Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church by Megan Phelps-Roper

The Westboro Baptist Church has been a staple of Topeka, Kansas—and the American religious landscape—for decades. The inflammatory rhetoric of its congregants, who spread condemnation and cheer on tragedy, has brought them both worldwide fame and notoriety. Megan Phelps-Roper, as a granddaughter of the church’s founder, grew up with this as her backdrop, where protesting homosexuality and soldiers’ funerals with vulgar signage were regular occurrences. With an upbringing steeped in extremism, Phelps-Roper evolved not only to accept these views, but to offer full-throated support as she disseminated hateful rhetoric as a digital content manager for the church. And then Twitter changed everything.

Megan Phelps-Roper doesn’t try to hide or rationalize many of the things she said and did as a member of the Westboro Baptist Church. There are no long-winded apologies begging for forgiveness from anyone who was ever targeted by her family’s protests. That simple gesture elevates her memoir. Rather than feeling like an uncomfortable apology tour, Phelps-Roper provides an insightful, painful examination of her stepping away from an organization devoted to self-righteous cruelty.

And she does this in the most surprising way of all: she finds the human side of a group often associated with inhumane treatment. After all, Westboro is a small church primarily comprised of members from one family—they’re her parents, siblings, cousins. From this familial connection she’s able to draw on happy times, from sleepovers with her grandmother to inside jokes with her sister. It makes the juxtaposition against the ever-present ‘God Hates Fags’ signs all the more horrific.

Yet this sense of community ultimately leads to Phelps-Roper’s removal. As small questions about doctrine become impossible to ignore, she finds herself confronted with a wave of debate on the social media accounts she was tasked with curating. She’s an eloquent author, and the inner turmoil she obviously felt while trying to reconcile her family’s beliefs with the wider world she explored digitally is palpable on the page.

Refreshingly blunt and seemingly honest, Phelps-Roper has managed an affecting look at fanaticism, family, and self-discovery.


Title: Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church
Author: Megan Phelps-Roper
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: October 08, 2019
Classification: Memoir, Nonfiction

Author’s Website | Publisher’s Page | Goodreads


Note: I received a free ARC of this book through NetGalley.

12 Comments

  1. I agree with you, I was impressed (and kind of surprised?) at how she was able to depict their human side and happy times in their family. Of course they have those but from their behavior and what we see of them in the media it’s not really possible to imagine it. I thought she was a really eloquent writer too. Fantastic review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I was genuinely surprised by that too. I definitely came in with a certain attitude toward the topic, and I was even fairly skeptical of her in those first couple of chapters. Was this all just a grift? But she has such an even, open way of writing that I was fully engaged after getting over my preconceptions—even if their public personas are still abhorrent.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was thinking the same, that she might just be covering her own tail and justifying her culpability, but she really explained herself well. I was surprised by her writing skill too, although I guess I shouldn’t have been, she’s well educated, but it was just so eloquent!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. If she was able to find a human side to them then good for her. Having left a strong religious following (cult) I look back and see happy times but I also see the people, my family, for what they truly are and human is not a word I would choose to use. You cannot be filled with that much hate and cruelty to your fellow man and still be filled with humanity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. God, that’s horrifying. And it was the one part of this book that I had such a hard time with. While I can understand her feelings about her family, I also know my limited experience with them. I worked on an event in 2012 that they threatened to show up—though they never did—and the fear they caused from just a threat was … almost indescribable. That kind of hate truly does lack humanity.

      Like

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