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‘Wonderful how one loses track of the days up here in the mountains.’
February 6, 2013 2:32 PM   Subscribe

Megan Phelps-Roper, formerly one of the Westboro Baptist Church's most vocal members, has left the church.
posted by sendai sleep master (148 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
i actually just gasped. that's a big one to leave. i hope she finds some peace and then i hope she finds a way to do restitution for those she has wronged.
posted by nadawi at 2:39 PM on February 6, 2013 [18 favorites]


“I definitely regret hurting people,” she says. “That was never our intention."

I find this very hard to believe.
posted by leftcoastbob at 2:40 PM on February 6, 2013 [16 favorites]


Good for her.
posted by double block and bleed at 2:40 PM on February 6, 2013


Baby steps.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:43 PM on February 6, 2013 [15 favorites]


leftcoastbob - i don't find it hard to believe, especially when paired with the next quote. “But I believed it couldn’t matter what people felt. It mattered that this was what God wanted.

saying it wasn't their intention falls right in line - it wasn't their intention, because they didn't care, but not in a willfully trying to hurt you way, but in a being so blinded to anything besides their interpretation of the almighty that they give no thought to the ramifications.

in my own oppressive religious upbringing (which doesn't hold a candle to the oppression of free thought in WBC), when i questioned having the only true gospel and how it seemed like we were being big ole judge-y judge-faces to the rest of the world, i was told stories about job and noah and nephi - that the sinners were offended not because of what the prophets were doing/saying but because satan was making them offended to protect their sins. it's a shitty justification, but when i was deeply entrenched it made a lot of sense.
posted by nadawi at 2:46 PM on February 6, 2013 [43 favorites]


Fascinating article. I wish her the best of luck. Realizing everything you've ever been taught was a hateful ruse has to be challenging.

Hopefully this encourages other people that bought into the WBC's noise to re-evaluate their positions, but as dunkadunc says: baby steps.
posted by HostBryan at 2:47 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


i hope she finds some peace and then i hope she finds a way to do restitution for those she has wronged.

Serious question: whom has she wronged, and how? Has WBC engaged in any activity other than exercising their right to free and repugnant speech?
posted by swift at 2:47 PM on February 6, 2013


I wish her the best.
posted by aramaic at 2:47 PM on February 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


Every medium link makes me so mad because I want to write for it and can't figure out how to apply.

Matt, why isn't there a section on Medium just for Mefites Writing About TV Shows? I volunteer to edit it and make it awesome. Hook a brother up.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:48 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


“I definitely regret hurting people,” she says. “That was never our intention."

I find this very hard to believe.


I understand the sentiment but I think she's being earnest in a sense. What I think she likely means is that she intended no wrong which, of course, applies to most of our species. We're quite good at telling ourselves that we're doing the right thing. What she means is that she didn't view the people she was hurting as people. She was born into a family that did not encourage finding a context from which to view the people she was hurting as people.

That view is deplorable, full stop. That being said, I do not doubt that it takes great strength of a sort to even begin extracting one's self from such a situation. I hope she succeeds in doing so.
posted by sendai sleep master at 2:48 PM on February 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


Hey, I posted a link to her twitter account back in 2010. Weird.
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:49 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Serious question: whom has she wronged, and how? Has WBC engaged in any activity other than exercising their right to free and repugnant speech?

I imagine that a lot of people who have had the funerals of their loved ones disrupted by Westboro feel wronged. There isn't anything illegal about the wronging done to them, but that doesn't make it okay. Likewise any number of closeted lgbtq people who have felt threatened or maligned by protests like these. Again, not a wrong that can be corrected by legal means, but nonetheless a wrong.
posted by rtha at 2:51 PM on February 6, 2013 [48 favorites]


They all look more or less the same, but I think this chick got a lot of attention in a Louis Theroux special a bunch of years ago. She seemed pretty conflicted (though everything she said was pure Westboro blah blah) even then.

I haven't RTFA yet, but I'm glad she's getting out.
posted by phunniemee at 2:54 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


"My name means something now to others that it doesn’t mean to me."

Fascinating, thanks for posting!
posted by crayz at 2:54 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]



Serious question: whom has she wronged, and how? Has WBC engaged in any activity other than exercising their right to free and repugnant speech?


Serious question: Do you believe that every wrong action towards another is, could, or should be illegal?

Less rhetorically: I would consider calling people hateful names and wishing hateful things unto them wronging them. YMMV.
posted by PMdixon at 2:54 PM on February 6, 2013 [13 favorites]


swift: "Serious question: whom has she wronged, and how? Has WBC engaged in any activity other than exercising their right to free and repugnant speech?"

Doing wrong by someone is not necessarily illegal.
posted by brundlefly at 2:54 PM on February 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


"I have no idea what kind of work I want to do, or where to live. How do people decide these things?”

This - one thousand times, this.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 2:55 PM on February 6, 2013 [17 favorites]


She started to question another Westboro sign, “Fags can’t repent.”

This is incredible to me. It's one thing to ignore those portions of the bible that are inconvenient to your worldview, but this is completely antithetical to the very basis of Christianity. Or is it? I grew up in Catholicism; is it common for Baptists to espouse that you can't repent your sins? Are there no Baptist missionaries trying to convert the world's heathens? This is as astonishing to me as the amount of vitriol they spout, the belief that, if you don't behave as they deem fit, not only are you going to hell, but you're already lost and there's no getting back. What sad, wicked thinking.

Well, it is my belief that you can repent for your sins. I'm happy she is free of that horrible environment. Now it is time to undo some wrongs.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 2:56 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Serious question: whom has she wronged, and how? Has WBC engaged in any activity other than exercising their right to free and repugnant speech?

How about we start with the families, friends and others of the folks who died of AIDS-related complications and of military personnel whose funerals were disgustedly disrupted by the Westboro clan/cult?
posted by ericb at 2:56 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Serious question: whom has she wronged, and how? Has WBC engaged in any activity other than exercising their right to free and repugnant speech?

You seem to be confusing "wronged" with "broken the law." If I call my mother a "fat cow" and tell her I hope she dies I've obviously wronged her, but I've also exercised my right to "free and repugnant speech." If you tell mourners at a funeral that God wanted the person they're mourning to die then you've committed a grievous wrong, it really doesn't matter that you didn't happen to break the law.
posted by yoink at 2:56 PM on February 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


I am not in a position to research for supporting links at the moment, but isn't there a mounting stack of evidence that the WBC's protests are intentionally offensive, with an eye toward provoking infringements of their rights over which they may then sue? IIRC, the Phelps family is positively lousy with lawyers who make collecting settlements for these their primary occupation.

I find this hard to reconcile with her seemingly earnest assertions that they never intended to hurt anyone.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:58 PM on February 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


In December, she went to a public library in Lawrence, Kansas. She was looking through books on philosophy and religion, and it struck her that people had devoted their entire lives to studying these questions of how to live and what is right and wrong. “The idea that only WBC had the right answer seemed crazy,” she says. “It just seemed impossible.”
I'm going to stick this quote into every discussion of why libraries are important.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:59 PM on February 6, 2013 [221 favorites]


Thank God Westboro's attempt to protest at the funerals of the victims of December's tragic killings in Newtown, CT were "thwarted by Good Samaritans."
posted by ericb at 2:59 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


But we all have moments of epiphany, when things that are plate-glass clear to others but opaque to us suddenly become apparent. This was, for Megan, one of those moments, and this window led to another and another and another.

I can only hope that closing the door on WBC continues to open windows in Megan Phelps-Roper's mind.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:00 PM on February 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


I find this hard to reconcile with her seemingly earnest assertions that they never intended to hurt anyone.

Cognitive dissonance is a powerful thing.
posted by acb at 3:01 PM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Maybe you are right in that she didn't intend to hurt people. It's like a war--the families at the military funerals and the gays whom she insisted that God hates were probably just colateral damage. Nothing personal.
posted by leftcoastbob at 3:01 PM on February 6, 2013


Serious question: whom has she wronged, and how? Has WBC engaged in any activity other than exercising their right to free and repugnant speech?

I was sooooo tempted to reply with just a solid block of text saying bad things about you and those you care for, and just leave it at that, but We Don't Do That Here, which I am thankful for.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:02 PM on February 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


Westboro's anti-gay picketing, funeral pickets, protests against Jewish institutions and other protests.
posted by ericb at 3:02 PM on February 6, 2013


Libby Phelps Alvarez, Former Westboro Baptist Church Member: We Prayed 'For People To Die' (w/ video of her TODAY show interview).
posted by ericb at 3:04 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


After hearing Kevin Smith talk about his interactions with her on one of his evening with stage shows, I think it was Too Fat For 40, I've kind of concluded the entire WBC is a sham, a RL troll operation, probably doesn't pay out like it used to so she is on to something new.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:06 PM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


The right time for people to leave the WBC is before they become a member. After that, it's just too late.
posted by tommasz at 3:07 PM on February 6, 2013


Serious question: whom has she wronged, and how? Has WBC engaged in any activity other than exercising their right to free and repugnant speech?

Previous FPP: Everybody's favorite hate mongering church just got hit with an $11 million fine by a jury that found they had invaded a family's privacy and inflicted emotional distress when they picketed a Marine's funeral.

So, a federal jury found that Westboro had indeed 'wronged' people in 2007.
posted by ericb at 3:08 PM on February 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's hard to leave the WBC before you become a member if you're born into it:
For nearly all of her twenty-seven years, Megan believed it: believed what her grandfather Fred Phelps preached from the pulpit; believed what her dad Brent and her mom Shirley taught during the family’s daily Bible studies.
posted by ChuraChura at 3:08 PM on February 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


DirtyOldTown - i've read that said so many times and a lot of people take it as fact. i tried to dig into it a couple years ago and at the time i couldn't find any payment they've received or any lawsuit they've filed that would make them buckets of money. in my digging it actually seemed if anything they're tax dodging through the church and the army of lawyers is to enable them to keep doing their protesting which at least some of them believe is for righteous means. i'd like to see any evidence of their apparently huge stack of lawsuits and settlements and not just an article that lazily draws a line from "lawyers" to "making bank on frivolous lawsuits."
posted by nadawi at 3:09 PM on February 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


Serious question: whom has she wronged, and how? Has WBC engaged in any activity other than exercising their right to free and repugnant speech?

