How Twitter helped save a former member of the Westboro Baptist Church

'It really bugs me that Twitter gets such a bad rep' Megan says 

Narjas Zatat
Sunday 25 June 2017 15:59 BST
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Megan Phelps-Roper sings Twitter's praise on the Joe Rogan Experience

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The young woman whose family founded the Westboro Baptist Church has said Twitter helped her to leave the controversial religious group.

Megan Phelps-Roper was born into the church in Topeka, Kansas whose modus operandi is picketing soldiers' funerals and delivering hate speeches against Jewish people, the LGBT community as well as different faiths.

Founded by her grandfather, Reverend Fred Phelps, the church travels across America doing rallies and holding placards which read "God Hates Jews", "God Hates F**s" and "Thank God For Dead Soldiers".

Speaking to Joe Rogan on his radio show the Joe Rogan Experience, Ms Phelps-Roger recalls the moment she began to have doubts about her faith.

“My very first conscious doubts came from Twitter.

“One of the first things I did on Twitter was attack this Jewish man, David Abitbol, who ran a blog called Jewlicious. He was listed as the second most influential Jew on Twitter ... and he responded initially with sarcasm and hostility, but pretty quickly he sort of changed tactics."

“Instead of mocking me — although he still did some of that too — he was asking questions about our picket signs and I started asking him questions about Jewish theology because I wanted to know how to better counter it.”

She had initially begun to use the social networking platform as a way to further spread her message, but conversations with Mr Abitbol raised questions she could not answer.

What followed, was a one year correspondence with Mr Abitbol (to whom she is now married), and two meetings at Westboro Baptist church rallies across the country.

Their debates reached an apex when, in one Twitter exchange, she was unable to defend her support of calling for the death penalty for homosexual people.

“It was the first time that I connected if you kill somebody as soon as they sin, you lose the chance to repent and be forgiven,” she said.

“I am just staring at my phone and I really quickly ended the conversation. I didn’t even remember quite how. I didn’t even known how to handle this.

“The church is full of lawyers and they are very intelligent. Their arguments and theology, for the most part, is very well constructed and super consistent and for there to be this hypocrisy, this contradiction, my brain felt like it was exploding.”

Ms Phelps-Roper approached her mother as well as other members of her family, but was disappointed when they did not address her questions.

Eventually, the contradictions were too difficult to answer, and she left the church in 2012, shortly followed by her sister Grace.

Asked about Megan and her sister’s defection by The Topeka Capital-Journal, church spokesman Steve Drain quoted from St John’s gospel: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us.”

Ms Phelps-Roper is no longer in contact with her family, but reinforces the importance of social media as a platform for conversation and change.

“It really bugs me that Twitter gets such a bad rep,” she said.

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