Converting from Westboro Baptist

westboro-baptist

(KWCH Eyewitness News) They’re known worldwide as the group from Kansas that protests at soldiers’ funerals, and says God hates America because it allows homosexuality. Now, Westboro Baptist Church is reacting to the defection of a key member.

“She just decided she did not want to obey God,” spokesman Steve Drain says. “She did not want to obey scripture.”

She is Megan Phelps-Roper. The 27-year-old had risen to become a leader in the family church founded her grandfather.

In a blog post from Megan Phelps-Roper entitled “Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise” it was announced to the world yesterday that a leading member in the execrable Westboro Baptist Church had, along with her younger sister, in the words of the news story linked above, “defected” and “apologized” for their actions as members of WBC.

What the news story (and probably other news stories in the days to come) doesn’t seem to get is that this isn’t just a “defection.” Reading Megan’s own words, as well as an excellent essay by a reporter who was privy to Megan’s choice to leave WBC, it’s clear that this moment is no less than a conversion. Here’s Megan:

In a city in a state in the center of a country lives a group of people who believe they are the center of the universe; they know Right and Wrong, and they are Right. They work hard and go to school and get married and have kids who they take to church and teach that continually protesting the lives, deaths, and daily activities of The World is the only genuine statement of compassion that a God-loving human can sincerely make. As parents, they are attentive and engaged, and the children learn their lessons well.

This is my framework.

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.

This is what conversion is—to have one’s whole framework for living and thinking and understanding, which all seems perfectly normal and rational, called into question and finally left behind. I don’t think this point can really be stressed enough. So often when we look at people whose beliefs contradict our own, we usually write them off as stupid, ignorant or evil. And they may well be any or all of those things. But when the only data you have for understanding the world is a matrix of judgment and wrath from God, then it makes perfect sense to work tirelessly to extend that exact same judgment and wrath to the world.

But even then, even if one has a lot more data, that doesn’t mean that people who look at that same data will come to the same conclusions. I often wonder how someone can look at all the same data I have and not become an Orthodox Christian. I really don’t understand it. I wish I did. But I know plenty of people smarter than I, better informed than I and more sincere than I who have indeed looked at that data and not made the same choice I did.

I don’t think the media gets this, though, because the popular culture makes the assumption (despite it being proved so obviously wrong so very often) that anyone who is educated will of course hold a particular belief. “Education is the key,” etc. But sometimes it’s not. In fact, most of the time, it’s not. The media will understand this essentially as a defection based on a couple of young women finally learning some things they didn’t know before. But Megan was a major user of social media and a constant media face for WBC. She was exposed to all kinds of things that contradicted WBC doctrine yet she remained not only in the fold but an enthusiastic leader within it.

What happened? She converted. Further evidence for this is what always happens after conversion—the world seems new, unfamiliar and somewhat confusing. Megan writes: “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 is a freshness and a sense of possibility even in the midst of the confusion. And her Father Grace is with her, too.

Conversion also requires making sense of one’s past life, trying to incorporate all those previous experiences into the new vision of the world that has arisen. This process is normal to converts and usually lasts for years. I can only imagine what kind of processing a former member of WBC will have to undertake:

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.

I hope the world will sit up and take notice, not to a “defection” story about the triumph of exposure to media and information, but rather to a story about redemption, about spiritual conversion. That’s the real story here. One moment, she was Megan Phelps-Roper, Hater of Fags, and the next, she was something else.

Redemption. It’s possible.

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20 thoughts on “Converting from Westboro Baptist

  1. Your two paragraphs that begin, “But even then, even if one has a lot more data…” fit this article well…but beg for another Blog on “what causes conversion, data, education, intelligence, education?” Why do people believe and do what they believe and do?

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  3. “I can only imagine what kind of processing a former member of WBC will have to undertake.” Having coming out of a destructive, soul damaging, mind controlling cult, I don’t have to imagine. They are going to experience a gamut of emotions that range from self-doubt, regret, anger, self-pity, frustration, loneliness, fear, sorrow, and so much more. I hope they meet some compassionate Christians willing and able to help them heal. The intense alienation one feels after leaving a toxic cult is overwhelming!

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  5. I’m happy to hear that she broke free from…. i don’t know what to call them. Is it fair to say that it’s satanic?? Seems like something that the evil one would do. Take scripture and make sure that hatred is spread and have it tarnishes the name of God. Look how many people in the world think that Christians “hate fags” just because of this tiny group.

    What saddens me though is where does she do now? I doubt she wants to hear an Evangelical go up to her telling her that now is her chance to be “saved”. Probably brings up some pretty twisted memories. Will she find a home away from Christ whom she never knew but has been systematically conditionned now to recoil at the sound of His name?