Ah, the classic Big Brother Defense! (A.K.A. "Does this bug you? I'm not touching you! Does this bug you? I'm not touching you!")
posted by Atom Eyes at 3:10 PM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


... isn't there a mounting stack of evidence that the WBC's protests are intentionally offensive, with an eye toward provoking infringements of their rights over which they may then sue? IIRC, the Phelps family is positively lousy with lawyers who make collecting settlements for these their primary occupation.

Fred Phelps is a Con Man. Why the Westboro Baptist Church is a Scam: "Fred Phelps does not believe what he is doing. This is a scam. It's a business."
posted by ericb at 3:14 PM on February 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


Previous related FPP: IAmAn Ex-Member of the Westboro Baptist Church -- "Nate Phelps, son of Fred Phelps, answers questions about growing up in the Westboro Baptist Church, and his life after leaving it."
posted by ericb at 3:16 PM on February 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


I have compassion for her. I came from a fundamentalist background that was nowhere near as crazy and repressive as Westboro, but this sounded just like the thought process that started me doubting:

She kept trying to conquer the doubts. Westboro teaches that one cannot trust his or her feelings. They’re unreliable. Human nature “is inherently sinful and inherently completely sinful,” Megan explains. “All that’s trustworthy is the Bible. And if you have a feeling or a thought that’s against the church’s interpretations of the Bible, then it’s a feeling or a thought against God himself.”

This, of course, assumes that the church’s teachings and God’s feelings are one and the same. And this, of course, assumes that the church’s interpretation of the Bible is infallible, that this much-debated document handed down over the centuries has, in 2013, been processed and understood correctly only by a small band of believers in Topeka. “Now?” Megan says. “That sounds crazy to me.”

In December, she went to a public library in Lawrence, Kansas. She was looking through books on philosophy and religion, and it struck her that people had devoted their entire lives to studying these questions of how to live and what is right and wrong. “The idea that only WBC had the right answer seemed crazy,” she says. “It just seemed impossible.”


I was like 9 years old when I came to that realization, and my lack of religion has been a major wedge between me and my still devout family for most of my life, but we have at least come to a detente about it and manage to have a civil relationship these days. I can't image what it must be like for her with that family to only come to this revelation at age 27.
posted by vibrotronica at 3:17 PM on February 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


Unless they killed somebody, I'm prone to cut some slack to anybody leaving a cult, and lots more to somebody born into same.

And I've said tons of times, but making the WBC the face of what being anti-gay is still seems to me as an important part of why being a homophobe is considered a lot closer to being a racist than it uses to be. I'm not going to thank them but sometimes it feels like I should.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:18 PM on February 6, 2013 [38 favorites]


is it common for Baptists to espouse that you can't repent your sins? Are there no Baptist missionaries trying to convert the world's heathens?

It's not, and this is one of the areas where the WBC breaks significantly from mainstream Christianity, even the denominations that have similar obsessions with homosexuality. They're severely, severely Calvininist and believe that God has already decided who will get into Heaven and who won't, and thus who the sinners are and who will be saved. In their view, it's not that sinners are condemned to Hell for their unrepentant sinning, it's that those who have already been irredeemably condemned to Hell can be easily identified by their sinning (and even more easily identified by the crowd of WBC members screaming vile abuse at them).

It's not exactly what you'd call an uplifting theology, but it does seem to hold them together, believing they're the last tiny outpost of righteousness in an immense sea of sin.
posted by Copronymus at 3:21 PM on February 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


I feel like we very rarely hear about people's minds really being changed. The conventional wisdom is that it's useless to even engage with the wrong-headed (for your value of wrong-headed—for me it's the tea party/birther/racist/anti-choice/generally crazy people one runs across), but this article, and her description of how her mind was changed, challenges that. It wasn't a sudden epiphany, it was a simple logic-questioning statement from outside that spurred other questions organically and naturally. I will remember this when the value schism seems hopeless and impossible to overcome, when I feel like advocacy and working for change is too difficult and too much of a losing battle.

It's good to be reminded that the capacity to grow is innate and marvelous, that it's a prerequisite for being a living thing.
posted by peachfuzz at 3:21 PM on February 6, 2013 [23 favorites]


Fred Phelps is a Con Man. Why the Westboro Baptist Church is a Scam

fwiw, that's one of the articles i referred to as lazily drawing the line. the response to "how did i know?" is "i looked him in the eye" and "they run too tight of a ship" and "the things they say are outrageous!" maybe a little thin on the facts.
posted by nadawi at 3:23 PM on February 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


I am not in a position to research for supporting links at the moment, but isn't there a mounting stack of evidence that the WBC's protests are intentionally offensive, with an eye toward provoking infringements of their rights over which they may then sue? IIRC, the Phelps family is positively lousy with lawyers who make collecting settlements for these their primary occupation.

I find this hard to reconcile with her seemingly earnest assertions that they never intended to hurt anyone.


I dunno how their finances work. But I still think this is the wrong frame of reference. It's like --- if you have an intervention for a meth addict, is the meth addict going to be miffed that you've interrupted their day and insulted that you don't think they can handle their shit? Sure. Do you care? No. Because any chance, even a slim one, of saving their life and getting them off meth is overwhelmingly more important than the addict being a bit tetchy cause he had plans today. For them, the people they're preaching at are doomed. The point isn't hurting their feelings. That's merely incidental. It's only to us outside that it seems like the point must be hurting people's feelings, because the idea that anyone could be converted to the WBC is inconceivable.
posted by Diablevert at 3:24 PM on February 6, 2013


nadawi: "in my own oppressive religious upbringing (which doesn't hold a candle to the oppression of free thought in WBC), when i questioned having the only true gospel and how it seemed like we were being big ole judge-y judge-faces to the rest of the world, i was told stories about job and noah and nephi - that the sinners were offended not because of what the prophets were doing/saying but because satan was making them offended to protect their sins. it's a shitty justification, but when i was deeply entrenched it made a lot of sense."

I had a very similar upbringing. I learned that anyone who disagreed with what I was taught were being used by demons to try to trick me. Learning that everyone's actions are explainable without resorting to spiritual influences. That was the first thread that helped the whole sweater of spiritual bullshit become unraveled.

I am really amazed by people who think that other's actions can be explained by spirits, sin, holy possessions, and other unnatural things. It leads to a mindset of "The rights and dignity I enjoy are not extended to them, because I am not possessed by an evil spirit. The rules that apply to them don't apply to me, because I am possessed by a holy spirit."

I think this is one of the most unhealthy mindsets a culture can have.
posted by rebent at 3:31 PM on February 6, 2013 [14 favorites]


Am I right? Do I remember her from when Louis Theroux visited Westboro.

Was she the one that he connected with the most?
posted by smoke at 3:35 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


How many people have been members at or over the age of 18, and of those, how many left by means other than dying? I'm curious as to the attrition rate.
posted by davejay at 3:36 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hey, I posted a link to her twitter account back in 2010. Weird.

Speaking of her Twitter account, she's officially posted something new, just a few hours ago. It's a link to a piece she wrote on the same website as the FPP link.
posted by asnider at 3:42 PM on February 6, 2013


swift: “Serious question: whom has she wronged, and how? Has WBC engaged in any activity other than exercising their right to free and repugnant speech?”

How on god's green earth did you come to the conclusion that it's not possible to wrong someone with free, repugnant, and legal speech?
posted by koeselitz at 3:48 PM on February 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


Am I right? Do I remember her from when Louis Theroux visited Westboro yt .

Was she the one that he connected with the most?


Yeah. I think he focused on her because she seemed the most like a reasonable person just under the surface of the craziness.
posted by anazgnos at 3:49 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Regarding WBC's lawsuits and financing, I recall one of my previous comments:
"...Phelps [has] had some notable wins. He won nearly $20,000 in a 1978 case against a school. In the mid-1990s, he absolutely took the City of Topeka and Shawnee County to the cleaners, winning around $200,000 in compensation for legal fees. It is worth noting here that these legal fees are presumably paid to 'Phelps-Chartered' law firm (founded by Fred Phelps, and its current roster of attorneys is either directly or by marriage related to Phelps), then recycled back into the WBC rather than paying outside lawyers.

Still, one wonders if that is enough money to sustain the church, even if we assume the WBC is winning a wide variety of smaller settlements being won across the country (with help from the ACLU), it does not seem as lawsuits alone would provide enough money to run an organization that allegedly spends $250,000 a year on picketing. That they have tax-exempt status as a church helps.

...All in all, it seems that the Phelpses use the courts more as a weapon than a means of earning a living–although I frankly have no idea how they can support themselves. Are there family members earning a legitimate living? Do they sustain themselves on donations? One shudders at the thought. I’m not a lawyer, but it does seem that if you should not engage the Phelpses and their affiliates because they will sue you, and that will be annoying, likely resulting in legal bills and a general waste of your time." *
There's some interesting information at the Stanford Review article from which the above quote comes that addresses the question: Some have suggested Fred Phelps and his church are simply a traveling scam whose only aim is to make money by getting sued, and that they don’t even believe their own philosophy. Still, how well does this claim stand up?
posted by ericb at 3:49 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


As a young person looking for work right now I can tell you that there's no shortage of non-profits etc. that would consider the ability to organize events and create workable social networking bases to be qualities worth looking for in a new hire.

