There are two ways to write about a dam bursting. You can begin at the exact moment the cresting waters rupture the wall and surge toward freedom—or you can start long before that, with the first drops of rain that eventually overrun the embankments. In Unfollow, Megan Phelps-Roper chooses the second approach to explain why she left the notorious Westboro Baptist Church.
One of the most surprising aspects of this remarkable book is how loving the Westboro Baptist Church was—at least to its members in good standing. Phelps-Roper’s childhood was idyllic in many ways. She was surrounded by caring, intelligent and passionate adults who adored her. By the age of 8, however, she was joining them in protesting against the LGBTQ community and being rewarded for spewing vile slogans. This strange juxtaposition defined her youth: Phelps-Roper went to school, shopped at the mall, ate popcorn at the movies—and then rushed out to picket the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq or to publicly pray for more children to be shot after Newtown. By the time she was in her 20s, Phelps-Roper was in charge of the church’s social media presence, using her formidable intellect to defend the reprehensible. And yet, throughout her book is an awareness that each incident contributed to the erosion of her faith in Westboro’s theology.
It’s ironic that the very qualities her family instilled in her—intellectual rigor, intimate knowledge of the Bible, courage in the face of fierce opposition—led to her inevitable departure. When she could no longer support either the church’s theology of hatred or its belief in its own infallibility, she renounced them.
Phelps-Roper is a masterful writer. She writes movingly about the searing pain of separation from those she continues to love, and beautifully about how freeing herself from a theology of hate has given her life greater meaning and purpose. In a time of growing intolerance, Unfollow is essential reading.