I grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church. Here’s why I left | Megan Phelps-Roper

I grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church. Here’s why I left | Megan Phelps-Roper


I was a blue-eyed,
chubby-cheeked five-year-old when I joined my family
on the picket line for the first time. My mom made me leave
my dolls in the minivan. I’d stand on a street corner
in the heavy Kansas humidity, surrounded by a few dozen relatives, with my tiny fists clutching
a sign that I couldn’t read yet: “Gays are worthy of death.” This was the beginning. Our protests soon became
a daily occurrence and an international phenomenon, and as a member
of Westboro Baptist Church, I became a fixture
on picket lines across the country. The end of my antigay picketing career and life as I knew it, came 20 years later, triggered in part by strangers on Twitter who showed me the power
of engaging the other. In my home, life was framed as an epic
spiritual battle between good and evil. The good was my church and its members, and the evil was everyone else. My church’s antics were such that we were constantly
at odds with the world, and that reinforced
our otherness on a daily basis. “Make a difference
between the unclean and the clean,” the verse says, and so we did. From baseball games to military funerals, we trekked across the country
with neon protest signs in hand to tell others exactly
how “unclean” they were and exactly why
they were headed for damnation. This was the focus of our whole lives. This was the only way for me to do good
in a world that sits in Satan’s lap. And like the rest of my 10 siblings, I believed what I was taught
with all my heart, and I pursued Westboro’s agenda
with a special sort of zeal. In 2009, that zeal brought me to Twitter. Initially, the people
I encountered on the platform were just as hostile as I expected. They were the digital version
of the screaming hordes I’d been seeing at protests
since I was a kid. But in the midst of that digital brawl, a strange pattern developed. Someone would arrive at my profile
with the usual rage and scorn, I would respond with a custom mix
of Bible verses, pop culture references and smiley faces. They would be understandably
confused and caught off guard, but then a conversation would ensue. And it was civil — full of genuine curiosity on both sides. How had the other come to such
outrageous conclusions about the world? Sometimes the conversation
even bled into real life. People I’d sparred with on Twitter would come out
to the picket line to see me when I protested in their city. A man named David was one such person. He ran a blog called “Jewlicious,” and after several months
of heated but friendly arguments online, he came out to see me
at a picket in New Orleans. He brought me a Middle Eastern dessert
from Jerusalem, where he lives, and I brought him kosher chocolate and held a “God hates Jews” sign. (Laughter) There was no confusion
about our positions, but the line between friend and foe
was becoming blurred. We’d started to see each other
as human beings, and it changed the way
we spoke to one another. It took time, but eventually these conversations
planted seeds of doubt in me. My friends on Twitter took the time
to understand Westboro’s doctrines, and in doing so, they were able to find inconsistencies
I’d missed my entire life. Why did we advocate
the death penalty for gays when Jesus said, “Let he who is
without sin cast the first stone?” How could we claim to love our neighbor while at the same time
praying for God to destroy them? The truth is that the care shown to me
by these strangers on the internet was itself a contradiction. It was growing evidence that people on the other side were not
the demons I’d been led to believe. These realizations were life-altering. Once I saw that we were not
the ultimate arbiters of divine truth but flawed human beings, I couldn’t pretend otherwise. I couldn’t justify our actions — especially our cruel practice
of protesting funerals and celebrating human tragedy. These shifts in my perspective contributed to a larger erosion
of trust in my church, and eventually it made it
impossible for me to stay. In spite of overwhelming grief and terror,
I left Westboro in 2012. In those days just after I left, the instinct to hide
was almost paralyzing. I wanted to hide
from the judgement of my family, who I knew would never
speak to me again — people whose thoughts and opinions
had meant everything to me. And I wanted to hide from the world
I’d rejected for so long — people who had no reason at all
to give me a second chance after a lifetime of antagonism. And yet, unbelievably, they did. The world had access to my past
because it was all over the internet — thousands of tweets
and hundreds of interviews, everything from local TV news
to “The Howard Stern Show” — but so many embraced me
with open arms anyway. I wrote an apology
for the harm I’d caused, but I also knew that an apology
could never undo any of it. All I could do was try to build a new life and find a way somehow
to repair some of the damage. People had every reason
to doubt my sincerity, but most of them didn’t. And — given my history, it was more than I could’ve hoped for — forgiveness and the benefit of the doubt. It still amazes me. I spent my first year away from home adrift with my younger sister, who had chosen to leave with me. We walked into an abyss, but we were shocked to find
the light and a way forward in the same communities
we’d targeted for so long. David, my “Jewlicious” friend from Twitter, invited us to spend time among
a Jewish community in Los Angeles. We slept on couches in the home
of a Hasidic rabbi and his wife and their four kids — the same rabbi that I’d protested
three years earlier with a sign that said,
“Your rabbi is a whore.” We spent long hours talking
about theology and Judaism and life while we washed dishes
in their kosher kitchen and chopped vegetables for dinner. They treated us like family. They held nothing against us, and again I was astonished. That period was full of turmoil, but one part I’ve returned to often is a surprising realization
I had during that time — that it was a relief and a privilege
to let go of the harsh judgments that instinctively ran through my mind
about nearly every person I saw. I realized that now I needed to learn. I needed to listen. This has been at the front
of my mind lately, because I can’t help but see
in our public discourse so many of the same destructive impulses
that ruled my former church. We celebrate tolerance and diversity
more than at any other time in memory, and still we grow more and more divided. We want good things — justice, equality,
freedom, dignity, prosperity — but the path we’ve chosen looks so much like the one
I walked away from four years ago. We’ve broken the world into us and them, only emerging from our bunkers long enough to lob rhetorical grenades
at the other camp. We write off half the country