That's not snark. If this woman is,as she says, looking to do some good to make up for what she did in the past it sounds to me like she might have a skill set that would allow her to dive right in and put her money where her mouth is, so to speak. As I said above, I sure hope she does.
posted by sendai sleep master at 3:51 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


If we're not willing to cut people some slack after they've changed and repented their past sins, we're no better than the person she used to be. Good luck to her.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:00 PM on February 6, 2013 [44 favorites]


Interesting that this happened because she made the mistake of having some conversations with David Abitbol from Jewlicious. So we finally know the truth... it turns out all the stereotypes are right: those Jews and their rationalism, their thoughtfulness, their calm and intellectual considerations of spirituality.

Awesome.
posted by koeselitz at 4:04 PM on February 6, 2013 [28 favorites]


koeselitz - yes! it reminds me of the Louis Marinelli thing - where he was super involved in the "values bus" and very anti-marriage equality - but being around all those gays and their happiness and their families and realizing they aren't very different from him turned him into a gay rights activist.

woohoo rational thought!
posted by nadawi at 4:06 PM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


In December, she went to a public library in Lawrence, Kansas. She was looking through books on philosophy and religion, and it struck her that people had devoted their entire lives to studying these questions of how to live and what is right and wrong. “The idea that only WBC had the right answer seemed crazy,” she says. “It just seemed impossible.”

I'm going to stick this quote into every discussion of why libraries are important.


This suggests an intervention strategy. Maybe people should try and give these people some pamphlets. Maybe with fake 1 million dollar bills on one side and some philosophy on the other side.
posted by srboisvert at 4:12 PM on February 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


it turns out all the stereotypes are right: those Jews and their rationalism, their thoughtfulness, their calm and intellectual considerations of spirituality.

<ashamed> I'm a baaaaaaad jew.</ashamed>

I must get my fiery temper from the other side of the family. The Swedish Lutherans.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:14 PM on February 6, 2013 [14 favorites]


I'm going to stick this quote into every discussion of why libraries are important.

yes! libraries (and then the internet) were fundamental to me realizing how hard i was indoctrinated. i'm basically a library card away from being molly mormon with 5 kids, working on the casserole for the potluck.
posted by nadawi at 4:16 PM on February 6, 2013 [32 favorites]


From Megan and Grace's statement:

-- -- --
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.
-- -- -- (emphasis mine)

Imagine that. Imagine being taught that protesting the funerals of soldiers is one's highest calling, that it's the only way to save the world no matter how personally embarrassing or scary or uncool you might think it is. That you only feel that way because you're infected with sin; the devil is making you question it.

It's a little creepy here, all the comments suggesting that Megan Phelps can't repent because she did bad things she was taught to do by the cult she was born into.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:16 PM on February 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


She spent all this time screaming about grace. Now it's time for her to learn about works. Forgiveness is something you have to work for. No one has the right to automatic forgiveness for the evil they've done. Want to be forgiven, Ms. Phelps-Roper? Earn it.
posted by 1adam12 at 4:17 PM on February 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


There's such a strong desire to believe in redemption and seeing the light, and righting wrongs and so forth, that people switch off their BS detectors and con artists exploit this. The con is constructed in such a way that people would feel heartless to doubt the veracity of the one who finally found the light. Prisons are filled with people who practice this con - in parole hearings, in pen-pal correspondence etc. And people fall for this over and over and over again.

I'm as thrilled as the next guy, when I see redemption, but alas, I'm built a bit differently - I have a habit of staring. Unblinkingly. I take my sweet time in forming judgments in these situations. And I trust my gut. I tend to stand to the side and watch the hands. This makes me miss out on the excitement and the warm glow when the internet is overflowing with good feeling about that poor girl with cancer; but then I also don't experience the sickening feeling of betrayal when the scam is revealed. Different strokes.

I feel it's so important to give it time. Wait and watch. No, you won't always catch all the scammers. But what's the hurry? If genuine, it'll show in time. No need to immediately accept the first claims by an interested party, a sweet and tender hooligan.

FWIW, all I have to go on is my gut in this case. I don't think WBC has a bright future ahead of it. There are huge financial judgments against it. Who is going to stay in that until retirement? Why not get out put on a dog and pony show and there'll be plenty of people who are primed to believe this sudden conversion. Oh yes, many people will recognize the journey, having grown up in similar circumstances of repression and authority... and she knows that too - in fact, she's uniquely positioned to pull a scam like that - she knows it from the inside out.

What accounts for my feelings, other than instinct - which I trust? The triviality of what "turned her" - the fact that these kinds of thoughts and arguments were given to her a million times in her life - inevitably, inevitably, inevitably, by hundreds of people who have argued with her in both good faith, with love and also those in anger. Suddenly it's a revelation, like she never came across these before? She's lived her life drenched in these arguments - and here she's pretending that something that would be laughable in bible arguments 101 (like My doubts started with a conversation I had with David Abitbol: ‘But Jesus said’ ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’). Someone who holds up those kinds of signs and lives such a life of insult and harassment, never heard anyone say 'let he who is without sin cast the first stone'. Riiight.

Bullshit.

Now, I don't know her heart, obviously. All I have is my gut and my life experience, and you have yours. I will not try to tell you you're wrong to think she's sincere - rather than a con artist - because really, it just becomes an argument of "because I say so". You have your take on the world, and I have mine.

I'm standing aside, watching the hands, waiting.
posted by VikingSword at 4:19 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


and how do you earn forgiveness? step 1, realize you were wrong and stop doing wrong. she's had 5 months after 27 years, she's already going to churches that accept gays. i think she's making remarkable progress. i think her statement also shows that she knows her past can't be erased with that action alone.
posted by nadawi at 4:21 PM on February 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


grace... forgiviness is something you have to work for

Actually, grace is a gift. It can't be earned. I think "trust" is the word you're looking for here.
posted by windykites at 4:30 PM on February 6, 2013 [24 favorites]


Someone who holds up those kinds of signs and lives such a life of insult and harassment, never heard anyone say 'let he who is without sin cast the first stone'. Riiight.

I don't think her point is that this was the first time she heard that text; her point is that the meaning of it suddenly sank in. This hardly seems unusual in these cases. There are lots of sincere Bible believers out there whose actions seem radically incompatible with certain Biblical texts. Narratives of conversion are very often narratives of suddenly coming to understand statements that one had heard a thousand times before without comprehension.

What I really can't understand is what you think the 'long con' here could be. Sure, she might convert back--a kind of WBC Rumspringa--but what deep dark purpose would that be serving? Who would that help convince that the WBC was the one true faith?
posted by yoink at 4:33 PM on February 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Her ... "con" is leaving her family, who now consider her effectively dead, renouncing an ideology she has been the public face of for many years, and moving to the midwest with no job prospects and the only item on her resume being work for a cult nearly everyone finds repulsive?

The endgame of this con is what, exactly, VikingSword? She gets some semblance of a normal life? She maybe somehow earns a living publically repudiating the idea that gay people are going to hell rather than espousing it? What's the con part? What, on her deathbed, does she suddenly go, "AHAHAHAHAHAHA, suckers! I secretly still think all gay people are damned, but I deceived you all for fifty years! Anyone who listened to me when I said otherwise got fooled bigtime, boy howdy!"

(Short version: What?)
posted by kyrademon at 4:36 PM on February 6, 2013 [25 favorites]


The thing I don't get about Calvinists, if they are Calvinists, is that if you believe a significant portion of the population is damned, and some are not, and there isn't any thing you can do about it. There is no reason to protest anything, try to convert anyone, or even give a shit what anyone else even does is there. Why rub that shit in. Just do your thing and leave all us damned alone.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:36 PM on February 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


And I trust my gut.

For someone who often posts links to epidemiology studies and cochrane reviews etc because they want evidence, you should already that "guts" have a really bad record when it comes to predicting stuff.

In the absence of actual evidence with more reliability than something as nebulous and gullible as my gut, I tend to go with whatever will align with a worldview based on kindness and understanding. It may well be wrong, but at least I feel good about it until a correction.
posted by smoke at 4:38 PM on February 6, 2013 [11 favorites]


Her ... "con" is leaving her family, who now consider her effectively dead, renouncing an ideology she has been the public face of for many years, and moving to the midwest with no job prospects and the only item on her resume being work for a cult nearly everyone finds repulsive?

And she would have gotten away with it too if it weren't for those meddling kids!
posted by yoink at 4:40 PM on February 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


VikingSword: “Now, I don't know her heart, obviously. All I have is my gut and my life experience, and you have yours. I will not try to tell you you're wrong to think she's sincere - rather than a con artist - because really, it just becomes an argument of 'because I say so'. You have your take on the world, and I have mine.”

We're talking about stated beliefs here. People aren't jumping for joy because they think suddenly she's a wonderful person; they're saying "well, the things you used to say were wrong, and now the things you are saying seem to be right." There's no leap of faith involved there, no need to "trust" that she's not a "con artist." If she's stating true beliefs in the hopes of stating false beliefs tomorrow, whatever; we'll be around to call her on shit if she says something that's wrong. Meanwhile, yeah, sorry, but what she's saying and what she's doing is right.
posted by koeselitz at 4:40 PM on February 6, 2013


(And I share kyrademon's skepticism that she's a con artist. That would be the most inane and ridiculous con game ever. "I pretended to leave Westboro... but, ha ha, I never left!" Uh, okay. Who does this serve? What would that do other than make everyone involved look even more ridiculous?)
posted by koeselitz at 4:41 PM on February 6, 2013


What I really can't understand is what you think the 'long con' here could be.

It's really simple. There is no future in the WBC. She needs to get out, because she can make a much better living outside of that moribund cult. She can hardly announce: "hey guys, this racket is running out, and I need to get the hell out, who is buying my ticket?" With the hurt and outrage she's caused, the best way to get out is to suddenly find Jesus (see what I did there) - and there will be tons of people accepting a story of redemption, and offering her all sorts of landing strips, as already one poster put it here:

As a young person looking for work right now I can tell you that there's no shortage of non-profits etc. that would consider the ability to organize events and create workable social networking bases to be qualities worth looking for in a new hire.

