Megan Phelps-Roper, the granddaughter of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps, has shared some details about her life in the controversial church and gave an explanation on why she eventually left.
Westboro Baptist is known for picketing funerals of fallen U.S. soldiers and its offensive speech against LGBT, Muslim, Catholic, Orthodox Christian, and Jewish communities.
Phelps-Roper revealed in her TedTalks speech that she was only five years old when she first joined the family at a picket line. She explained that she had to hold a sign that contained messages such as "gays are worthy of death," when she could not even read yet.
She admitted that she wholeheartedly believed in what the church taught her, and she became part of pickets across the country as the church grew in notoriety.
When she joined Twitter in 2009, she encountered people who directed their "usual rage and scorn" at her, and she would respond to them with a mix of Bible references and smiley faces. But she eventually began to participate in genuine conversations with a man named David, who ran a blog called "Jewlicious."
She had a face to face encounter with David during a protest in New Orleans, in which she was carrying a "God hates Jews" sign. "He brought me a Middle Eastern dessert from Jerusalem, where he lives, and I brought him kosher chocolate," she recalled.
Phelps-Roper said that their conversations had planted the seeds of doubt in her, and she began to question some of the church's teachings.
"How could they claim to love their neighbour, while at the same time praying for God to destroy them?" she said, as she recounted the questions that bothered her at the time.
"The truth is that the care shown to me by these strangers on the internet was itself a contradiction. It was evidence that people on the other side were not the demons I was led to believe," she added.
Phelps-Roper eventually left Westboro in 2012, knowing that her family would never speak to her again. She said she was astonished that David was willing to let her stay with his family.
She said that she is speaking out now because she saw how society is becoming more divided and polarized. "The path we have chosen looks so like the one I walked away from four years ago," she remarked.
Phelps-Roper, who is now a writer and an activist, expressed hope that people would see her story as proof that anyone can be reached and people can exchange in constructive discourse.