as out-of-touch liberal elites or racist misogynist bullies. No nuance, no complexity, no humanity. Even when someone does call for empathy
and understanding for the other side, the conversation nearly always devolves into a debate about
who deserves more empathy. And just as I learned to do, we routinely refuse to acknowledge
the flaws in our positions or the merits in our opponent’s. Compromise is anathema. We even target people on our own side
when they dare to question the party line. This path has brought us cruel,
sniping, deepening polarization, and even outbreaks of violence. I remember this path. It will not take us where we want to go. What gives me hope is that
we can do something about this. The good news is that it’s simple, and the bad news is that it’s hard. We have to talk and listen
to people we disagree with. It’s hard because we often can’t fathom how the other side
came to their positions. It’s hard because righteous indignation, that sense of certainty
that ours is the right side, is so seductive. It’s hard because it means
extending empathy and compassion to people who show us
hostility and contempt. The impulse to respond in kind
is so tempting, but that isn’t who we want to be. We can resist. And I will always be inspired to do so
by those people I encountered on Twitter, apparent enemies
who became my beloved friends. And in the case of one particularly
understanding and generous guy, my husband. There was nothing special
about the way I responded to him. What was special was their approach. I thought about it a lot
over the past few years and I found four things
they did differently that made real conversation possible. These four steps were small but powerful, and I do everything I can to employ them
in difficult conversations today. The first is don’t assume bad intent. My friends on Twitter realized that even when my words
were aggressive and offensive, I sincerely believed
I was doing the right thing. Assuming ill motives
almost instantly cuts us off from truly understanding
why someone does and believes as they do. We forget that they’re a human being with a lifetime of experience
that shaped their mind, and we get stuck
on that first wave of anger, and the conversation has a very hard time
ever moving beyond it. But when we assume good or neutral intent, we give our minds a much stronger
framework for dialogue. The second is ask questions. When we engage people
across ideological divides, asking questions
helps us map the disconnect between our differing points of view. That’s important because
we can’t present effective arguments if we don’t understand where
the other side is actually coming from and because it gives them an opportunity
to point out flaws in our positions. But asking questions
serves another purpose; it signals to someone
that they’re being heard. When my friends on Twitter
stopped accusing and started asking questions, I almost automatically mirrored them. Their questions gave me room to speak, but they also gave me permission
to ask them questions and to truly hear their responses. It fundamentally changed
the dynamic of our conversation. The third is stay calm. This takes practice and patience, but it’s powerful. At Westboro, I learned not to care
how my manner of speaking affected others. I thought my rightness
justified my rudeness — harsh tones, raised voices,
insults, interruptions — but that strategy
is ultimately counterproductive. Dialing up the volume and the snark
is natural in stressful situations, but it tends to bring the conversation
to an unsatisfactory, explosive end. When my husband was still
just an anonymous Twitter acquaintance, our discussions frequently
became hard and pointed, but we always refused to escalate. Instead, he would change the subject. He would tell a joke or recommend a book or gently excuse himself
from the conversation. We knew the discussion wasn’t over, just paused for a time
to bring us back to an even keel. People often lament that digital
communication makes us less civil, but this is one advantage that online
conversations have over in-person ones. We have a buffer of time and space between us and the people
whose ideas we find so frustrating. We can use that buffer. Instead of lashing out,
we can pause, breathe, change the subject or walk away, and then come back to it when we’re ready. And finally … make the argument. This might seem obvious, but one side effect
of having strong beliefs is that we sometimes assume that the value of our position
is or should be obvious and self-evident, that we shouldn’t
have to defend our positions because they’re so clearly right and good that if someone doesn’t get it,
it’s their problem — that it’s not my job to educate them. But if it were that simple, we would all see things the same way. As kind as my friends on Twitter were, if they hadn’t actually
made their arguments, it would’ve been so much harder for me
to see the world in a different way. We are all a product of our upbringing, and our beliefs reflect our experiences. We can’t expect others
to spontaneously change their own minds. If we want change, we have to make the case for it. My friends on Twitter didn’t abandon
their beliefs or their principles — only their scorn. They channeled their
infinitely justifiable offense and came to me with pointed questions
tempered with kindness and humor. They approached me as a human being, and that was more transformative than two full decades
of outrage, disdain and violence. I know that some might not have
the time or the energy or the patience for extensive engagement, but as difficult as it can be, reaching out to someone we disagree with is an option that is
available to all of us. And I sincerely believe
that we can do hard things, not just for them
but for us and our future. Escalating disgust
and intractable conflict are not what we want for ourselves, or our country or our next generation. My mom said something to me
a few weeks before I left Westboro, when I was desperately hoping there was a way
I could stay with my family. People I have loved
with every pulse of my heart since even before I was
that chubby-cheeked five-year-old, standing on a picket line
holding a sign I couldn’t read. She said, “You’re just a human being, my dear, sweet child.” She was asking me to be humble — not to question
but to trust God and my elders. But to me, she was missing
the bigger picture — that we’re all just human beings. That we should be guided
by that most basic fact, and approach one another
with generosity and compassion. Each one of us
contributes to the communities and the cultures and the societies
that we make up. The end of this spiral of rage and blame
begins with one person who refuses to indulge
these destructive, seductive impulses. We just have to decide
that it’s going to start with us. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “I grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church. Here’s why I left | Megan Phelps-Roper