Do you imagine that such opportunities would arise if she merely announced that the WBC thing has run out and she needs to make a better living?

What is the scam? Extremely simple: she doesn't give two fucks about anyone, gay, straight or anything - she's in it for herself; when one boat develops a leak, she's a ready rat for the next passing one. Spin a tale, and all past wrongs are forgiven - whoopie! - and offers aplenty to boot!

Whatevs. Believe what you wish. I have no proof... and neither do you. But what is the harm in giving it time - who knows, maybe some evidence might come down the road, one way or another. I'm just reporting a one man reaction - to me, this stinks. YMMV.
posted by VikingSword at 4:44 PM on February 6, 2013


What is the scam? Extremely simple: she doesn't give two fucks about anyone, gay, straight or anything - she's in it for herself; when one boat develops a leak, she's a ready rat for the next passing one. Spin a tale, and all past wrongs are forgiven - whoopie! - and offers aplenty to boot!

Where and what are these "offers aplenty" of which you speak, exactly?
posted by yoink at 4:48 PM on February 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


shit, as long as she stops protesting funerals and loudly proclaiming how much god hates fags, i don't really care if she finds a good job and lives a quiet life as her great big con. hell, i extend that offer to all members of the WBC - feel free to give it up and con us all with pretending to be a person who has empathy and remorse.
posted by nadawi at 4:52 PM on February 6, 2013 [36 favorites]


DirtyOldTown - i've read that said so many times and a lot of people take it as fact. i tried to dig into it a couple years ago and at the time i couldn't find any payment they've received or any lawsuit they've filed that would make them buckets of money. in my digging it actually seemed if anything they're tax dodging through the church and the army of lawyers is to enable them to keep doing their protesting which at least some of them believe is for righteous means. i'd like to see any evidence of their apparently huge stack of lawsuits and settlements and not just an article that lazily draws a line from "lawyers" to "making bank on frivolous lawsuits."

This is interesting. I too always took that as fact. I'm going to see if I can find anything. Their Wikipedia has a short part about this:

A number of Phelps' critics have suggested that the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church are merely a ploy to receive attention and publicity above all else, though the Phelpses themselves deny this claim. Counter-protesting against the group, they suggest, gives them attention and incentive that they do not deserve; and a more effective response against Phelps would be to ignore his family and congregation completely.[174][175][176] WBC, through the closely related Phelps Chartered law firm, has collected fees under the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Award Act of 1976 when their protests have been unlawfully disrupted.


Which leads to this link (pdf).
posted by young sister beacon at 4:54 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ad hominem: "The thing I don't get about Calvinists, if they are Calvinists, is that if you believe a significant portion of the population is damned, and some are not, and there isn't any thing you can do about it. There is no reason to protest anything, try to convert anyone, or even give a shit what anyone else even does is there. Why rub that shit in. Just do your thing and leave all us damned alone."

The horrible thing about Calvinism is that it got mixed up with that Protestant Work Ethic nonsense, so one of the ways you show everyone that you're one of the Elect is through living a perfectly righteous life and having worldly success and luck to show that God is favoring you. It's half reading the tea leaves of God and half arranging those tea leaves so that they come out in your favor. I'm fatalistic enough that I'd find the whole thing exhausting and pointless enough that I'd give up and go back to bed, but then I also hit the snooze button on my alarm every morning.
posted by Copronymus at 4:54 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I guess I'm willing to wait and see if these "offers aplenty" actually materialize. Until then - well, she's not marching around saying heinous shit any more, and that's progress in my book.
posted by rtha at 4:55 PM on February 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well I have no evidence WBC is a con, or that her conversion is part of the con, but I will say she is really savvy and was extremely reasonable for a zealot. She was willing to go along with Kevin Smith's counter protests, not only accepted an invitation to see Red State but negotiated for more tickets, knowing Kevin Smith and the kind of movies he makes. She walked out of the movie but stopped to give Kevin a autographed protest sign and say goodbye. Her walking out added a that extra frission. WBC and Kevin Smith both benefited, keeping them both in the news.

So now she is out there, performing the same task, she keeps herself and WBC in the news. She writes articles, gives talks to mainstream Christians, writes a book, and they just keep doing what they are doing. They are making money on both sides. Eventually WBC will just fade away, and they are now mainstream Christians, collecting those speaking fees.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:59 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Imagine a very simple scenario. You are in a cult that is moribund. It is not growing - from my understanding WBC has only been losing members. It has no chance of growing. Whatever cohesion and dynamism it has, will eventually be gone once old Fred kicks the bucket. The writing is on the freakin' wall. It has not been exactly a lucrative occupation anyhow. And it's doomed. You are one of the primary offenders in this doomed enterprise, reviled the world over. If the whole thing collapses, as it inevitably must, what are you going to do? Nobody will employ you. What to do?

Why, get out before it collapses and claim conversion. You'll get kudos, and you'll have a shot at a normal life - and if lucky, even lucrative offers. If you stay too long, no cigar. We've seen this play out over and over again, when regimes fall, suddenly various insiders go over to the rebels, the winning side. Because if they don't, they're mincemeat.

So, when in this scenario, I see a well-worn dynamic play out once again, with a prominent defector from a dying regime suddenly "finds Jesus", well, the beastly nasty person that I am, I don't fall down with gratitude, instead, I watch their hands. How horrible.

Her leaving, and not having to be an object of hate and not having to answer for the immense evil she's been responsible for, and living a normal life - just that - is a huge win for somebody in her position. She gets away scot-free - that's plenty enough, no need for me to add my hosannas to her heroism and STORY OF REDEMPTION (TM) on top of that.
posted by VikingSword at 5:01 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


i'd rather default to compassion no matter who the person in front of me is. it seems like a much healthier life to live than to be constantly unblinking and gut checking and watching hands or whatever other creepy metaphors you've got stored up.
posted by nadawi at 5:08 PM on February 6, 2013 [14 favorites]


I have literally never visited the WBC site before because I am in the "ignore them" camp and don't want to give them the traffic. But I just looked at it and it is so over the top that I actually am not completely sure it isn't a parody. It includes a ticker of an ever-rising number of "people whom God has cast into hell since you loaded this page" and "nanoseconds of sleep that WBC members lose over your opinions and feeeeellllliiiiiings" - 0.

I believe there are a handful of people who have joined the church voluntarily but the rest of them were born and thus indoctrinated into it. I've often thought that the hatred of them is the one thing I can think of that pretty much unites all Americans these days, regardless of political leanings. Fred Phelps is getting old - does his wife Shirley have the same kind of influence he does. Is WBC in its final throes?
posted by young sister beacon at 5:09 PM on February 6, 2013


Who are all these people who defect from evil cults and find fame and fortune? How is that a well-worn story?
posted by Area Man at 5:09 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why are you so invested in that being her particular story, rather than just shrugging and saying Okay, well, words are good but let's see what she actually does or doesn't do? I mean, yay you, you can spot a sneaky bad person by watching their hands while the rest of us are horribly suckered into....vaguely wishing her well, or being glad there's one less active nut in the Phelps clan. No one here seems to be putting her on any kind of can't-do-wrong pedestal.
posted by rtha at 5:09 PM on February 6, 2013 [13 favorites]


Imagine a very simple scenario.

Why do we need to speculate the absolutely worst motivations behind her decision? And why does that matter? It is a net benefit to everyone involved, except perhaps the WBC.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:10 PM on February 6, 2013


Why are you so invested in that being her particular story, rather than just shrugging and saying Okay

Why do we need to speculate the absolutely worst motivations behind her decision?

Speculating - well, anyone who expresses an opinion, and overwhelmingly one kind of opinion has been expressed, is speculating. Without being in her head, we're all speculating - you as much as I.

I'm not invested in anything. People are reporting their reactions to her story here - and I am one of those people. The only difference, is that I seem to take a different view and have a different reaction. I'm not laying claim to THE TRUTH. I'm reporting a dissenting view. Sometimes it's interesting to see someone have a different view on metafliter, no? It's my honest reaction, and I'm reporting it, just as others are reporting theirs.

i'd rather default to compassion no matter who the person in front of me is. it seems like a much healthier life to live than to be constantly unblinking and gut checking and watching hands or whatever other creepy metaphors you've got stored up.

Fabulous. You're certainly entitled to your opinion and reaction... as I am to mine. Though, I pass no judgment on what's a healthier life to live.
posted by VikingSword at 5:19 PM on February 6, 2013


Imagine a very simple scenario. You are in a cult that is moribund. It is not growing

Your whole premise seems to take it as a given that she's a sociopath scheming for maximum personal gain. Besides which WBC isn't just a church or a cult, it's a family, which traditionally functions as a support network so the idea that she has everything to gain and nothing to lose by walking away doesn't really wash.
posted by anazgnos at 5:20 PM on February 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


I kind of get what VikingSword and ad hominem are getting at, but it's less of a con artist thing than a celebrity thing. Many celebrities do a Redemption Tour when they get clean and/or being Bad has stopped being good for their careers. Right? They go to rehab, meditate, get off the (drug of choice) and write a memoir. And then they get more movie roles.

And it would not be unbelievable that this is her plan. Maybe someone will give her a talk show, or more likely a book offer, interviews, what have you. She might be able to spin it all into a c-list celebrity career. Become a motivational speaker.

Which is...a little repugnant, the idea that she can turn hurting others into a viable lifestyle.

At the same time...at least she is not hurting others any more, at least not the way she was. Even if her real motivation was self-preservation, at least she stopped doing what she was doing.
posted by emjaybee at 5:20 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Who are all these people who defect from evil cults and find fame and fortune? How is that a well-worn story?

Well there was the cult scare in the 70s. Countless true stories of cult members,heroic families and deporgrammers.

