Megan Phelps-Roper: I grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church. Here's why I left
Megan Phelps-Roper - Writer, activist
A former member of Westboro Baptist Church, Megan Phelps-Roper is now a writer and educator on topics related to extremism, bullying and empathy in dialogue. Full bio
on the picket line for the first time.
my dolls in the minivan.
in the heavy Kansas humidity,
a sign that I couldn't read yet:
a daily occurrence
of Westboro Baptist Church,
on picket lines across the country.
of engaging the other.
spiritual battle between good and evil.
at odds with the world,
our otherness on a daily basis.
between the unclean and the clean,"
with neon protest signs in hand
how "unclean" they were
they were headed for damnation.
in a world that sits in Satan's lap.
with all my heart,
with a special sort of zeal.
I encountered on the platform
of the screaming hordes
since I was a kid.
with the usual rage and scorn,
of Bible verses, pop culture references
confused and caught off guard,
outrageous conclusions about the world?
even bled into real life.
to the picket line to see me
of heated but friendly arguments online,
at a picket in New Orleans.
from Jerusalem, where he lives,
about our positions,
was becoming blurred.
as human beings,
we spoke to one another.
planted seeds of doubt in me.
to understand Westboro's doctrines,
I'd missed my entire life.
the death penalty for gays
without sin cast the first stone?"
praying for God to destroy them?
by these strangers on the internet
the demons I'd been led to believe.
the ultimate arbiters of divine truth
of protesting funerals
of trust in my church,
impossible for me to stay.
I left Westboro in 2012.
was almost paralyzing.
from the judgement of my family,
speak to me again --
had meant everything to me.
I'd rejected for so long --
to give me a second chance
because it was all over the internet --
and hundreds of interviews,
to "The Howard Stern Show" --
with open arms anyway.
for the harm I'd caused,
could never undo any of it.
to repair some of the damage.
to doubt my sincerity,
the light and a way forward
we'd targeted for so long.
a Jewish community in Los Angeles.
of a Hasidic rabbi and his wife
three years earlier
"Your rabbi is a whore."
about theology and Judaism and life
in their kosher kitchen
I had during that time --
to let go of the harsh judgments
about nearly every person I saw.
of my mind lately,
in our public discourse
that ruled my former church.
more than at any other time in memory,
freedom, dignity, prosperity --
I walked away from four years ago.
at the other camp.
as out-of-touch liberal elites
and understanding for the other side,
who deserves more empathy.
the flaws in our positions
when they dare to question the party line.
sniping, deepening polarization,
we can do something about this.
to people we disagree with.
came to their positions.
that ours is the right side,
extending empathy and compassion
hostility and contempt.
is so tempting,
by those people I encountered on Twitter,
who became my beloved friends.
understanding and generous guy,
about the way I responded to him.
over the past few years
they did differently
in difficult conversations today.
were aggressive and offensive,
I was doing the right thing.
almost instantly cuts us off
why someone does and believes as they do.
that shaped their mind,
on that first wave of anger,
ever moving beyond it.
framework for dialogue.
across ideological divides,
helps us map the disconnect
we can't present effective arguments
the other side is actually coming from
to point out flaws in our positions.
serves another purpose;
that they're being heard.
to ask them questions
the dynamic of our conversation.
how my manner of speaking affected others.
justified my rudeness --
insults, interruptions --
is ultimately counterproductive.
is natural in stressful situations,
to an unsatisfactory, explosive end.
just an anonymous Twitter acquaintance,
became hard and pointed,
from the conversation.
to bring us back to an even keel.
communication makes us less civil,
conversations have over in-person ones.
whose ideas we find so frustrating.
we can pause, breathe,
of having strong beliefs
is or should be obvious and self-evident,
have to defend our positions
it's their problem --
made their arguments,
to see the world in a different way.
to spontaneously change their own minds.
their beliefs or their principles --
infinitely justifiable offense
tempered with kindness and humor.
of outrage, disdain and violence.
the time or the energy or the patience
available to all of us.
that we can do hard things,
but for us and our future.
and intractable conflict
a few weeks before I left Westboro,
I could stay with my family.
with every pulse of my heart
that chubby-cheeked five-year-old,
holding a sign I couldn't read.
but to trust God and my elders.
the bigger picture --
by that most basic fact,
with generosity and compassion.
contributes to the communities
that we make up.
begins with one person
these destructive, seductive impulses.
that it's going to start with us.
About the speaker:Megan Phelps-Roper - Writer, activist
A former member of Westboro Baptist Church, Megan Phelps-Roper is now a writer and educator on topics related to extremism, bullying and empathy in dialogue.
Why you should listen
Megan Phelps-Roper was raised in the Westboro Baptist Church, the Topeka, Kansas church known internationally for its daily public protests against members of the LGBT community, Jews, the military and countless others. As a child, teenager and early 20-something, she participated in the picketing almost daily and pioneered the use of social media in the church. Dialogue with "enemies" online proved instrumental in her deradicalization, and she left the church and her entire way of life in November 2012. Since then she has become an advocate for people and ideas she was taught to despise -- especially the value of empathy in dialogue with people across ideological lines. She speaks widely, engaging audiences in schools, universities, faith groups, and law enforcement anti-extremism workshops. Her forthcoming memoir will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Megan Phelps-Roper | Speaker | TED.com