In this episode we sit down with Megan Phelps-Roper, the author of Unfollow, a memoir of her time in Westboro Baptist Church, and an exploration what it took to convince her to leave. I interviewed Megan for my upcoming book, How Minds Change, and in this interview you will learn all about assimilation and accommodation, cult deprogrammers, and the steps Megan says one must take if they want to change someone’s mind.
From Megan’s official bio:
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 LGBTQ community, Jews, other Christians, the military, and countless others.
As a child, teenager and early 20-something, she participated in the picketing almost daily and spearheaded 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 on October 8, 2019, by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Praise for Unfollow:
“[Megan’s] intelligence and compassion shine throughout with electric prose…”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Wildly brave and incredibly thoughtful…This book will leave you holding your heart.”
— Sarah Silverman
“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
“It is, quite simply, exactly what the world needs right now.”
— Mark Duplass
“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
“This is a beautiful, gripping book about a singular soul and an unexpected redemption.”
— Nick Hornby
The activist and TED speaker Megan Phelps-Roper reveals her life growing up in the most hated family in America
At the age of five, Megan Phelps-Roper began protesting homosexuality and other alleged vices alongside fellow members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Founded by her grandfather and consisting almost entirely of her extended family, the tiny group would gain worldwide notoriety for its pickets at military funerals and celebrations of death and tragedy. As Phelps-Roper grew up, she saw that church members were close companions and accomplished debaters, applying the logic of predestination and the language of the King James Bible to everyday life with aplomb—which, as the church’s Twitter spokeswoman, she learned to do with great skill. Soon, however, dialogue on Twitter caused her to begin doubting the church’s leaders and message: If humans were sinful and fallible, how could the church itself be so confident about its beliefs? As she digitally jousted with critics, she started to wonder if sometimes they had a point—and then she began exchanging messages with a man who would help change her life.
A gripping memoir of escaping extremism and falling in love, Unfollow relates Phelps-Roper’s moral awakening, her departure from the church, and how she exchanged the absolutes she grew up with for new forms of warmth and community. Rich with suspense and thoughtful reflection, Phelps-Roper’s life story exposes the dangers of black-and-white thinking and the need for true humility in a time of angry polarization.
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