Personally, I'm not too invested, she isn't holding a sign but she is still pointing a light on those who do, and it is pretty clear they don't care if the attention they get is negative. None of us really know, it is all just talk on the Internet. We'll see how it plays out.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:20 PM on February 6, 2013


i hope she finds some peace and then i hope she finds a way to do restitution for those she has wronged.
Serious question: whom has she wronged, and how? Has WBC engaged in any activity other than exercising their right to free and repugnant speech?
This strikes me as a very strange pairing of questions. Almost as if you believe something akin to it being impossible to wrong someone as long as what you're doing to them is legal. Do you believe something along those lines?
posted by Flunkie at 5:29 PM on February 6, 2013


ericb: "Previous FPP: Everybody's favorite hate mongering church just got hit with an $11 million fine by a jury that found they had invaded a family's privacy and inflicted emotional distress when they picketed a Marine's funeral."

I don't know if I agree with that Federal jury. WBC is a bunch of scumbags, but they have the right to picket.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:30 PM on February 6, 2013


Serious question: whom has she wronged, and how? Has WBC engaged in any activity other than exercising their right to free and repugnant speech?

...

I imagine that a lot of people who have had the funerals of their loved ones disrupted by Westboro feel wronged. There isn't anything illegal about the wronging done to them, but that doesn't make it okay. Likewise any number of closeted lgbtq people who have felt threatened or maligned by protests like these. Again, not a wrong that can be corrected by legal means, but nonetheless a wrong.


Yes, I get that -- but how is she supposed to "do restitution" and for whom? What is the correction for having spoken in a certain way? What is the remedy -- does she go around to each family and say "sorry about that?" Restitution implies some kind of action that restores a balance, or pays a debt, right? My question is, what does she owe exactly?

Obviously some people in the thread think I'm defending her or Westboro, but I really mean this in a more technical/moral sense. How does one seek justice (legal or otherwise) from someone who was acting antisocially but in good faith (literally), and then has a change of heart?
posted by swift at 5:37 PM on February 6, 2013


a personal letter of apology to every family behind a funeral she picketed is one option. publicly condemning the actions of her family whenever asked is another. actively fighting for the rights of people she damned to hell would be a nice touch. it might all be too much to wish for, but there are absolutely actions someone could come up to try to pay the debt of hateful speech.
posted by nadawi at 5:42 PM on February 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


I led a group of high schoolers who did an anti-protest of the WBC back in 2005. I remember in the few moments we were allowed to do the thing where we blocked the hate with our wings, one of the pieces of fabric brushed one of the WBC members and she spent the rest of the time screaming about how we were assaulting her. It was really bizarre. That's the extent of my in-person interaction with the WBC, but I've been following them for a long time. I'm queer, but pass for straight, so I'm only sort of in one of the groups that they're really spending their time railing against; I haven't been harmed in the way that people who have had funerals of loved ones disrupted.

But yeah, I'm in the "forgive her and move on" side. She managed to get out of a cult and that takes a lot of bravery. She's also, in a very real way, a victim of the WBC, and if it's possible to extend empathy to her for that, that's a good thing. I understand why people can't, and I in no way mean to invalidate those feelings. But I think her responsibility, in this instance, isn't to pay some debt to those she wronged. It's to take care of herself and do the learning and growth she needs to do, because she just left a cult.
posted by NoraReed at 5:44 PM on February 6, 2013 [10 favorites]


[Folks, take your jerking off derails somewhere else where it might be more appropriate; it's just noise here.]
posted by jessamyn at 5:47 PM on February 6, 2013


If she's the one I think she is from the Louis Theroux documentaries, I'm not surprised she left. She said all the right things, but her body language showed how conflicted she was about it. The cognitive dissonance was building up then, and it was just a matter of time before it got too much to bear.

Her story sounds like every story I've ever heard about people realising they've been wrong, especially where religion and cults are concerned, and especially when you've been raised with it from birth. You're given pat phrases to use every time someone raises a reasonable point *before* you've developed the ability to reason for yourself, and it becomes a habit. One person arguing with you does nothing. But a library card or the internet, and exposure to many people who think differently, wears away at your certainty (this is why I believe education is the key to repairing so many social ills). Eventually a nice person asks a reasonable question framed in a way that accepts your premises, and you feel obliged to answer it thoughtfully, and realise that you can't. It's like a hole in a dam wall - a little breach leads to a flood of questions. For me it was gay penguins, but it's different for everyone.
posted by harriet vane at 6:00 PM on February 6, 2013 [23 favorites]


I wonder far more about the people who actually convert to the WBC - there were a couple that Louis Theroux interviewed. I find that far crazier than staying in the religion you were born into, which most people keep as the default setting without questioning it. What kind of person looks at the Phelps family and thinks it looks like a good way to live?
posted by harriet vane at 6:05 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


FWIW, all I have to go on is my gut in this case. I don't think WBC has a bright future ahead of it. There are huge financial judgments against it. Who is going to stay in that until retirement? Why not get out put on a dog and pony show and there'll be plenty of people who are primed to believe this sudden conversion. Oh yes, many people will recognize the journey, having grown up in similar circumstances of repression and authority... and she knows that too - in fact, she's uniquely positioned to pull a scam like that - she knows it from the inside out.

If she grew up in the church since she was a child, she would have been approaching everything from a sincere perspective, working in good faith.

I can imagine a con artist cynically creating a religious group. But I would think that many if not most members growing up in the resultant group would believe and act sincerely. And then perhaps some bit of inconsistency or cognitive dissonance might break through, or it might not.

You're suggesting that she was born a cynic into a cult? Or she was taken aside as a young adult and told: "Pst, it's all a con. Don't tell the kids and suckers." Or that she figured out as a young adult that it was a con and cannily switched from 'true believer' to 'cynical opportunist', deciding to ride it for a few years until the best exit opportunity?

Sketch out your model of her interior life over a few decades, please, to support your position.
posted by sebastienbailard at 6:25 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


> You're suggesting that she was born a cynic into a cult?

No, he's suggesting that she's not stupid and rationally believes that the WBC is going to collapse fairly soon and wants to not be there when it happens. WBC doesn't really seem like something stable that will become a hallowed institution, and she probably has more information than we do.

This theory seems perfectly plausible to me, frankly - people often do have their own best interests at heart. It doesn't mean that her conversion isn't heart-felt, either.

> Sketch out your model of her interior life over a few decades, please, to support your position.

What?!?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:35 PM on February 6, 2013


Speaking of rational Jews, a certain Hassidic master said "How do you tell if someone has sincerely repented of wrongdoing? They stop doing it."

Seems to me she's repenting quite well. Now, restitution is another topic.
posted by Dreidl at 6:39 PM on February 6, 2013 [14 favorites]


For me it was gay penguins, but it's different for everyone.

You can't leave that hanging, HV. I demand satsifaction!
posted by smoke at 6:40 PM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


For me it was gay penguins, but it's different for everyone.

for me it was wiccan friends (and, honestly, to my leaders/parents worst fears - it was coffee houses and rock music and reading unapproved things).
posted by nadawi at 6:45 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also - if you read the reddit AMA of Phelps' son referred to above, it's really clear from that that Fred Phelps at least is dead serious, that they aren't a troll or a legal vehicle. His son lays it out very clearly: Phelps père has a reasonable lucrative private legal practice and that's mainly what pays for this. They only had one really lucrative settlement and that was quite a few years ago - and that was suing a couple of city governments.

The city governments have learned exactly what they can and cannot do, and that opportunity isn't going to come again. And, frankly, it's quite unlikely that even if Phelps were assaulted by a private individual that he'd receive a substantial payout. Despite what people seem to think, courts look extremely dimly upon people who try to provoke others into violence in order to win legal judgements; I imagine the individual in question would get excellent, pro bono representation; and it would almost certainly be a jury trial and I can't imagine any jury ordering, say, a bereaved father who was being mocked at his child's funeral to pay even a penny in damages.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:46 PM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ah ha! Witches and hippies and rockers and caffeine!* The downfall of future generations!

* And apparently gay penguins!
posted by rtha at 6:48 PM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


You're suggesting that she was born a cynic into a cult?

Why would I? Cult or not, we are all different. Some people grow up and don't question the belief systems they're born into, but others are just psychologically deficient in the "belief" department. You appear to think that once born into a culture, you have no choice but to be a believer from the get-go. But many people don't have that reaction. Personal anecdata - I've had a happy childhood, and trusted my parents. But for whatever reason, as far back as I can possibly reach with my memory, I was always acutely aware that they were adults and I was a child and that their world was not my world - I had my private thoughts which I would never share with an adult - parent or not. My brother was exactly the same way, and we shared that bond. I was astonished to learn from other kids, for example, that they shared their most intimate thoughts with their parents - I found that bizarre and frankly to my child's mind, it seemed inappropriate. And so my parents had rules - which I would break deliberately when it suited me, cause, well, it was my world and in my world those rules didn't hold (yes, I'd catch a bit of hell when discovered). When my parents moved abroad for a few years, connected with my father's work, I was sent to a boarding school (Catholic) at the age of six; at no point in my life did I find myself believing in god. I simply accepted that that was the "story" from the world of the adults, but it had nothing to do with me - and again, I was rather astonished to find kids who were sincere believers. But I was by no means the only unbeliever. I was not a "rational skeptic" as a child - it was merely instinct - you can't will yourself to believe, you either do or you don't. My point - you are mistaken to think it is necessary for a child to share - in even a tiny degree - the world-view of the adults with whom the child is raised. I have no idea what her history was - was she a never believer like myself, or came to disbelieve later, or never. But there is no iron rule "destiny" in being born into a belief system. You play the game as long as the power arrangements are what they are - and so I'd be marched off to church on Sundays, but my thoughts were my own (I had a startle of recognition when watching A Clockwork Orange - because I too was on the side of the Romans in my daydreams at the church).
posted by VikingSword at 6:57 PM on February 6, 2013


I just can't help but wonder if this is just some publicity ploy. She publicly leaves the fold, then perhaps gets pulled back in? If she does, you know it won't be kept under wraps.