    I pray that she’ll be left to think for herself and maybe one day, with guidance from the Holy Spirit, she might find her home in Orthodoxy, find healing and rest.

    Thanks for this article Fr. Andrew. Seems like a group that would have been worth covering in your podcast and book (unless you did and i totally don’t remember)

    • I didn’t cover them, mainly because they are such a small group. They get a lot of press, to be sure, but if I started covering every small congregation with extreme views, well…

      That’s one of the good things about this site. We can discuss more narrow subjects like this, as well as things that I perhaps should have put into the original material.

    • Evan, I’m an evangelical who has great affinity for the Orthodox communion. I don’t much call myself by either label. It’s not clear that this woman never knew Christ (remember, we don’t judge), and in most evangelical fellowships she might find a home, healing and rest, just as she might in most Orthodox fellowships. I join you in your prayer that she will be guided by the Holy Spirit to true faith, healing and rest.

      • Forgive me James if my comment ended up sounding harsh, that wasn’t my intention. (when in written form, context isn’t exactly the clearest)

        For my comment about her probably never having known Christ, the context in which i meant it is that the WBC do alot of evil in His name so we could say that they speak of some other “Jesus”. Christ doesn’t hate “fags”. Christ doesn’t hate “Jews”. This kind of personality sounds more like the devil then the Son of God. So the context in which i was speaking was mostly in this line of thinking.

        For my comments on Evangelicals, I didn’t mean anything mean about it. I just meant it in the way that when various Evangelical circles learn of her leaving the WBC, they’d all run to her in good intentions but might end up being overwhelming especially when there ends up being the competition with various Evangelicals on who’s right and who’s wrong for her to make her decision. If it was in an Orthodox area, I would worry that some Orthodox would rush her as well. So that comment of mine was more of a comment on how us zealous humans can be when someone needs time.

        For my point about her finding a home in the Orthodox Church. Though I have respect for Evangelicalism (after all, they were the ones that got my attention when i was an atheist), I know that the Orthodox Church is the Church so my wishes would naturally be to have her within it. Would she be in a bad place in an Evangelical gathering? Nah
        But what kind of Orthodox Christian would I be if I didn’t believe that the Orthodox Church is THE Church of Christ and where God’s Grace is strongest felt?

        If my comments appear polemical, that wasn’t my intention. I hope you read them with the kindness in which they were intended
        Much love and respect brother :)

    • Evan, I’d have to say an unequivocal “yes” to your question about describing the image of “God” being taught and projected in this group as “satanic.” It is most certainly that. It is one of the more blatant instances of that as far as I can see, but we should acknowledge that this is the kind of distortion satan would like to infiltrate any Christian setting with, so it is possible for this to occur potentially in any Christian group (even if it is often in a more circumscribed and subtle way). I suspect you can find similar fundamentalist extremist distortions in just about any corner and expression of Christian faith (and obviously other religions as well), including groups that may describe themselves as “Orthodox” and follow a lot of the externals of Orthodoxy. Only the doctrinal fine points and details of what constitutes behaviors seen as toeing the “godly” line may change–the overall m.o. of leadership and the picture of “God” promoted will be substantially the same. It may even potentially be found within canonical Orthodoxy, since it seems to be connected to a failing of human nature and we are all sinners, but I have never actually seen or heard of such an instance myself.

      However, I also think it is a mark of this woman’s sensitivity to the real Christ speaking to her conscience that she has taken the trouble to question what she has been taught and has had the courage to leave the group. May the Lord have mercy on her and her sister and continue to illumine their path to spiritual wholeness.

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  8. “I often wonder how someone can look at all the same data I have and not become an Orthodox Christian.”

    What particular set of data do you have in mind? I’m trying to figure out what church is the true church, and the evidence for Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism seems almost equivocal. It seems both have valid claims.

    • I don’t have in mind a data “set,” but rather simply fairly thorough research into the history of Christianity in the first millennium. I do not, for instance, see papal supremacy or infallibility in the first millennium. Those are pretty crucial for Rome’s claims.

      • Thanks for the response. I’m not trying to be a smart aleck or anything. It’s just that it’s very frustrating that I feel like I have to have a Ph.D. in church history in order to figure out which church is right.

        • You don’t. The truth is that most people convert to a church based on other kinds of bases.

          Anyway, even if you’re going that particular route, it seems to me all you might really need is just the first week or two of Church History 101, not a Ph.D. :)

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  10. Having lived in the Westboro neighborhood of Topeka for 6 years, I encountered the WBC members almost daily. They entrenched themselves as volunteers at the school and were involved in class registration…my children were classmates with theirs. I am so glad that one of the family has made a break from this awful cult.

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