Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church
Booklist Reviews 2019 November #2
Tiny Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, is notorious for a number of reasons, among them its members' relentless picketing against gays ("God hates Fags") and at the funerals of fallen soldiers ("Thank God for Dead Soldiers"), the latter of which would lead to a five-year-legal battle that landed in the Supreme Court, whose justices ruled in favor of Westboro on First Amendment grounds. Phelps-Roper, the granddaughter of Westboro founder Fred Phelps, offers an insider's look at the church and its rationale, "To love our neighbor was to rebuke him, to warn him away from the sins that would result in punishment from God." Picketing as early as age five, the author grew up to become the church's spokesperson on Twitter, where she met the man who would become her husband while, at the same time, she was beginning to question the beliefs inculcated in her by the church. Her doubts eventually resulted in her leaving the church. Hers is a detailed, reasoned account that offers a fascinating look at a still bewildering phenomenon. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.
LJ Reviews 2019 September
Phelps-Roper placed complete faith in the scripture of the King James Bible and the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) to guide her life. The granddaughter to Westboro Baptist Church's founder, Fred Phelps, the author began picketing at age five to protest against lifestyle choices deemed sinful by WBC. Her dogmatic beliefs never wavered despite education, extensive Internet access, and exposure to pop culture—her lens on the world was always in the context of scripture. Phelps-Roper managed the church's social media accounts, engaging critics on WBC's controversial picketing, which became global in scope. Her acumen on Twitter attracted a vast amount of attention from media and everyday people. From this, an unlikely friendship developed with a man who had questions about WBC, fostering a depth of inquiry that eventually led Phelps-Roper's beliefs to pivot. She thoughtfully unpacks her gradual awakening to compassion and living from the heart in order to help the very people against whom she used to protest.
PW Reviews 2019 August #1
Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, charts her journey from childhood church devotee to adult skeptic in her excellent debut memoir. She explores her early years immersed in the insular community of her family's church, a Kansas-based denomination known for picketing funerals of U.S. service members and widely decried as a hate group. Convinced by the church's teachings about scripture and sin, Phelps-Roper recounts spending her adolescence calling America to repentance and defending the views of the Westboro Baptist Church vociferously on Twitter. But then, as a young adult, in part due to thoughtful interactions on Twitter where she spars with critics of her church but also "relished confounding expectations," her faith begins to unravel. After she expresses her doubts, she is ostracized from her family. Phelps-Roper's intelligence and compassion shine throughout with electric prose ("the foundation of it all was a belief that our hearts had led us true when they told us the Bible was the answer... our unreliable, desperately wicked, deceitful hearts), an eye for detail, and a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible. She admirably explicates the worldview of the Westboro Baptist Church while humanizing its members, and recounts a classic coming-of-age story without resorting to cliché or condescending to her former self. For anyone interested in the power of rhetoric, belief, and family, Phelps-Roper's powerful, empathetic memoir will be a must-read.