Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper
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.