The other day I read that Megan Phelps-Roper and her sister Grace, grandchildren of Fred Phelps, had left Westboro Baptist Church. Megan was well known for being the twitter voice of Westboro. In this interview she talks about the first moment that things started to not make sense, and the moments that followed. She released a statement expressing her sorrow at the people she had hurt through her actions of being a part of Westboro.
When I read her interview I was shocked by my own response. I felt overwhelmed with love for this young woman. I simply wanted to hug her and offer her a quiet place to land. And then, throughout the evening, I found myself in tears thinking about it. What was going on?
I remember the first moment when what I had been taught stopped making sense. I remember the terror, how I couldn’t tell anyone what I was thinking. I remember feeling like I was going to go to Hell, that God hated me now. I remember feeling like everything was broken and could never be put back together.
And then I remember feeling free. I remember crawling until suddenly my broken wings were flying. And my shattered heart was pieced back together with jagged cracks still showing.
My situation isn’t the same as Megan’s. My church wasn’t the same as Megan’s. And yet I hear my story in her story. I hear my words in her words. I understand some of the tension that comes from leaving the only home you have ever known, from continuing to love people who think you are damned and damaged. There is complexity and there is grief.
So many of my friends no longer talk to me, or if they do their words are cold and stay on the surface. There are places I feel like I can’t return to. There are chapters of my life that I am no longer welcome in. I feel like I have lived at least three lives and I am disconnected from all of those past experiences and that is incredibly painful and confusing. People I once loved (and still do) don’t want me in their lives. They believe that I am going to Hell, that I am sick and disordered, and that hurts.
There is sorrow. I, too, once held signs and marched. I, too, once told anyone who would listen how much God loved them, but they had to change first. I, too, once preached things that I thought were true and helpful but that were actually incredibly hateful. I carry so much grief over those actions and those years. But like Megan I desperately wanted to be doing going; I thought I was doing good.
If I can forgive Megan, maybe I can also forgive myself.
I believe in restoration. I believe in eternal salvation and this is what I mean. I feel like because Megan put down the signs and walked away that she and I can now sit at the table as brother and sister. I am overwhelmed with how easy it was to forgive her. And I honestly have no bitterness toward her. I believe she was doing the best she could at all of those moments. And I believe that she’ll do better now. Repentance means that you put down the sign and you change your actions. That’s how restoration happens.
Megan, you will probably never read this, but I am thinking about you and praying for you. I am praying you find peace and a community of people who will love you and support you. I pray that you will be able to feel forgiven and that you will be able to forgive yourself. I pray that you will continue to read and to search because I know that God will bless that searching. And should you ever need anything, I hope you’ll reach out. Know that I will embrace you and do whatever I can to support you through this. Thank you for putting down your sign and walking away.