Unfollow
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Unfollow

Megan Phelps-Roper

It was an upbringing in many ways normal. A loving home, shared with squabbling siblings, overseen by devoted parents. Yet in other ways it was the precise opposite: a revolving door of TV camera crews and documentary makers, a world of extreme discipline, of siblings vanishing in the night.


Megan Phelps-Roper was raised in the Westboro Baptist Church - the fire-and-brimstone religious sect at once aggressively homophobic and anti-Semitic, rejoiceful for AIDS and natural disasters, and notorious for its picketing the funerals of American soldiers. From her first public protest, aged five, to her instrumental role in spreading the church’s invective via social media, her formative years brought their difficulties. But being reviled was not one of them. She was preaching God’s truth. She was, in her words, ‘all in’.

In November 2012, at the age of twenty-six, she left the church, her family, and her life behind.

Unfollow is a story about the rarest thing of all: a person changing their mind. It is a fascinating insight into a closed world of extreme belief, a biography of a complex family, and a hope-inspiring memoir of a young woman finding the courage to find compassion for others, as well as herself.

Review

Megan Phelps-Roper was born into the infamous fringe Christian sect, the Westboro Baptist Church, well-known for its intense homophobia and picketing protests at soldiers’ funerals. Mostly made up of Phelps family members, the Westboro Baptist Church’s collective life is a testament to the extremes to which people can go based on the belief that they are right. Her grandad (and patriarch of the WBC), Fred Phelps, bolstered the already strong minds of the group, and crystalised their beliefs: ‘He was the one who had taught church members to have unshakable faith in their own perspective, to believe their judgment was as God’s judgment …’ Beloved by her family, Phelps-Roper would grow up to bring the group into the digital age via social media.

In her twenties, Phelps-Roper’s faith started to come undone. At the centre of all the pickets, all of the online hate, was the apparent belief that the church was doing the right thing by their ‘enemy’. But she realised that their actions did not reflect the love they claimed to feel for those they picketed: ‘We mocked and delighted in their suffering. We demanded they repent, and then asked God to preserve them in their sin. We prayed for Him to destroy them.’

Phelps-Roper’s life is the ultimate proof that living inside a bubble, never attempting to engage with ideas that challenge your worldview or make you uncomfortable, and avoiding people who are not the same as you, is a terrible idea. Online, Megan met people willing to challenge her beliefs but still treat her like an intelligent person, and without them she might never have left the church at all. The message that this book imparts – to practice empathy with people you may not see eye-to-eye with – is one of the most important messages of our time.


Ellen Cregan is the marketing and events coordinator.

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