Thursday, February 14, 2013

Damsel, Arise - Walking Away from Westboro

During the 2010 Believe Out Loud Power Summit, Social Movement Theorist Beth Zemsky taught us a powerful lesson about our fellow Christians who oppose our views on LGBT inclusion, marriage equality and related issues.

Whether or not they articulate it, or are even conscious of it, Zemsky says there is a subtext to how they interact with us:  "I learned what I know about people like you from people I loved and trusted."  She asserts that much of the resistance people have towards evolving their thinking about LGBT issues stems from one fact: it forces them to confront the possibility that -- if the people and institutions they relied on for their understanding of one issue are flawed -- they might have to question everything else they learned from those sources.  This is naturally quite traumatizing and can cause people to cling to ideas and prejudices that their hearts and minds might otherwise reject.

A rather extreme example of this dichotomy made the news this week when it came to light that two granddaughters of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps had left the notoriously anti-gay organization and -- after secluding themselves for several months -- were now beginning to speak about their story.

Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper moved from the family's compound in Topeka, Ks., this past fall and eventually settled in Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood.  In a lengthy interview with author Jeff Chu, Megan describes how it felt to walk away from everything she'd ever known.    Once active in the church (she was the first WBC member to tweet, something for which her mother Shirley has become notorious), she began having trouble rationalizing the absolutist views of the church (made up almost entirely of Phelps' descendents) with her own evolving understanding of God and the world.  Eventually she reached a point where she could no longer participate.

As with everything else, leaving WBC is absolute and final. While she harbors no ill will towards her congregation and family, Megan is coming to grips with the idea of life without them.  She has not lost her faith, however; she and Grace spend many hours talking about God, and sorting out a belief system for themselves after it had been dictated to them for so long.

Megan and Grace released the following statement.

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