In a comment, Bryan informs me that yet another child of Shirley Phelps-Roper, the daughter of the late Fred Phelps, has defected from the Westboro Baptist Church that Phelps founded, joining three of his siblings in exile. Six siblings still remain in the WBC.
Like other people who leave such closed doctrinaire groups, Zach Phelps-Roper experienced a sense of liberation, a new feeling of community that was better than the suffocating bonds he had before.
Homosexuals have offered to buy him meals, drinks and shown him empathy and love.
At least 20 family members he was banned from speaking with for half a decade — including two sisters and a brother — have surrounded him with warmth and support.
Strangers from the Internet turn to him for advice for their problems and offer new perspectives to his.
He has fallen in love and had his heart broken, only to rise up more determined and confident than ever.
Everyone, he said, has met him with an open mind, valued his feelings and exposed him to many different perspectives that has turned his belief system on its head. All things, he realized, were missing from his home at the WBC compound.
“I’m telling everybody I feel happier today than I did the day before, because I’m so happy to be alive,” Phelps-Roper said. “I see the world from so many different perspectives now.”
So what made him leave?
He said his doubts started about age 18, when he started to examine his faith from the creature’s perspective, rather than just the creator.
He was upset the God his church taught about punished sinners, despite being the one to cause them to sin.
“I viewed my creator as sadistic,” Phelps-Roper said. “He sent them to hell because they sinned, but he compelled them to sin. I felt it was an injustice.”
He still believes in his god, though not in the same way.
Phelps-Roper no longer has unshakable confidence in the Bible, instead devoting his time to soaking up all the perspectives he can on faith, humanity and everything in between.
When he first left the church, he said, he had accepted that he was going to die and go to hell.
“I knew I was a wicked person and idolatrous,” he said.
He doesn’t believe that anymore.
“If I have greater peace now than in the church, how can I be a wicked person?” he said.
Making people feel wicked for thinking and doing things that are perfectly normal and acceptable is how religions keep control over people, by threatening them with eternal damnation. Take away the thought of hell and religion loses much of its power.
In 2007, BBC reporter Louis Theroux spent a lot of time with the Westboro Baptist Church and produced a riveting documentary titled The Most Hated Family in America that I wrote about earlier. He revisited them in 2011 for a follow-up titled The Most Hated Family IN CRISIS. It may be time for Theroux to once again pack his bags for Topeka to chronicle the end of the church.