Two of Fred Phelps’ Granddaughters Leave Westboro Church of Hate

A few years ago, after the DC government approved marriage equality, a couple members of the infamous Phelps family showed up at the courthouse to spread a little anti-gay hate on the first day that same-sex couples were able to apply for marriage licenses. I was delighted that a group of pro-equality clergy I was volunteering to support drowned out the haters’ shouts by singing “This Little Light of Mine.” But I was deeply saddened by the plight of the young children who had been dragged into the protest by their parents.

Now, two young women, granddaughters of Fred Phelps and veterans of those protests, have left their church and family behind and are trying to make a new way in the world, a difficult journey that many have traveled on their way out of fundamentalist churches—or Scientology for that matter.

Jeff Chu’s moving story of Megan and Grace is well worth a read. Here’s a snippet of his conversation with 27-year-old Megan:

Mostly, the tears have subsided—“in public, anyway,” she says one afternoon, as we sit in a Tribeca café. “I still cry a lot.” Forget what you know of the church. Just imagine what it is like to walk away from everything you have ever known. Consider how traumatic it would be to know that your family is never supposed to speak to you again. Think of how hard it would be to have a fortress of faith built around you, and to have to dismantle it yourself, brick by brick, examining each one and deciding whether there’s something worth keeping or whether it’s not as solid as you thought it was.

As we talk, Megan repeatedly emphasizes how much she loves those she has left behind. “I don’t want to hurt them,” she says. “I don’t want to hurt them.”

Her departure has hurt them already—she knew it would—yet there was no way she could stay. “My doubts started with a conversation I had with David Abitbol,” she says. Megan met David, an Israeli web developer who’s part of the team behind the blog Jewlicious, on Twitter. “I would ask him questions about Judaism, and he would ask me questions about church doctrine. One day, he asked a specific question about one of our signs—‘Death Penalty for Fags’—and I was arguing for the church’s position, that it was a Levitical punishment and as completely appropriate now as it was then. He said, ‘But Jesus said’—and I thought it was funny he was quoting Jesus—‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ And then he connected it to another member of the church who had done something that, according to the Old Testament, was also punishable by death. I realized that if the death penalty was instituted for any sin, you completely cut off the opportunity to repent. And that’s what Jesus was talking about.”

Peter Montgomery, a Washington, DC-based writer, is an associate editor for Religion Dispatches and a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way. His work focuses on religion, politics, and LGBT issues. Follow him on twitter @petemont.