  1. Speaking from a liberal perspective, I want to say those are 4 powerfully constructive suggestions for respectful dialogue and learning from others. Thanks.

  2. So happy you got out. So sad to know your grandparents and parents were true Democrats. So happy you found out how horrible the Democratic Party is. Seriously, they were founded by Andrew Jackson who owned slaves. He is the president that was okay with killing and raping Indians.

    Then let’s not forget the Civil War, whom Democrat’s were for Slavery Republicans we’re not. We went to war. Democrats started KKK. Let’s not forget the internment camps for Asians requested by democrat president and democrat congress.

    Don’t forget Jim Crowe laws for segregation. Yeah, he was a democrat. And Martin Luther King Jr. Had to stand up to the racists democrats.

    Even though under President Eisenhower and Republicans they tried to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1959, yet democrats filibustered.

    Now there is ANTIFA and Baltimore and all these inner cities are run by democrats.

    So I’m hoping you’re actually continuing your education. And not settling for something ok but not right.

  3. Everyone keeps saying how articulate she is. Not sure what this says… that most of the country is extremely inarticulate??

  4. Its a shame that within the last two years the issues she talks about has only gotten worse. people need to see this. It has never more true or relevant to us all.

  5. Be nice if Jewish people would host more Ted Talks about the apartheid dictatorship Israel currently has over Palestinians. But hey that's not going to be anytime soon

  6. there is no god, and there should be no religion, it is time to really understand that, and stop pretending because you are so afraid of death. total bs for people in this day and age it is unfathomable. when you die, your brain dies, accept it, it's a fact of life.

