blow this blinding darkness away

I believe that the first step to eliminate hatred is to take a step back from your own personal beliefs and really listen to what the other party is trying to say. Which is not an easy thing to do when you have been brainwashed into believing terrible things ever since you were a child, and leaving this pit of misery will mean losing too many things. And it takes courage to cut these ties and follow your own path because you want to be a better person:

As a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, in Topeka, Kansas, [Megan] Phelps-Roper believed that AIDS was a curse sent by God. She believed that all manner of other tragedies—war, natural disaster, mass shootings—were warnings from God to a doomed nation, and that it was her duty to spread the news of His righteous judgments. To protest the increasing acceptance of homosexuality in America, the Westboro Baptist Church picketed the funerals of gay men who died of AIDS and of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Members held signs with slogans like “GOD HATES FAGS” and “THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS,” and the outrage that their efforts attracted had turned the small church, which had fewer than a hundred members, into a global symbol of hatred.

Phelps-Roper first considered leaving the church on July 4, 2012. She and Grace were in the basement of another Westboro family’s house, painting the walls. The song “Just One,” by the indie folk group Blind Pilot—a band that C.G. had recommended—played on the stereo. The lyrics seemed to reflect her dilemma perfectly: “And will I break and will I bow / if I cannot let it go?” Then came the chorus: “I can’t believe we get just one.” She suddenly thought, What if Westboro had been wrong about everything? What if she was spending her one life hurting people, picking fights with the entire world, for nothing? “It was, like, just the fact that I thought about it, I had to leave right then,” she said. “I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin.”

The next day, she mentioned the possibility of leaving to Grace. Grace was horrified. “It just sounded ridiculous to even suggest it,” Grace told me. “These were the points I brought up: we’re never going to see our families again, we’re going to go to Hell for eternity, and our life will be meaningless.” Megan, still uncertain, agreed. But she plunged into a profound crisis of faith. “It was like flipping a switch,” she said. “So many other thoughts came in that I’d never pursued, and that’s every doubt that I’d ever had, everything that had ever seemed illogical or off.”

When they were together, Megan engaged Grace in interminable theological conversations. When they were apart, Megan detailed her doubts in text messages. One day, she texted Grace, “What if the God of the Bible isn’t the God of creation? We don’t believe that the Koran has the truth about God. Is it just because we were told forever that this is How Things Are?” She added, “Does it really make you happy when you hear about people dying or starving or being maimed? Do you really want to ask God to hurt people? I ask myself these questions. I think the answer is no. When I’m not scared of the answer, I know the answer is no.” Two days later, she texted Grace about Hell: “Why do we think it’s real? It’s starting to seem made up to scare people into doing what they say.” Grace replied, “But what if?”

That day, Grace wrote to Megan, “Our belief in God has always curbed everything. Like, pain & sorrow, I mean. Without that we’d only have our belief in each other. But we are human & humans die. What would we have if we didn’t have each other?” For Megan, the answer could be found in other people. “We know what it is to be kind & good to people,” she wrote. “We would just have to find somewhere else, other people to love and care about and help, too.” Grace wrote back, “I don’t want other people.” In truth, Megan didn’t want other people, either; she desperately wanted things in Westboro to go back to the way they had been. But the idea of living among outsiders was no longer unimaginable.


Who says technology isn’t good for anything, right?


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