’t particularly ones that most churches would follow.
It is interesting to read the actual attitudes and thoughts on Louis Theroux and his camera crew. It was also interesting to read how much time they spent in the US filming and gathering material for the documentary, which I also recommend watching.
Reading further about the turning points and when Megan decided to leave the church, it is evident it wasn’t a decision taken lightly and she had much to consider, such as her own beliefs, where life may take her next, other people. She also goes into transitioning from a life of hard-fast rules to a life with more freedoms and time to discover more.
This book is different from so many others of its genres. It speaks of a truth that for some, may be hard to bear and for others, may be a comfort that attitudes of individuals can change with some care and attention as well as kindness. It is a well-written account of a life that was one way and changed to another way of life, with new beliefs. It is about a life many may have heard of, but not experienced. This book is one that captures and holds attention. It is one that leaves me saying that I hope all works out for Megan as she works through discovering a new way of living life with her family that she is bringing up away from the West-boro Baptist Church.