  7. So your own mother thinks you will burn in hell.I wonder how your mom feels about all of this.Can you fill us in on this with a new video?

  8. I’m so, so unbelievably happy that Megan and so many others have left the WBC. This goes to show how much power there is in listening to others and seeing both sides of an argument. Open mindedness and having conversations is so important, especially now days 😊❤️

  9. 1:17 why are they holding up signs about how god hates Israel even though that’s where he’s from and about how Jews stole the land even though god was Jewish

  10. I completely respect her and her bravery, but a few times she alludes to an "each side has equal trouble understanding how the other side amounted their opinions and conclusions" sentiment.
    That is blatantly false considering the vast majority of people who've seen the Westboro baptist church protesters know perfectly well what lead them to their ignorant conclusions.
    It's VERY easy to see the three main avenues of ignorance which has lead most religious zealots to said ignorance.

  11. I do not agree with the Gay Agenda to sexualize children and normalize pedophilia however I have friends that are gay and they are okay honest and normal people.

  12. Religion just destroys good people… I really hope one day that religion and bizarre thought processes like it gets purged from the psychi.

  13. Everytime I saw her In videos with her mom she seemed like she was very loyal but that the loyalty she held was very fragile, not because of any character flaw of her own but because she only has to really meet someone from the other side for everything she's learned to come crumbling down. I'm glad she got out, I think everyone can agree that took a lot of courage.

  14. Westboro Baptist is a psyop that was created, (one of many), to make Christianity and Christians look bad. She's an actor.

  15. Religion is by far the greatest curse of our species.
    It will doom us.
    We will be long gone , and with us , and only then , will it die.

  16. Has ted had a presenter that found a path to happiness thru Christianity? Just asking cause I haven’t seen in what I’ve searched but but not sure if I missed it.

  17. However people reach their spiritual awakening is neither here nor there. However, it's so much more beautiful when u hear the struggles in peoples testimony of how brainwashed as children they have been by hatred… And have believed wholeheartedly that hatred was the way that when they actually feel and hear the real word of God which in my eyes is love, it's just so beautiful to see what happens with their views. I was brought up with two separate homes coz my parents had divorced. My dad Catholic my mother Jehovah's witnesses. I can say I was quite confused of how each parent would interpret the Bible verses but I got to around 32 after going through heroine addiction and toxic relationships along the way and I found meditation and spiritualism and for me that just resonated in my heart of how raising my vibration level through meditation allowed me to see the world more positively and from a place of love. Everyone has their thing I think anything that encourages you to connect with fellow human beings so we learn and can empathize with different experiences of the world is bringing us closer to God.

  18. What you grew up in was certainly not, by a long shot, genuine Christian belief, and the one person you speak of is actually Jesus, the most loving and compassion person who ever lived on earth, a Jewish man who started Christianity.

  19. I knew shed leave. Too intelligent for a cult usually hidden as the family ..just like manson and all the other cult's. It doesn't have too be religion it can just be forced bad morals like bullying and hating specific people despite evidence to the contrary.
    It's perception altering sociopaths at the top and the narcissist entitled nypocrote Shirley phelps. Any attention is food for these sharks even bad attention.
    I hope a child of mine will have this courage to rebel and stand up for the truth and be intelligent enough to see through lies, distortions and half truths. Most parental victims of kids in cult families pray for this realisation.

  20. We need more people like her people to leave the westboro baptist church and see the world for what it is and see the real problems of the world

  21. Leviticus 20:13 | Romans 1 | Jude. You either believe the Bible or you don’t. Simple as that. Not supporting Westboro Baptist Church though cause they were bunch of imbeciles.

  22. You know what's crazy? The Hebrew deity Yaweh does actually hate homosexuals. If you think the Westburo baptists are evil you should read The Apocalypse of Peter (Peter's Revelation) where it describes that homosexuals are forced to climb a mountain and jump off of it infinitely for the rest of eternity.

    Sadly many Americans believe that the things described in Hebrew mythology are literally true and so naturally groups like are bound to exist.

