Title: Unfollow – A Journey from Hatred to Hope, Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church
Author: Megan Phelps-Roper
Pages: 304 Pages
Publisher: Quercus Books
It was an upbringing in many ways normal. A loving home, shared with squabbling siblings, overseen by devoted parents. Yet in other ways it was the precise opposite: a revolving door of TV camera crews and documentary makers, a world of extreme discipline, of siblings vanishing in the night.
Megan Phelps-Roper was raised in the Westboro Baptist Church – the fire-and-brimstone religious sect at once aggressively homophobic and anti-Semitic, rejoiceful for AIDS and natural disasters, and notorious for its picketing the funerals of American soldiers. From her first public protest, aged five, to her instrumental role in spreading the church’s invective via social media, her formative years brought their difficulties. But being reviled was not one of them. She was preaching God’s truth. She was, in her words, ‘all in’.
In November 2012, at the age of twenty-six, she left the church, her family, and her life behind.
Unfollow is a story about the rarest thing of all: a person changing their mind. It is a fascinating insight into a closed world of extreme belief, a biography of a complex family, and a hope-inspiring memoir of a young woman finding the courage to find compassion for others, as well as herself.
I didn’t know much about Megan Phelps-Roper before I picked up Unfollow to read. I hadn’t seen the Louis Theroux documentary and I hadn’t watched the television series so I really was going into this memoir blind. My only clue was that sometimes the ideologies of a church – any church – can often be at odds with the modern world. Wow, that was putting it mildly.
Megan Phelps-Roper grew up within the Baptist community where every member of her family played some role within the religious group. She was fed the ideology on a daily basis and believed everything that was told to her. She believed that people of the LGBT community deserved to die and that soldiers who died in service were killed because of God’s divine retribution and the parents of the soldier must have sinned for this to have happened.
It all seems completely mad. However, I spent the majority of the memoir feeling sorry for Megan Phelps-Roper. She is a product of what she has been taught. Just like the old adage that people aren’t born racist. People aren’t born with these views. It is learned behaviour. What you find with Phelps-Roper is that she is genuinely sorry for thinking the way she did but is still so torn with loving her family who for all intents and purposes gave her a stable and loving upbringing yet she fundamentally disagrees with their point of view.
Unfollow is a fascinating read to see how people can change and how being indoctrinated into one way of life does not mean that it is your permanent destination. You have the ability to change and see the world from a different angle.
Unfollow – A Journey from Hatred to Hope, Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church by Megan Phelps-Roper is available now.
For more information regarding Megan Phelps Roper (@meganphelps) please visit www.meganphelpsroper.com.
For more information regarding Quercus Books (@QuercusBooks) please visit their Twitter page.