The activist and TED speaker Megan Phelps-Roper reveals her life growing up in the most hated family in America
At the age of five, Megan Phelps-Roper began protesting homosexuality and other alleged vices alongside fellow members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Founded by her grandfather and consisting almost entirely of her extended family, the tiny group would gain worldwide notoriety for its pickets at military funerals and celebrations of death and tragedy. As Phelps-Roper grew up, she saw that church members were close companions and accomplished debaters, applying the logic of predestination and the language of the King James Bible to everyday life with aplomb—which, as the church’s Twitter spokeswoman, she learned to do with great skill. Soon, however, dialogue on Twitter caused her to begin doubting the church’s leaders and message: If humans were sinful and fallible, how could the church itself be so confident about its beliefs? As she digitally jousted with critics, she started to wonder if sometimes they had a point—and then she began exchanging messages with a man who would help change her life.
A gripping memoir of escaping extremism and falling in love, Unfollow relates Phelps-Roper’s moral awakening, her departure from the church, and how she exchanged the absolutes she grew up with for new forms of warmth and community. Rich with suspense and thoughtful reflection, Phelps-Roper’s life story exposes the dangers of black-and-white thinking and the need for true humility in a time of angry polarization.
Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, charts her journey from childhood church devotee to adult skeptic in her excellent debut memoir. She explores her early years immersed in the insular community of her family's church, a Kansas-based denomination known for picketing funerals of U.S. service members and widely decried as a hate group. Convinced by the church's teachings about scripture and sin, Phelps-Roper recounts spending her adolescence calling America to repentance and defending the views of the Westboro Baptist Church vociferously on Twitter. But then, as a young adult, in part due to thoughtful interactions on Twitter where she spars with critics of her church but also "relished confounding expectations," her faith begins to unravel. After she expresses her doubts, she is ostracized from her family. Phelps-Roper's intelligence and compassion shine throughout with electric prose ("the foundation of it all was a belief that our hearts had led us true when they told us the Bible was the answer... our unreliable, desperately wicked, deceitful hearts), an eye for detail, and a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible. She admirably explicates the worldview of the Westboro Baptist Church while humanizing its members, and recounts a classic coming-of-age story without resorting to clich or condescending to her former self. For anyone interested in the power of rhetoric, belief, and family, Phelps-Roper's powerful, empathetic memoir will be a must-read.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Almost a soap opera script at times
Doubt wasn’t the sin, I came to believe. It was the arrogance of certainty that poisoned Westboro at its foundations.”
This is the story of the rise, decline and fall of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka Kansas, as seen through the eyes of Fred Phelps’ granddaughter Megan Phelps-Roper. It’s a no holes barred, non sugar coated look at how the charisma of the founders gets co-opted by “the new leaders” who want to stay in charge in a changing society.
This intelligent highly skilled extended insular family have given new meaning to “looney tunes” but Phelps-Roper lets us see it through her eyes. How could the ones who claim the Bible’s calls to be in the world try to shut out the world? How dare they treat their “own” worse than those they are “called to save”? How abusive is that.
As an ordained pastor with a heavy theological background, I was amazed at the depth of personal sorrow the author brings to this cathartically personal memoir. This is a self-proclaimed “word lover” who had me looking for definitions all through the book. I never would have looked for this book had it not been mentioned on NPR one day, and I waited with baited breath for it to come into my library queue, dropping all others so I could read it. I read it in huge chunks, trying to make sense of it, And I was well rewarded with a book I see as a top ten contestant for 2019. Highly recommended 5/5
N.B- there are triggers for verbal and psychological abuse
[disclaimer: I received this book from the library and chose to read and review it]