  23. You must have a good heart so God chose to bring you out of such a hate filled organization. It’s so easy to judge others all the while overlooking our own imperfections. As a God fearing Christian I realize I am just an imperfect human trying to please God in the best way I can . Do I make mistakes ? Of course but thru Gods great mercy and forgiveness I can be forgiven and continue to try and please God to the best of my ability. I hope your family can see what a good example you are and how much happier you are and change their ways before it is too late. Peace Dear!

  24. Wait – something positive came about through Twitter?!?!
    Fair play to those who engaged with her, and to her for being open with them.

  25. God's grace in human form. What a beautiful testimony and proof that miracles do happen, even in the last place you would expect to find one.

  26. I know what she means when she says it is a relief to give up preconceived notions and biases for learning from others. I grew up in the south among a lot of conservative religious people who were discretely racist. I realized at a very young age that it is actually freeing to give up these biases and learn from others.

  27. Well if you hold your tounge with your fingers and say…..
    "I was born on a pirate ship"
    Then you will know why Frosty left.

  28. Small powerful steps:
    1. Don't assume bad intent: This can cut us off from being able to understand.
    2. Ask questions: Allows each other to be heard.
    3. Stay calm: Rightness doesn't justify rudeness.
    4. Make the argument: We can't assume our position is obvious to everyone.

  29. How sad to spread hate through your children!! Shameful. Really glad she came around and found forgiveness 🥰💕

  30. It is not what you say, it is HOW you say it. Concern and love must be the only reason for preaching the gospel to people. According to the Bible a true Christian is not to judge those of the world, only those who are members of the body of Christ, and even when they do so, they must do it without hypocrisy, having the best interest of those whom they judge at heart. We pass judgements every day. That is not a problem, and it should never be. Problem is when the conditions above are being overlooked. Hypocrisy and lack of love make the difference. People do not like the truth but they can always tell when you are sincere.

    PS: relativism is not the answer. Compromising the truth for achieving unity is a lie.

  31. The Westboro Baptist Church is basically a cult and a less militant version of the taliban. Good for you for leaving. You still shouldn’t refer to homosexuality as a sin though despite referring to past conversations on Twitter.

  32. Well look at atmosphere now Bible prophecy coming true! Media pushing war with Seria means war with Russia means ww3 means nuclear war means end of mankind! So run from bible last minute and see how that works for ya! Cause Jesus and god is our only salvation!

  33. Cant someone just run these people over. Or next time someone want to shoot someone, shot westboro baptist church

  34. That is not what I learned in church growing up and i didn’t see anything like that in the Bible. He commands us to love one another. Love your enemies as you love yourself

  35. you wanna know what scary? 2.7 thousand people took the time to smash the dislike button. Are there really that many evangelical trumpanzees out there?

  36. I remember her from Howard Stern Show preaching and yelling anti gay slurs and terrible things. She was so brainwashed

  37. she went from a chubby 5 year old to a very fat 50 year old and is still whining. thew baptists are pretty trashy and ,ow class…think ,most of them cannot read ands thought they were all black. at least they have the right idea about thejews.

  38. she didn't do any damage. those chumps are too low and powerless to do any damage to others. Just a nuisance.

  39. Most people forgive her because we know she was a victim of brainwashing at an early age by her hateful family. She didn't know any better.

  40. howard stern once did hollyweird squares and had this family of a mom and 2 daughters i swear she looks like the teenage daughter grown up and looks alot like the mother they hated fegs also lol i had to edit this once she said howard stern hahaha i loved that episode of hollyweird squares

  41. I remember watching her on the Tyra show with her crazy mother and her younger sister. it’s so good seeing her now happier and with positive beliefs..

  42. Childhood indoctrination is a powerful and terrible thing….

    What makes it even worse is that it's all based on made up stories…

  43. Why can't this sanity be on stage at the democratic debates? Hate breeds hate, she gets it. Those with TDS should listen very closely.

  44. ONLY USING CAPS FOR ME TO SEE BETTER – RELIGION (ALL OF THEM) IS ONE OF MAN'S WORSE INVENTIONS. JUST ANOTHER WAY FOR A FEW TO CONTROL MANY & MAKE $$$ FROM IT.

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