Megan and Grace Phelps Leave Westboro

Megan and Grace Phelps Leave Westboro

Megan Phelps is the 27-year old who introduced the Westboro Baptist Church to the wonders of social media. Today, she posted this:

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.

She left last November but her announcement was apparently timed to coincide with this article from Jeff Chu. In Chu’s piece, Phelps describes the moment she started seriously thinking about alternatives to the viewpoint she was raised with:

“My doubts started with a conversation I had with David Abitbol,” she says. Megan met David, an Israeli web developer who’s part of the team behind the blog Jewlicious, on Twitter. “I would ask him questions about Judaism, and he would ask me questions about church doctrine. One day, he asked a specific question about one of our signs—‘Death Penalty for Fags’—and I was arguing for the church’s position, that it was a Levitical punishment and as completely appropriate now as it was then. He said, ‘But Jesus said’—and I thought it was funny he was quoting Jesus—‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ And then he connected it to another member of the church who had done something that, according to the Old Testament, was also punishable by death. I realized that if the death penalty was instituted for any sin, you completely cut off the opportunity to repent. And that’s what Jesus was talking about.”

The story supports the idea that I (and many other skeptics) have long stressed: the key to winning someone over isn’t to do it all in one argument but to plant a seed of doubt that eventually grows. It’s amazing that Megan and her sister were able to overcome years of indoctrination and leave. It appears from the article as though Megan still believes in a god, but I’d be very interested to know if the sisters are in touch with their brother uncle, atheist Nate Phelps, and whether or not they’ll be exploring the possibility that God doesn’t hate fags not because he’s a great guy but because he’s not really there.

Avatar of Rebecca Watson
Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org and appears on the weekly Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

24 Comments

  1. Avatar of m n

    Just a thing; I’m pretty sure Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper are Nate Phelps’ nieces? They’re definitely not his sisters. Still, I hope that they all do get in touch; it looks like their leaving the WBC was really traumatic for them (and really, who would expect it to be otherwise), and having someone who’s been through similar experiences would probably be comforting.

  2. Avatar of Iris Vander Pluym

    It’s often said that familiarity with the Bible results in atheism, but the numbers indicate that it more frequently results in indoctrinated followers. Still, it’s good to see people shedding the chains of religion as a result of questioning it on its own terms.

    • Avatar of amm1

      I’ve actually taken to reading the Bible recently, just as a book, without expecting it to be “The Word of God.” It’s quite a hodge-podge. The books and parts of books that are more or less historical narrative are pretty interesting and often not at all what you might expect based on what they teach in Sunday school. To the extent they can be construed as religious or ethical lessons, they tend to be examples of how _not_ to act.

      Getting any kind of coherent Divine Message out of it takes a _lot_ of work — interpretation, selection, filling in of gaps, etc. I wouldn’t say that reading the Bible inevitably leads to atheism, but it’s hard to see how one could hold on to the idea that every word is an instruction from God if one had sat down and read large chunks of it.

  3. Avatar of Denise Royer

    I really do wonder how technology will play out on religion. I’m far too biased to have a clear picture. I’m glad these ladies have found a way out, even if it is only to a softer form of Xian thought.

  4. Avatar of criticaldragon1177

    Rebecca Watson,

    I’m glad to hear this. Its nice that Megan Phelps and Grace Phelps left their bigotry behind. Its too bad that the rest of the church probably won’t.

  5. Avatar of rriverstone

    People who don’t want to be defined by slurs against their genitalia have no justification for using hate speech re: Gay men. It’s not cool and it’s not justified.

  6. Avatar of narcogen

    The WBC is so far out there that the journey back to reason is long. From the article:

    What “seemed like a small thing at the time,” she says, snowballed. She started to question another Westboro sign, “Fags can’t repent.” “It seemed misleading and dishonest. Anybody can repent if God gives them repentance, according to the church. But this one thing—it gives the impression that homosexuality is an unforgivable sin,” she says. “It didn’t make sense. It seemed a wrong message for us to be sending. It’s like saying, ‘You’re doomed! Bye!’ and gives no hope for salvation.”

    There’s no elaboration, but the inference I draw here is that what didn’t make sense was the idea that you couldn’t be forgiven for being homosexual– not that you need it in the first place. She’s taken the first step on the road to becoming a slightly less obviously hateful person. I hate to sound so pessimistic, but something in me suspects she’ll find an entrenched position she likes not too far down that road, and it won’t be anywhere near questioning the “sinfulness” of homosexuality, let alone wondering about the existence of a God she was until very recently so very sure “hated fags”.

    From this, the WBC probably leanrs they should block Twitter. SIgh.

    • Avatar of halcyon

      It’s true, she probably will find a new position to entrench in. For a while. I can only speak for myself, but I imagine most of us do that at first, at least. The important thing is that you can learn the lesson that changing your mind and your views isn’t the end of the world. If you can change your mind to be more correct once, you can do it again. Like Rebecca says, it’s about steps, not all at once.

