Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope, leaving the Westboro Baptist Church
Unfollow is the memoir of former Westboro Baptist Church member Megan Phelps-Roper from Riverrun books. You may recognise Megan from her appearance in Louis Theroux’s well-known documentary The Most Hated Family in America that focused on the church and its members.
Megan was born into the leading family of the infamous hate group Westboro Baptist Church. The church members became notorious for picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers and using the slogan ‘God hates f*gs’.
From an outsider’s perspective, it’s easy to see that this group spread hate and upset people worldwide. Unfollow allows Megan to share her experiences of growing up with beliefs many would see as vile. She explains that she never hated the people she rallied against, but believed they were against God. From birth, she was brought up in an environment where anything that spread their beliefs was good. The more attention the better. She truly believed that their shocking tactics were best for spreading the greater good.
As a child, she didn’t question the teachings of the group. However; as she got older and craved knowledge and education, she started to spot the cracks. She noticed the inconsistencies in the teachings. Especially the ones that kept the women in a more restricted position than the men. The everyday sexism caused her to ask more questions and soo she realised she wasn’t happy with the answers.
I guess the first thing to make clear before I give my personal opinion of this book is that I am not a religious person. I have never found myself able to believe in any god. However; I am forever curious and have nothing but respect for people with faith and their ability to believe in such testing times.
I struggled slightly with the first half of this book as it is quite scripture heavy. Approximately three-quarters of the book is based on Megan’s life inside the group. During this time, she focuses on explaining the thought processes behind the infamous picketing of funerals, numerous press releases and her general upbringing.
The final quarter of Unfollow was my favourite by far. Megan Phelps-Roper shares how her interactions with people on Twitter had such a huge impact on her life and how attached she and her sister became to TV crews such a Louis Theroux’s. Even after reading this, it’s hard to truly understand the strength of character it must have taken to walk away from your family and everything you’ve ever known.
Although I am sure Megan faced a lot of criticism once she left the church, it was her stories of love and support she received that brought tears to my eyes. Even some of the people she had previous run-ins with offered kind words of reassurance.
What shines from every page of this book is Megan Phelps-Roper’s immense bravery and intelligence. On top of all this, she’s modest and has no intention of denying where she came from. She may not be proud of her former actions but she openly admits that her upbringing made her who she is now.
When Megan leaves the church, her openness to other religions and eagerness to learn is truly inspiring. She put herself in situations that took such bravery and faces anger with honesty and strength. This book contains one of the most inspirational and heart-warming real-life journeys I’ve ever read and deserves to be on everyone’s bookshelf. I don’t often read non-fiction but this incredible book has definitely left me wanting more.
If you like Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper you’ll love Fragile Lives by Professor Stephen Westaby