Megan Phelps-Roper, 33, now travels the country speaking out against the hatred and divisions she once championed
Megan Phelps-Roper has been shunned by her family ever since she fled the infamous Westboro Baptist Church — reviled across the globe for its inflammatory hate speech against gays and dead soldiers — that was started by her grandfather, Fred Phelps.
But for the past seven years not a day has gone when the now 33-year-old mother hasn’t dreamed about being reunited with the clan that was once dubbed “the most hated family in America.”
The book provides an intimate look at the Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, her family, and Megan’s once-agonizing decision to leave behind the only world she knew for the first 26 years of her life.
“Our duty was to declare God’s standards to the world: no adultery, no fornication, no gays, no idolatry,” says Megan, who grew up spreading hate by picketing alongside her relatives, carrying signs that read, “GOD HATES FAGS” and “THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS” at military funerals.
“According to Gramps, what we were doing was ‘the definition of love thy neighbor.’ He would say that we weren’t hating other groups — we were warning them of God’s hatred, giving them an opportunity to repent.”
Megan left the church — and its 80-member congregation made up nearly entirely of family members — in 2012 after realizing that “we might not just be wrong about these few issues — that we might be fundamentally mistaken in how we viewed the world.”
Instead of being “the ultimate possessors of divine truth,” Megan arrived at the inescapable conclusion that Westboro members “were just flawed human beings. And I knew that I couldn’t keep doing what I’d always done. I could not spend my life tormenting grieving families, no matter how much I loved my own.”
Now married to attorney Chad Fjelland — whom she met years earlier when he reached out to her through Twitter to challenge her beliefs — and living in South Dakota, Megan continues to still hold out hope that her family will wake up like she did and finally leave Westboro.
“They’re extremely intelligent people,” says Megan, who now travels the country speaking out against the hatred and divisions she once championed.
“They’re not stupid. And they’re not inherently hateful. But they’ve been taught that they have to sublimate all of their thoughts and feelings to the Westboro ideology. But I absolutely have hope for them.”
For more on Megan Phelps-Roper, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.