Maybe I'm just too jaded about people these days, but I'm going to take a wait-and-see attitude on this one.
posted by sundrop at 7:04 PM on February 6, 2013


Despite what people seem to think, courts look extremely dimly upon people who try to provoke others into violence in order to win legal judgements;



Wiki: In an 8–1 decision (with the judges ruling the same way as they did in United States v. Stevens in 2010),[27] the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Phelps, upholding the Fourth Circuit's decision. Chief Justice John Roberts (as in the Stevens case) wrote the majority opinion stating "What Westboro said, in the whole context of how and where it chose to say it, is entitled to 'special protection' under the First Amendment and that protection cannot be overcome by a jury finding that the picketing was outrageous."[28]
posted by ovvl at 7:11 PM on February 6, 2013


re: just repeating the phrases you're given to defend your beliefs.

In the IAMA by Nate Phelps, he says:
They recognize certain sounds and respond to those sounds with the sounds they learned. They don't critically analyze the incoming sounds at all. One of those sounds they recognize is "why do you preach if you don't think people can be saved" to which they respond with the sound "it's not our job to save, only to preach". It's what I call the divine Nuremberg defense.
re: gay penguins (a bit of a derail, but it might come in handy for debating with Phelpses who want to leave the WBC one day)

I was raised to believe that a) being gay was a sin because God said so and b) that animals were incapable of sin because they don't have the reasoning capacity to make decisions about their behaviour. Then, during an online debate about the morality of being gay (it was the 90s, there were fundamentalists trying to get gay people to repent) someone posted videos of gay animals. I wasn't swayed by the ones just showing sex, but the one of two male penguins who had pair bonded just did my head in. Obviously, there are plenty of ways to rationalise this away, and plenty of reasons why "hey, animals do it too" isn't a solid foundation for moral choices, but it was the little hole in the dam wall that got me questioning a lot of things. It wasn't an earth-shaking revelation, just the first one to poke through my already crumbling certainty.

I would like to assure all the LGBTQ members of this site that I now rely on more solid reasoning and compassion for supporting their rights! But hey, gay penguins in love. You'd have to be a pretty hard-hearted person not to be moved by such cuteness.
posted by harriet vane at 7:22 PM on February 6, 2013 [23 favorites]


Vikingsword, I think you are correct that the prevailing atmosphere in this thread is one of cautious optimism. That being said, I believe more critical and/or skeptical responses, such as those by Ad Hominem, are being recognized as legitimate.

I think what a lot of us may be taking issue with in your responses specifically is that they have a tone that suggests anyone who wishes Megan Phelps well, even in a cautious sense, is foolish or ignorant. It is possible you have not intended such a tone, tone being such a evanescent thing to get across via internet text, and if that is the case I apologize.

All I'm saying is that, as someone who thinks that this is better then her causing more pain in the world regardless of her intentions, I would appreciate it if maybe you didn't imply that foolishness is a prerequisite for such views.
posted by sendai sleep master at 8:05 PM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Serious question: whom has she wronged, and how? Has WBC engaged in any activity other than exercising their right to free and repugnant speech?

A lot of people have responded to this before, but I'd just like to add --

Put yourself in the shoes of the aggrieved. Imagine you're a mother who found out your son died in combat. A bright and promising boy, the joy of your life, coaxed through the difficulties of youth through a hundred moments, some good, some bad, but through it all he emerges shining and wanting to help the nation that has helped him so much. You last saw him a few months ago, he seemed so alive. Now he's gone. A lifetime of future moments, his getting married, his having children, getting to be a grandmother, Christmas time -- these things are gone now, they will never happen.

But our culture has still appointed a time for you, with the help of your friends and remaining family, to try to struggle through your feelings for a little while, possibly the only real concession our world makes to the inner life. You know you'll never get over it, that this hole in your life will always be there, but maybe you could find a little peace.

But forget about any of that, because a few assholes have decided it's more important for you to know that GOD HATES FAGS. GOD HATES FAGS. GOD HATES FAGS. GOD HATES FAGS.
posted by JHarris at 8:08 PM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


sorry about the language in the previous comment, but I'm beyond furious at the things Westboro Baptist has done, and it seemed the best way to get across the massive senseless non-sequitur of their actions -- if a mod wants to delete it I'm fine with it
posted by JHarris at 8:18 PM on February 6, 2013


JHarris, I totally get where you are coming from, same goes for Viking Sword. I also get where the cautiously hopeful are coming from.

I don't want to think that this youngish woman and her sister are anything but sincere, but speaking engagements, publicity,, that makes me twitchy. A quiet taking up of another, better life makes more sense to me.
I won't go into too many details of two people who left behind groups belonged to at a similar age. My mother left something she was mixed up with very publicly. It was pretty destructive to my entire family.
I left something else much more quietly, just disappeared.
I think I am happier than she was. She died with many regrets.
Going away quietly without fanfare is to me a healthier choice.
She even said I'd done a smarter job of bailing out than she had.
No one needs convincing that WBC is a Bad Thing.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:30 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


You know, I don't give a flying shit if she meant to hurt people, intended harm, or any of those other mamby-pamby excuses that are being offered here to absolve her of some of her guilt. "I didn't wanna hurt their feelings!" is what a five-year-old says; she's an adult.

She actively hurt people. Over and over again. She's guilty. She's a shit. I hope she feels truly horrible, because she has been up until her revelation, and it will take years of contrite acts to wash away the years of hate and pain she has fostered.

If she does exactly that, I'll consider her a decent human being.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:36 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd previously read the comprehensive report on the Phelps family story ("Addicted to Hate"), and tonight I've watched both of Louis Theroux's documentaries on the family. So I'm fairly well posted on this family. And I'm shaking my head over those of you who believe that those who are leaving this family are doing so from some sense of cynical self-interest than out of genuine conviction.

I've had my own experiences with shaking off the indoctrination and religious bigotry that was instilled in me by my own upbringing, and though my own upbringing was sheltered, it was NOTHING like what these people have experienced.

Fred Phelps Sr. inflicted a horrific level of abuse on his own 13 kids as they grew up (his wife was very proud of her accomplishment in making Fred promise not to beat his children before they were two years old), and at some point he realized he could no longer control his grown children with abuse. So he came up with the whole picketing thing. It kept the family together and made them completely insular because it made everyone hate them. His children were tacitly allowed to have friends and to date as long as their SOs at least appeared to toe the line, but his grandchildren don't have any friends and don't date. I don't think any of us can have any conception of what it's like to grow up in an environment in which you have no emotional ties to anyone but a small group of people with an insane, all-pervasive ideology, to know that if you leave these people you'll be completely on your own and that your family will turn their backs on you, and to have to overcome such hardcore indoctrination. The idea that anyone would do this out of some cynical self-interest is just bizarre. Those who have left so far have never seemed anything but completely sincere to me. As for them speaking publicly..... don't forget, in the milieu in which these people grew up, their only meaningful encounters with the world outside the clan were with journalists, and that they're used to being in the public eye.

What I think will finally break the pattern (well that and that horrible Fred Phelps finally kicking the bucket) is that the kids are going to want lives of their own, and there will be more of the grandchildren leaving as they reach early adulthood, and of course as more of them leave they'll have the ones who've already flown the coop to turn to for help and support. The Phelps clan needs numbers and resources (meaning the 10% of everyone's salary) to be able to do what they do, and heaven knows they aren't going to recruit more than a very few outsiders. If a lot of the grandchildren leave, and the ones who stay aren't at all likely to marry, what future do you see for the Phelps clan?
posted by orange swan at 8:46 PM on February 6, 2013 [25 favorites]


She actively hurt people. Over and over again.

Yes, since she was a child.

I imagine it was very brave of her to question everything she was ever told and to leave her church and family.

She's guilty. She's a shit. I hope she feels truly horrible, because she has been up until her revelation, and it will take years of contrite acts to wash away the years of hate and pain she has fostered.

I'm not sure how much I want her to suffer for being born to misguided parents. How does one guess at autonomy, responsibility, or guilt in such circumstances?

It seems as though she has chosen to stop being a shit, despite being born a shit. If she's no longer a shit, should she suffer?
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:54 PM on February 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


for me it was wiccan friends (and, honestly, to my leaders/parents worst fears - it was coffee houses and rock music and reading unapproved things).

I met all kinds of pagans, perverts, and degenerates playing roleplaying games.

JACK CHICK WAS RIGHT!
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:59 PM on February 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


The "Addicted to Hate" report that orange swan just mentioned is amazing, by the way. If you think Fred Phelps is a totally fucked up individual, but you haven't read "Addicted to Hate", you probably don't know the half of it.

Also:
What kind of person looks at the Phelps family and thinks it looks like a good way to live?
Well, obviously being a religious nut who hates people (quite possibly including yourself) would pretty much be a prerequisite, but beyond that: Most of the preeminently visible members of the Phelps clan, with the exception of Pastor Fred himself, give off surface level signs of being happy and family-oriented. I'd imagine that there are people who don't see any deeper than that, especially amongst the "religious nut who hates people" crowd.
posted by Flunkie at 9:01 PM on February 6, 2013


Imagine a very simple scenario. You are in a cult that is moribund. It is not growing - from my understanding WBC has only been losing members. It has no chance of growing. Whatever cohesion and dynamism it has, will eventually be gone once old Fred kicks the bucket. The writing is on the freakin' wall. It has not been exactly a lucrative occupation anyhow. And it's doomed. You are one of the primary offenders in this doomed enterprise, reviled the world over. If the whole thing collapses, as it inevitably must, what are you going to do? Nobody will employ you. What to do?

Growth, lucrative, occupation, enterprise, employ: Cult as company. A business with a bottom line, a career for which one has ambitions. But not personal. Not identity. Not belief. I think it's the wrong frame.

I once chanced to work for a time for a big corporate law firm. 20ft Liechtenstein in the lobby, occupying floors 20-28, a number of Wall Street clients. They murdered their juniors, as such firms do, though the juniors were paid well enough for it.

