In November, Megan and Grace Phelps, two daughters of Brent and Shirley Phelps and Granddaughters of Fred Phelps left Westboro Baptist Church. For those who don’t know, Megan took the initiative and brought Westboro Baptist to the social media realm. She was the first in her family to go on Twitter, and was one of the prominent figures of the church. The bold decision she made to leave wasn’t easy as she shares with a reporter:
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.
In her struggle to examine whether each brick in the wall built around her is true or not, she shares that Westboro Baptist teaches that one cannot trust his or her feelings:
Human nature “is inherently sinful and inherently completely sinful,” Megan explains. “All that’s trustworthy is the Bible. And if you have a feeling or a thought that’s against the church’s interpretations of the Bible, then it’s a feeling or a thought against God himself.”
In her first blog post since her departure titled, Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise, she shares the raw experience leading up to where she is now:
Until very recently, this is what I lived, breathed, studied, believed, preached – loudly, daily, and for nearly 27 years.
I never thought it would change. I never wanted it to.
Then suddenly: it did.
And I left.
Where do you go from there?
I don’t know, exactly. My sister Grace is with me, though. We’re trying to figure it out together.
There are some things we do know.
We know that we’ve done and said things that hurt people. Inflicting pain on others wasn’t the goal, but it was one of the outcomes. We wish it weren’t so, and regret that hurt.
We know that we dearly love our family. They now consider us betrayers, and we are cut off from their lives, but we know they are well-intentioned. We will never not love them.
We know that we can’t undo our whole lives. We can’t even say we’d want to if we could; we are who we are because of all the experiences that brought us to this point. What we can do is try to find a better way to live from here on. That’s our focus.
Up until now, our names have been synonymous with “God Hates Fags.” Any twelve-year-old with a cell phone could find out what we did. We hope Ms. Kyle was right about the other part, too, though – that everything sticks – and that the changes we make in our lives will speak for themselves.
The beauty of grace is that what we did and who we used to be no longer defines who we are. In Christ we have a new identity and we are given a new life. Before, even if we tried with all our might we would never measure up to God’s standard of perfection, but in Christ we are seen as just and perfect. We no longer have to work for our own righteousness because God has declared us righteous because of Jesus Christ who gave us his.
I know many have several negative predispositions towards the Phelps and more specifically the Westboro Baptist Church. But by the Grace of God those predispositions can change! There is hope for the members of Westboro Baptist Church and there is hope for Megan and Grace. This isn’t a story that ends from a departure from God’s word, but rather a correct view of God’s word. Megan and Grace have come to see their sin for what it is and what it leads to. By God’s grace they will see Jesus for who he is and what he has done.
The great puritan Richard Sibbes asks us in his book The Bruised Reed:
“Are you bruised? Be of good comfort, he calls you. Conceal not your wounds, open all before him and take not Satan’s counsel. Go to Christ, although trembling, as the poor woman who said, `If I may but touch his garment’ (Matt. 9:21). We shall be healed and have a gracious answer.”
Even though you are weak, even though you are trembling, run to Christ. Cling to Christ and find salvation (Acts 4:12).