Westboro Baptist Church. Founded by Fred Phelps in Topeka, Kansas. You know who they are. They are the people who protest military funerals, who protested at the Sandy Hook funerals, at the funerals of people killed in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting.
Nine out of ten Westboro Baptist Church members are related to Phelps, by blood or marriage, and they take their kids to the protests, like Fred took his son Timothy Phelps.
“The first big sign that was made, I made it,” Timothy told Vice magazine. “It said, ‘God Hates Gay’ and it sure got attention.”
Fred Phelp’s granddaughter, Libby Phelps Alvarez, is one of the few to leave the church and speak about it publicly.
“I was there for almost 26 years. I left a month before my 26th birthday. We started picketing when I was eight years old. We thought it was great.”
Four year’s later, Libby’s talking about her experience with Westboro Baptist. She was on The Today Show Wednesday morning.
“I was terrified I was never going to see my family again. My aunt emailed me and said that nobody wants to talk to me anymore.”
Her aunt Rebekah Phelps Davis was interviewed by Vice. She was asked if kids should get to make their own decision about whether or not they want to protest.
“That’s like if you were going to ask me, ‘Shouldn’t they have the right to decide whether they go to school?’ This is even more important than that.”
She was asked if a person would be shunned from their family and community if they were to leave the church.
“Don’t you understand that if they do not believe this message that the Lord our God has given us, there isn’t going to be a discussion about ‘Can I stay, even if I don’t believe the way that you do?’ They will naturally go.
Libby talks about her decision to leave the church.
“I had a friend and her husband was in the military and he died and we picketed his funeral. I wasn’t there but my family went there and I didn’t think that it was right. There was a point where we started praying for people to die. I didn’t do that, but I was around when they did it.”
It was after Libby got in trouble for wearing a bikini on a family trip that she decided to leave the church. Before that, she wasn’t allowed to leave the country, cut her hair or be friends with anyone outside of the church. She ended up marrying another former WBC member. She got her very first haircut.
“I’ve done so many things that I couldn’t do,” Libby told The Today Show. “I’ve traveled to different countries. I got married. I got my ears pierced and I didn’t think I would ever do that.”
She was asked what she would tell her family, if they ever spoke to her again.
“I would tell them that I love them and that people aren’t evil like we were taught. Even though I’m crying right now, life isn’t full of sadness and disease and sorrow and heartache, like they told us. You can lead a happy and good life.”