I always figured that lawyers who worked for a big firm like that must know they were full of shit. i mean, they must, right? That's why they were getting paid so much money --- nobody could stand to make such arguments, represent such interests, for less.

I came to see that wasn't the case, though. Most of them cared. Oh, they didn't think they were saving the world or anything. But you spend 80 hours a week pouring through documents trying to prove you client's right and pretty soon, pretty easily, it turns out, hey, you know what? Our client really is right, and the other lawyers are assholes, and even the parts where they might have a point what the other side wants is ridiculous, and...

It makes your own 80-to-100 hours a week a lot more bearable, when you believe. Not necessarily that you're saving the world. But that when it comes to this little case, these circumstances, you're on the side of the angels. Maybe not ivory snow, but dove grey at worst, unlike those charcoal bastards at the opposing counsel's table.

That's how you make peace with yourself. The vast majority of people need peace, and they find it one way or another.

I don't doubt that some in the WBC now see the writing on the wall, nor that the bubble will pop when Phelps dies. But that doesn't mean that this chick took a step back and coolly played the angles. Most people are incapable of that. A wordless discomfort turning to need, and then to action, is far more likely. It keeps the illusion of the self whole.
posted by Diablevert at 9:20 PM on February 6, 2013 [19 favorites]


I can imagine a con artist cynically creating a religious group.

L. Ron Hubbard?
posted by ericb at 9:40 PM on February 6, 2013


windykites, I come from a faith tradition that says you are what you do (or refrain from doing). Your beliefs, your statements about your beliefs, don't mean very much. The Calvinist notion of "grace" and regeneration being fixed and not changeable by good acts is not just wrong, it's abhorrent, a perversion. I am aware of what that doctrinal piece means, but when you're dealing with human beings whom you've injured it's not good enough. Death-bed conversions don't mean anything. No one cares what you do or do not think about theology when you've done real damage back here on terra firma. I am not speaking about trust; if you want to prove to people that you're sorry, then you have to do things to prove you're sorry.
posted by 1adam12 at 2:08 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


As for them speaking publicly..... don't forget, in the milieu in which these people grew up, their only meaningful encounters with the world outside the clan were with journalists, and that they're used to being in the public eye.

This. I don't think these two Phelps granddaughters have the same concepts of privacy and public life as others do. Journalists actively tried to gain their trust. Why would they shy away from some of the only people not in their cult to do that for them?

Your beliefs, your statements about your beliefs, don't mean very much.

The girls left in November. That was barely three months ago. And what's being characterized as somehow nothing more than words, meant giving up their entire childhood world and family support. There are times when "statements about your beliefs" are in fact actions with physical consequences. A bit of thinking should bring up quite a few notable examples over the history of humankind. That these girls say what they believe, with the consequences that entails, is courageous. Sure, there are plenty of things that could go south in the future. But what they have already done is most certainly considered a direct blow by their family/church.

I can speak from experience there too; grew up in a fundamentalist church. No gay penguins (love that story) or other; in my case it happened young. Six years old, a priest told us that anyone who didn't accept Jesus as their personal savior was going to the eternal fires of hell. Welp, my paternal grandmother was an atheist. I happened to adore her for things completely tangential to her beliefs, such as her being a neat person, bright, funny, generous, caring, creative, and an excellent baker of pies. Up went my hand. "Yes, [fraula]?" asked the priest. I responded, "does that mean my grandma's going to hell?" Priest: "Does your grandmother believe in Jesus' sacrifice to save her soul?" Me: "She doesn't believe in any gods." Priest: "Oh, pffha, yeah, she's DEFINITELY going to hell." Me, quite nonplussed: "WHY?" Priest: "Well, dear, her soul is entirely given over to Satan. Everything she does is evil until she accepts Jesus."

Cue six-year-old me yelling so loudly that they had to get the head priest to bring my parents to get me out of the kids' room. From that moment on, I knew they weren't reading the same Jesus I was. Agnostic now. A belief in the Jesus I understood was what kept me sane until I finally got out in my early 20s. I too lost just about everything (and am being painstakingly literal since the only things I didn't lose were a few childhood photos and a quilt sewn by my great-grandmother that I was able to stash away – my family openly describe me as satanic to anyone who will listen, and even a few people who don't).
posted by fraula at 2:30 AM on February 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


> It seems as though she has chosen to stop being a shit, despite being born a shit. If she's no longer a shit, should she suffer?

If she's truly no longer a shit she will suffer, but not at the hands of the public. If she's truly reformed, her conscience will be the antagonist.
posted by davelog at 4:56 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


In response to VikingSword's comment above, expressing skepticism that a conversation with David Abitbol could have changed her perspective: Abitbol is a handsome guy. Megan Phelps is a 27-year-old woman who has presumably never had sex. I can see why his words might have had a strong impact on her.
posted by gentian at 5:45 AM on February 7, 2013


Oh hey. It's totally possible for a woman - even a sheltered woman who's never had sex before and grown up in a cult - to change her mind about things because she's THINKING ABOUT THEM. Because she had an epiphany. Because things have struck her as off and she's finally in a situation where she can safely reconsider. Because people are framing old ideas in new ways. To suggest that she decided to throw away her relationship with her family, become a better person, and fundamentally change her outlook on the world because some guy was kind of hot? That's pretty offensive.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:57 AM on February 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


I don't understand this wholesale condemnation of Megan. Realistically, given her environment, she didn't have much of a chance to be other than a placard-carrying member of the Phelps clan. I don't feel any need to say nasty things about her or to say she needs to spend the rest of her life atoning for what she did in her childhood and early adulthood. I don't think any of us appreciate the Herculean task it would have been for her to leave the Phelps clan and to begin to discard their hideous doctrine. When one of her uncles left at 18, he had to be treated for PTSD and it was decades before he finally cast aside the last of the beliefs he was raised with and became an atheist. If Megan spends the rest of her life as a ordinary, functional member of society and only speaks out against her family's behaviour, she'll have done well.
posted by orange swan at 6:02 AM on February 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


And I trust my gut.

I've been thinking with my guts since I was fourteen years old, and frankly speaking, between you and me, I have come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:21 AM on February 7, 2013 [19 favorites]


Longtime lurker (10 years or so..) first post to the blue. In the interests of disclosure, I'm pastor of a conservative evangelical church in Europe though soon to be leaving the ministry for a variety of reasons. MeFi has changed and cracked open my thinking in many ways. This FPP has drawn me out of the woodwork.

Regarding the gay penguins I think that the response that that would garner from some/many evangelical Christians would be along the lines that sin has not only tainted humanity but creation itself therefore gay penguins are a consequence of humanity's sin and, thus, not 'normal'.

As I said, MeFi has changed my way of thinking.

And now back to lurking for the next ten years...
posted by IncognitoErgoSum at 6:38 AM on February 7, 2013 [20 favorites]


Here is a link to a fairly long section with Megan in the Louis Theroux documentary.
posted by knapah at 7:37 AM on February 7, 2013


Spin a tale, and all past wrongs are forgiven - whoopie! - and offers aplenty to boot!

Honestly, it's hard to see how she's "scamming" anyone if she gets offered a low-wage position doing social media at an anonymous non-profit and makes an honest living. What's the "scam"? Using her skills to support herself outside of the WBC with a 9-5 job?
posted by deanc at 8:50 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


No one cares what you do or do not think about theology when you've done real damage back here on terra firma. I am not speaking about trust; if you want to prove to people that you're sorry, then you have to do things to prove you're sorry.

The truth is that I kind of want people in the WBC and similar places to feel as few barriers as possible to getting out. So if that means that I will take their word for it when they tell me that they have decided to stop what they're doing and have left their organization. Because I'd rather they know that they can leave that old life behind in a heartbeat, no questions asked.

I grant that there are plenty of circumstances where I might not have the wherewithal to follow through on what I just said, but I hope that someone does.
posted by deanc at 8:55 AM on February 7, 2013


There was a lengthy, sympathetic profile of Megan (and her cousin Libby, with whom she and her sister Grace are now staying) in the Kansas City Star last November. Since childhood, this is a group that has been heavily indoctrinated to pray for the death of outsiders who do not believe in their particular flavor of Christianity.
On weekends, Megan joined her family on pickets. Even though she wasn’t quite sure what the church was protesting, she learned quickly.

She learned that her neighbors and teachers and classmates were hell-bound deviates, and that the path to heaven runs directly and solely through the Westboro Baptist Church. Not least of all, she learned that walking away from the church meant walking away from God, and that anyone who did so would be relegated to the harshest corners of hell.

For the most part, Megan embraced the teachings, spending her afternoons breaking down scripture in the park with Shirley and her evenings at the house with family, discussing the meaning of this doctrine and that verse. Always asking questions. Always trying to make sense of the information.

But Megan sometimes found herself wondering about a future outside. It was more of an abstract thought than anything, she says now, but there was a point in middle school when she was doing a lot of extracurricular activities, like volleyball and the school musical, and spending more time with kids from school when it began to occur to her that maybe these kids who liked the same music and watched the same movies weren’t so bad, after all.

Maybe the things they did weren’t so terrible.

Maybe a life without the church wouldn’t be so bad.

Maybe…

“That’s the thing,” Megan says. “When I would feel like, well, maybe these people aren’t — maybe the stuff they do isn’t that bad, well, at the same time, as you start to go there in your mind, you have these people (at home) that are constantly asking you questions and forcing you to go back and look at what the standards are.”
I think this is the heart of the problem -- she was thoughtful enough to listen to people, who encouraged her to question what she knew. But the constant reinforcement at home and the knowledge that she'd probably have no support system if she left, must have made breaking out difficult.

The woman spewed the most noxious, evil hatred on her twitter account and in interviews and public appearances and protests for many years. For her sake, I hope she finds some peace and spends some time trying to make up to the people she's hurt. For our sake, I hope she never, ever goes back. And how ironic that ultimately, it was a Jewish guy who was able to reach her and help change her mind, considering her antisemitic views.

