"[Phelps-Roper] paints a nuanced portrait of the lure and pain of zealotry . . . She urges all of us to reach out in good faith to those we disagree with, to try to understand the experiences and motives that have shaped their stances, and to realize that grievous behavior isn’t necessarily driven by ill intent." —Ruth Padawer, The New York Times Book Review
"[A] scrupulous, anguished account of ‘loving and leaving’ the church, a satisfying story" —James Lasdun, The London Review of Books
"Unfollow is an exceptional book: a loving portrait of a fanatical organization . . . Love, it seems, for Phelps-Roper, is not only the answer, but the one thing she knows for sure." —Grace McCleen, The Times (London)
“The story of how Phelps-Roper extricated herself (and one of her sisters) from Westboro unfolds like a suspense novel, so I won't spoil it here. Suffice to say, leaving was wrenching, despite its clear necessity. And life after Westboro was disorienting — liberated but also adrift, Phelps-Roper had to face the guilt over "years I had wasted hurting people in a misguided effort to serve an image of a God that seemed less real all the time."” —Kate Tuttle, NPR
"[Phelps-Roper] describes a struggle not only to untangle herself from twisted bonds of family and faith but to establish a private self, behind the weaponized media persona she had grown up inflicting on the godless world . . . The delusion behind the rise of the Information Age was the same as the delusion that the end of cold war conflict . . . would necessarily breed enlightenment. Phelps-Roper supplies a helpful corrective, explaining how the biblical literalists of the Westboro Baptist Church navigated the mass media . . . Westboro was not afraid of popular culture; the church was popular culture." —Tom Scocca, The New York Review of Books
“Phelps-Roper’s intelligence and compassion shine throughout with electric prose ... She admirably explicates the worldview of the Westboro Baptist Church while humanizing its members, and recounts a classic coming-of-age story without resorting to cliché or condescending to her former self.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"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." —BookPage (starred review)
“Rarely do you come across someone with the courage and clarity of Megan Phelps-Roper. From her story, we can learn things sorely needed in our age: empathy, openness, and how we can best build bridges across divided lines.” —Chris Anderson, Head of TED
“Megan Phelps-Roper is one of the most inspiring women I have ever met. If you want to see how a girl raised on religious fanaticism and sectarian hatred can be cured by the power of honest reasoning, read this book.” —Sam Harris, author of The Four Horsemen and The End of Faith
“Megan Phelps-Roper finds a way to tell the story of the girl she was raised to be from the perspective of the woman she became, without rewriting history or losing touch with the earnestness that made everything in her world seem OK, if not downright righteous, at the time. Despite a fundamental transformation of epic proportions, Megan’s core, her soul, remains the same throughout: kind, passionate, and open. Her process is wildly brave and incredibly thoughtful and this book gives us incomparable insight into a world we all, and yet none of us, know. It will leave you holding your heart.” —Sarah Silverman, actress and comedian, host of I Love You, America with Sarah Silverman
“Megan’s story embodies the power of patience, listening, and empathy in this time of extreme intolerance and hatred of one's ideological enemies. It is, quite simply, exactly what the world needs right now.” —Mark Duplass, actor and film director
“Megan Phelps Roper has guts—maybe more guts than can comfortably be contained within one adult human. First, as a member of the scary Westboro Baptist Church, she had the guts to get into the faces of people she disapproved of, gays and Jews and less fiery Christians, and tell them why God hated them. Then - and this is where you and I come in - she had the guts to listen and to think, and to decide that everything she had built her life upon was wrong. This is a beautiful, gripping book about a singular soul, and an unexpected redemption.” —Nick Hornby, author of High Fidelity and How to Be Good
“Unfollow speaks eloquently to our divided times: the tale of a young girl born into a family whose name is a byword for bigotry and how she grew into a compassionate young woman, leaving her family behind and forging an entirely new understanding of the world and her place in it. Full of insight, thoughtfulness and vivid detail, it is also the debut of a gifted new writer. For anyone who enjoyed Hillbilly Elegy or Educated, Unfollow is an essential text, a testament to the fact that there is no-one immune to childhood indoctrination, but also to the ever-present possibility of profound change.” —Louis Theroux, documentary filmmaker for the BBC
“Megan Phelps Roper is a beautiful writer, and her journey—from the Westboro Baptist Church to becoming one of the most empathetic, thoughtful, humanistic writers around—is exceptional and inspiring. I met Megan shortly after she left her church. She said, ‘I want to do good, but I don’t know how.’ With Unfollow, she’s figured out how.” —Jon Ronson, author of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed and Them: Adventures with Extremists
A religious and political activist tells the story of how she grew up in and then left the extremist Westboro Baptist Church.
As the granddaughter of the church founder, Phelps-Roper grew up in a large, tightly knit family that believed "God ruled via the parents and elders." What that meant in practice was that she had to assimilate a church culture emphasizing "the celebration and mockery" of the tragedies that befell nonbelievers. Throughout childhood and adolescence, Phelps-Roper lived a double life. At school, she was a dedicated student who kept matters of faith out of her discussions with teachers and classmates. Outside of school, she and the members of her church community were vocal protesters against homosexuality, adultery, and the morally bankrupt nature of society. When Westboro's "picketing ministry" brought it into the media spotlight, Phelps-Roper became one of the most visible spokespeople for the church. As a young adult, she traveled all over the country to show "that the Bible really did say what [the Westboro Church] claimed it did." By 2011, she became her church's voice on Twitter, where she routinely "bait[ed] celebrities with anti-gay messages" and celebrated such tragedies as the Fukushima nuclear disaster. She also started communicating with an anonymous lawyer who engaged her in intelligent and respectful theological debate. As she began questioning her religious beliefs, she realized that she was also falling in love with the lawyer, who eventually became her husband. Phelps-Roper soon found she could no longer support the cruelty and "all or nothing" nature of her faith. After Westboro leadership became even more conservative and hypocritical, she and a free-spirited younger sister made the excruciating decision to leave both the church and their family. Eloquent and entirely candid, the book offers an intimate look at a controversial church while telling the moving story of how one woman found the courage to stand against the people and beliefs that she held dearest.
A heartfelt and richly detailed memoir.
Phelps-Roper placed complete faith in the scripture of the King James Bible and the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) to guide her life. The granddaughter to Westboro Baptist Church's founder, Fred Phelps, the author began picketing at age five to protest against lifestyle choices deemed sinful by WBC. Her dogmatic beliefs never wavered despite education, extensive Internet access, and exposure to pop culture—her lens on the world was always in the context of scripture. Phelps-Roper managed the church's social media accounts, engaging critics on WBC's controversial picketing, which became global in scope. Her acumen on Twitter attracted a vast amount of attention from media and everyday people. From this, an unlikely friendship developed with a man who had questions about WBC, fostering a depth of inquiry that eventually led Phelps-Roper's beliefs to pivot. She thoughtfully unpacks her gradual awakening to compassion and living from the heart in order to help the very people against whom she used to protest. VERDICT A unique, engaging memoir peppered with Bible verses to help illustrate how dogma can both shape and distort the truth. An excellent addition to collections containing Amber Scorah's Leaving the Witness and Tara Westover's Educated.—Angela Forret, Clive, IA