      • Avatar of bcmystery

        There was a time in my life when I was an adherent of the detestable Josh McDowell and a member of a fundamentalist church that probably would have gone full-Westboro if anyone there had thought of it. What ended up driving a wedge between me and the church was the fact that I was a stay-at-home dad. At bible study one night, I mentioned how hard it was to find time to read the bible given that I was either taking care of my infant daughter, cleaning the house, or grabbing a catnap between chores.

        My complaint got a few laughs, but afterward the pastor took me aside and explained in no uncertain terms how I was failing my family by not being a proper man. You can probably guess how the lecture went. Well, fuck that noise. A) I loved being a stay-at-home dad and, B) in any case this was the arrangement which worked for my family.

        So we found another church, more progressive and accommodating of our choices. It was a step, and in many ways a very small one. But it was succeeded by a lot more steps over the years. And no doubt I have a lot more steps to take.

        Maybe Megan and Grace will go further, or maybe they won’t. That remains to be seen. But I doubt many people jump from fire-breathing Christianist to atheist in a single bound. I applaud this one step, and hope there will be more to come for them.

  7. Avatar of tracylords

    I find that piece so ironic. You can bend that bible like silly putty to support whatever view you want. I am glad that she left such a hateful annoying group, but she wasn’t really convinced by critical thinking, she was convinced by what is essentially a different interpretation of the same crazy book. It’s a start I guess, hopefully no one will show her Jesus’s problem with out of season fig trees.

    • Avatar of antoinettemarie

      I see where you’re getting at with this point, but I should explain that as a former evangelical crazzzzy Christian (except we didn’t openly carry around kill the gays signs) that incongruities are rarely pointed out. In fact, if someone in my youth started doubting in that way it was seen as troubling. A lot of Christians didn’t even read the book, so really I didn’t even KNOW that stuff was in there. I presumed if the pastor or leader was telling us something in a sermon, that it must have proof in the Bible. I never thought about contradictions. However, once I saw the incongruities, it led me down the path of okay, maybe I’m just a Christian then, maybe now I’m just supportive of the good ideas in Christianity, okay maybe NOW I’m just spiritual. And so forth until I became an atheist. It’s a tangled messy web to unwind and you know, with knots sometimes it isn’t best to pull tight. Now I understand how insane the fig trees are, but then I would have rationalized. It’s like a bad break-up; later you realize how crazy ungood for each other you were, but initially, it is hard and hurts. It is sometimes difficult for those who haven’t ever been caught up in the midst of spirituality and religion to understand.

  8. Avatar of Tory Christman

    I was in the Cult of $cientology for 30 years. I woke up at 53 and literally escaped out, across the country and the Tampa Police helped me out of the Tampa Airport with Scientologists there to get me, and 3 HUGE “enemies” of their “church” and 2 past executives helping me OUT. It’s a HUGE leap, but worth it in every way. Yes, you’ve lost many friends, but as my new friend asked me when I told him that would happen, he asked me: “What kind of friends could those be if they’re going to leave you because you changed your mind?” My best wishes are with you. Keep reading, keep learning, keep opening up doors that used to be closed to you. My blessings and best wishes :) Tory/Magoo Burbank, CA

    • Avatar of antoinettemarie

      Tory! I started reading this comment and was like I wonder if this is that woman from Youtube along with the WiseBeardMan. And it is! I watched all your videos around the big Anonymous coming out time and realized how important being skeptical and coming out against injustice really is. I participated in some of the protests as well and learned a lot about the organization– even writing about it in my college classes (minored in Religious Studies and majored in Political Science.) So, thank you for your videos and inciting the curiosity bug to learn more about cults and their potential destruction. =)

  9. Avatar of Rei Malebario

    In the two documentaries Louis Theroux did about the WBC, most of the younger generation (including Megan and Grace) seemed genuinely nice and without that streak of viciousness that the older generations displayed.
    And finding just one thing that doesn’t make sense can easily be the first step to finding that the whole thing doesn’t. Once one thing is wrong, the divine perfection sort of evaporates.
    And it’ll be a lot easier to find friends of all kinds once you stop picketing funerals.
    I certainly wish them all the best.
    Are there any outreach programs for ex-cult-members, to help them find their footing and a network?

    • Avatar of antoinettemarie

      Don’t use Cult Awareness Network- they used to be good then $cientology bought them out and scrubbed the site. http://www.exmormonfoundation.org/ is good for those leaving Mormonism, I’d wager they could probably direct you to good resources that are apt with dealing with cults. As for most cults, seeing a therapist is the best because of all the psychological beat downs they’ve probably experienced and they also will be able to provide better support programs. Googling ex+whatevercult usually leads to at the very least forums and a list of support groups and resources.

  10. Avatar of victoriadashtwenty

    I disagree with the majority opinion on this issue. I don’t like these people hanging out at every major funeral or tragedy. I wish people would stop supporting them. Giving them the benefit of the doubt and pretending that they are just an honest churchgoing congregation professing their actual beliefs by protesting is supporting them. This is a scam. Discussing them without even a mention of how they make the money to do this stuff is bad and people need to stop it.