But good for her for thinking. For learning to embrace skepticism and not losing her whole life to a cult mindset. One less hatemonger. Two, counting her sister.
posted by zarq at 8:59 AM on February 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


If we're not willing to cut people some slack after they've changed and repented their past sins, we're no better than the person she used to be.

true to the extent that if you think anyone else's sins are any of your goddamn business, you are no better than the person she used to be.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 9:14 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


ovvl: your comment really has nothing to do with what I said except that it talks about the law.

The fact that the Supreme Court (correctly) ruled that the WBC has a right to spew their objectionable - but Constitutionally-protected - speech is very well known to me and everyone else.

But this has almost nothing at all to do with the question of whether Fred Phelp would get compensation if he sued someone who punched him. In particular, I repeat that it's likely that it would end up as a jury trial and that no jury would give Phelps the satisfaction.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:06 AM on February 7, 2013


Also - I have to say that after reading more about Megan Phelps-Roper it seems very clear that she's genuinely had a revelation and left the church - and she overall seems like a decent and thoughtful human.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:08 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Speaking only for myself, I'm far more impressed by this woman taking her first steps to overcoming a lifetime of ghoulish programming and leaving behind the only family and world she ever knew, than I am by how cynical people can be on the internet.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:40 AM on February 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


> I don't understand this wholesale condemnation of Megan.

What "wholesale condemnation"? There's one or two people who are so invested in their precious skepticism that they refuse to believe any tales of redemption because it might turn out to be a scam; almost everyone here seems to think (as I do) that she seems genuine and wish her well in turning her life around.

> If she does exactly that, I'll consider her a decent human being.

No you won't, you'll say it's still not enough. For those who are so insistent on condemning her now, there is no such thing as forgiveness. What does that remind me of? Oh yes:
“Anybody can repent if God gives them repentance, according to the church. But this one thing—it gives the impression that homosexuality is an unforgivable sin,” she says. “It didn’t make sense. It seemed a wrong message for us to be sending. It’s like saying, ‘You’re doomed! Bye!’ and gives no hope for salvation.”
posted by languagehat at 11:41 AM on February 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


Wow. Shocked.
posted by agregoli at 11:45 AM on February 7, 2013


So she was the one who seemed the most human in the Louis Theroux documentary. I'm so glad for her. I remember watching it, seeing some hope there, and wishing she would find a way out. I'll take this as a lovely, hope giving event, and I'll risk the feeling of betrayal should it be revealed to be a scam.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:23 PM on February 7, 2013


Speaking only for myself, I'm far more impressed by this woman taking her first steps to overcoming a lifetime of ghoulish programming and leaving behind the only family and world she ever knew, than I am by how cynical people can be on the internet.

Nah, you're speaking for me, too, and eloquently at that.

It takes a certain bravery to say "I was wrong, and I'm sorry." in the face of your family screaming at you otherwise. I hope she can find some peace and happiness now that she's out of that toxic mess.
posted by MissySedai at 12:35 PM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Anyone know if WBC analogs exist in lands other than the US? I saw outdoor Sunday preachers harangue the crowd in rural Chile (blaming their sinfulness for their economic woes of the time) but that's about as fierce as I've seen elsewhere.
posted by telstar at 1:02 PM on February 7, 2013


Anyone know if WBC analogs exist in lands other than the US?
Uganda is apparently rife with "kill the fags"-style Christianity.
posted by Flunkie at 1:09 PM on February 7, 2013


Uganda is apparently rife with "kill the fags"-style Christianity.

Yep ... and spurred on and supported by American Evangelicals.
Sundance Film Explores Anti-Gay American Evangelism in Uganda: VIDEO.

FRC's Tony Perkins Praises Ugandan Leaders for Trying to Pass 'Kill the Gays' Bill.

Uganda: Anti-Gay Evangelist Scott Lively Appears in Federal Court, and Facebook Takes Down 'Outing' Page.

Anti-Gay Evangelical Scott Lively Thrilled That the 'Kill the Gays' Bill May Be Passed.

Ugandan LGBT Rights Group Sues Anti-Gay Evangelist Scott Lively.

Rachel Maddow Throws Down with Senator Inhofe About His Ties to Anti-Gay Evangelism in Africa: VIDEO.

Ugandan Lawmaker Demands Every Country in Africa Enact Life Imprisonment for Homosexuals: VIDEO.

PBS NewsHour Covers Danger for Gays in Uganda and Re-emergence of Anti-Homosexuality Bill: VIDEO.
posted by ericb at 1:44 PM on February 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yep ... and spurred on and supported by American Evangelicals.

Hooray, not only do we not really manufacture things any more, our greatest export is hate!
posted by phunniemee at 1:56 PM on February 7, 2013


Hate and Ryan Reynolds vehicles.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:57 PM on February 7, 2013


Cut Megan Phelps-Roper some slack; her long, arduous journey has only begun. As the enormity of her former church's actions sinks in, her conscience will pain her, and she will struggle to come to terms with what she was part of and to atone for it. But for now, she needs to find her place in the world outside. I take my hat off to her for taking this first step on what won't be an easy journey, and wish her strength.
posted by acb at 2:25 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Shirley Phelps-Roper, Westboro Baptist Church Mouthpiece, Responds To Daughters' Defections.
posted by ericb at 8:19 AM on February 8, 2013


One of Shirley's sons, Josh, had also left prior to Megan and Grace. That's three out of eleven. I'm hoping the other eight of her children also eventually leave. I actually have sympathy for Shirley, because she grew up in such an insane situation. It is very far from being her fault that she is what she is. But she needs to see what she's doing and her beliefs for what they really are, and it's going to take something very extreme before that happens.
posted by orange swan at 9:40 AM on February 8, 2013


From ericb's link:

"Our job is laid out," Phelps-Roper told NPR last year. "We are supposed to blind their eyes, stop up their ears and harden their hearts so that they cannot see, hear or understand, and be converted and receive salvation."

what
posted by rtha at 10:03 AM on February 8, 2013


rtha: the quote from that article that most threw me was "Fred Phelps, now 83, is a former civil rights lawyer". That is the *weirdest* life.
posted by jaduncan at 9:56 PM on February 10, 2013


From Addicted to Hate:
Though he believes he should be the next governor of Kansas, Pastor Phelps has never believed in Christmas. A mattock is a pick-hoe using a wooden handle heavier than a bat. Fred swung it with both hands like a ballplayer and with all his might. "The first blow stunned your whole body," says Mark. "By the third blow, your backside was so tender, even the lightest strike was agonizing, but he'd still hit you like he wanted to put it over the fence. By 20, though, you'd have grown numb with pain. That was when my father would quit and start on my brother. Later, when the feeling had returned and it hurt worse than before, he'd do it again. "After 40 strokes, I was weak and nauseous and very pale. My body hurt terribly. Then it was Nate's turn. He got 40 each time. "I staggered to the bathtub where my mom was wetting a towel to swab my face. Behind me, I could hear the mattock and my brother was choking and moaning. He was crying and he wouldn't stop." The voice in the phone halts. After an awkward moment, clearing of throats, it continues: "Then I heard my father shouting my name. My mom was right there, but she wouldn't help me. It hurt so badly during the third beating that I kept wanting to drop so he would hit me in the head. I was hoping I'd be knocked out, or killed...anything to end the pain. "After that...it was waiting that was terrible. You didn't know if, when he was done with Nate, he'd hurt you again. I was shaking in a cold panic. Twenty-five years since it happened, and the same sick feeling in my stomach comes back now..." Did he? Come back to you?

"No. He just kept beating Nate. It went on and on and on. I remember the sharp sound of the blows and how finally my brother stopped screaming... "It was very quiet. All I could think of was would he do that to me now. I could see my brother lying there in shock, and I knew in a moment it would be my turn. "I can't describe the basic animal fear you have in your gut at a time like that. Where someone has complete power over you. And they're hurting you. And there is no escape. No way out. If your mom couldn't help you...I can't explain it to anyone except perhaps a survivor from a POW camp." Last year, Nate Phelps, sixth of Pastor Phelps' 13 children, accused his father of child abuse in the national media. The information was presented as a footnote to the larger story of Fred Phelps' anti-gay campaign. But the deep currents that lie beneath the apparent apple-cheeks of the Phelps' clan were stirring. A series of interviews with Nate resulted in an eyewitness account of life growing up in the Phelps camp. These reports contained allegations of persistent and poisonous child abuse, wife-beating, drug addiction, kidnapping, terrorism, wholesale tax fraud, and business fraud. In addition, Nate described the cult-like disassembly of young adult identities into shadow-souls, using physical and emotional coercion- coercion which may have been a leading factor in the suicide of an emotionally troubled teenage girl.
I'm just going to officially join the "impressed as hell when people leave" group.
posted by jaduncan at 10:05 PM on February 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I read that Addicted to Hate thing yesterday and while it was clearly unfinished, it explains a lot about that family.

Fred Phelps as a civil rights lawyer: if his sons who left (Mark and Nate) are to be believed, and I think they are, Phelps was happy to take on minor civil rights cases but also took on frivolous civil rights lawsuits for the sake of ripping off the clients. And he used to make fun of his black clients behind their backs in the most imbecilic racist ways. Like everything else in his life, it was an excuse to get some heated confrontation in his life while making a quick buck, not a principled stand on an issue.

In Addicted to Hate, which seems to have been written in the late 90s, Nate says that the "God Hates Fags" stuff is going to be a long campaign for the family. He knows that the Phelps children who stayed have a lot of anger in them from the way they were raised, and he figures this is a great outlet for it since they're too scared to be angry with Phelps himself. When the kids became adults, they confronted Phelps with a kitchen knife while he was beating his wife and told him it all had to stop. He did, but not long after that he came up with the God Hates Fags stuff - I guess he needed an outlet for himself and a reason to force his kids to stay where he could control them.
posted by harriet vane at 1:29 AM on February 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


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