Yesterday, Queerty published a story about Fred Phelp’s granddaughters, Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper, announcing that they had left Westboro Baptist Church and were currently in Montreal speaking with universities and attending Jewish cultural festivals.
I am the author of that post, and it seems to have upset many people. While I stand by my article, I did get one thing wrong. I made it seem like the sisters were on an all-expense paid trip to glorify their decision to leave the church. I would like to share a comment I received from Megan on my Facebook wall yesterday pointing out that they have largely funded their trip themselves, and were not seeking credit:
Hi Graham –
I understand wanting to provoke that question, but your article went way beyond that – which is fine, but you said so much that just wasn’t based on facts.
First: we’ve avoided more than 99% of interview requests we’ve gotten since we left. Getting attention or accolades is the last thing on our minds.
Second: “all expenses paid” is patently false. The Jewish community has been incredibly welcoming, and we’ve been staying with different families since we arrived (a function of our desire to spend real time with and understand people we spent our lives protesting) – but we’re responsible for ourselves here. We drove 1,800 miles, and we’re spending our own time and money to take part in something we believe in.
We didn’t ask for attention. We didn’t ask for praise. We’re just trying to deal with the circumstances of our lives as they’ve fallen out to us, and to do as much good as we can. Since leaving WBC eleven months ago, empathy and compassion have become a central focus of ours; if talking about our experiences publicly can help encourage those traits in others, then it’s absolutely a worthwhile use of our time.
I hope this clears some things up.
I recognize that Megan’s and Grace’s decision to break from WBC took tremendous courage and has been a very difficult journey for them. Examples of cult like organizations terrorizing members into staying in the fold are legion. No one would ever want to be in that situation. I believe their apologies to the communities they’ve hurt are sincere.
At the same time, the sisters should not be celebrated simply because they’ve chosen to stop spreading a message of hate. Forgiveness, particularly for acts as heinous as those they participated in, takes time, even when they come from very young people motivated primarily by family pressure. It is dangerous to celebrate people who repent their hateful ways because it gives the hatred a sort of special status.
Many people are raised in households that spread ignorance and hatred, and eventually, it falls to the individual — with the support and education of a community, of course — to overcome this. I’m glad that Megan and Grace followed this path, but there are others who make this same decision every day without the praise and attention these two have garnered.
You don’t get extra credit for being a decent human being.