    I’m not saying I don’t believe these women have deconverted from their father’s beliefs. And I don’t think it’s even suspicious that they aren’t speaking out against the scam. It’s one thing to break with your family on their religious beliefs, it’s quite another to start dismantling the family business. I, however, do want to see their family business dismantled.

    This is a scam. I fell for it too, until I actually met these people. I saw them at some gay event I was attending. I wanted to be able to say they told me I was going to hell. I was not successful. They were bending over backwards to imply that I was going to hell without actually saying it. They’d say groups of people were going to hell. They’d say things about individuals that kind of implied that they were going to hell. But they never actually said the magic words. Also, Fred Phelps doesn’t claim that homosexuality is a choice. He’s pretty much the only anti-gay activist that doesn’t make that claim. He talks about homosexuality as though he doesn’t find it tempting at all. Methinks he doth not protest enough.

    Fred Phelps was a civil rights lawyer that made a lot of money challenging Jim Crow. It was easy money, as long as you didn’t mind racists taking potshots at your family. And mind that he didn’t. He also had a background in using the church he lived in to make money, but that’s another story. Long story short, he had a lot of kids and he made them into lawyers (That’s several other stories. Really bad stories). Now they travel across the country between high profile events and funerals, making money every time someone violates their rights. It doesn’t matter what event it is. Most of the events they picket have nothing to do with gay rights. School shootings, soldiers’ funerals, Christian events. They literally have a set of signs attacking “Christians”. If you like gays, you’re going to hell. If you hate gays, no you don’t you love gays. And they hate Christianity, the troops, and the children that died at Sandy Hook. That is not a plausible set of beliefs.

    It’s also not plausible that a church in Kansas is gonna come several states over to protest a random heterosexual soldier’s funeral. They don’t have actual gay stuff to protest in Kansas? Most churches would have to run a bake sale or something to raise money for a trip like that. Buy a lemon bar. We’re raising money to go to North Carolina to show up a dead soldier’s funeral and see if we can’t make his grieving mother feel even worse! Seems like that would be a really hard sell. And what are we supposed to do if somehow we decide they’re right? Their church is in Kansas! Are we supposed to go to Kansas to join up? Their church is empty, except for whoever is handling all the clerical work for all those protest permits. Are we supposed to follow them around like roadies?

    Fred Phelps probably does hate gays, and he does run a religious household. He’s a Democrat, so he’s obviously not the single issue kind of guy his professional persona would suggest he is. Whatever his real beliefs are, he’ll say whatever he needs to to get you angry when he’s on the clock. If the only thing going on halfway between a celebrity funeral and a memorial for dead kids is some sort of boot convention, you better believe he’ll be there with his family with his “God Hates Fags” signs and one hastily printed sign about boots.

    Oh, and Megan and Grace’s struggle is real, even if the church isn’t.

    • Avatar of victoriadashtwenty

      Also I’d like to say that Fred Phelps is a terrible person. He’s not nearly as nice as those protests where he outed gay people that died of AIDS to their families would suggest. If you decide to read up on him, I recommend not doing it all in one setting. It’s a lot of awful to wrap your head around. I found myself lowering my opinion of him four or five times.

  11. Avatar of Rei Malebario

    I think you mean you agree with most people. Nobody likes them hanging around anything with their signs and placards.

    • Avatar of victoriadashtwenty

      I don’t care anymore. It’s a distinction without a difference. Those people are against the WBC in the same way the guy in a commercial warning you about how much weight you’re going to lose or how you may not be able to handle this new flavor of Doritos is against the product he’s advertising. He’s selling the product and so are the people that keep talking about the WBC as though it’s a church and not a business venture. They’re still encouraging people to take what the church says at face value and that’s how the church makes it’s money.

      I don’t care that these people have good intentions. They’re helping this monster to take money from grieving parents and that’s an awful thing to do no matter what your intentions are. It’s not enough that the marks don’t want them there. The marks are paying their bills, and quite a lot of those marks are only too happy to keep paying those bills in exchange for a fix of anger, outrage and catharsis. I don’t think my anger directed at those people is misplaced.

  12. Avatar of Madfishmonger

    It made me very happy to read that they had l;left the church. I hope they can find a path of kindness instead of hate.

  13. Avatar of Gigi Chickee

    This is wonderful news. The more people that leave that awful church, the better! I agree, Rebecca, plant those seeds of doubt. Reasonable discussion/rational debate FTW!

  14. Avatar of sadunlap

    I guess the next step, if she ever reaches it, will be to wonder why the Leviticus kill-the-homosexuals bit was in the bible in the first place if Jesus is the same God as the OT one. IF this is a self-editing revision and God is perfect then what was the long list of offenses deserving stoning doing in the word of God in the first place? (Like eating shellfish, wearing garments made from two different kinds of fibers, men shaving, etc.). Abominations, you can’t eat just one.

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