It was a flame war on Twitter that first prompted Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper to question the homophobic ideology of their grandfather, Pastor Fred Phelps.
Megan, 27, and Grace, 20, were once vocal members of the Westboro Baptist Church, infamous for its "God Hates Fags" placards and funeral pickets. Megan was in charge of the WBC's social media campaign when she began to receive 140-character challenges from David Abitbol, a blogger for the website Jewlicious. Email exchanges followed, and the girls began to talk to each other about the doctrines under which they had been raised. According to an interview published Monday in the Globe and Mail, "We started to see things that made us think, 'Wait a second, there's something wrong here. This doesn't fit together.'"
While talking to Abitbol, the women began to believe that the senior Phelps' teachings did not follow from scripture. According to Megan, the first moment of skepticism came after Abitbol tweeted a question about one of the church's slogans: "Death Penalty for Fags." She was defending the church's position, "but then David pointed out 'Didn't Jesus say 'he who is without sin cast the first stone'?' … and I realized, for the first time, that Christianity is about repentance."
It took four years for the women to decide to leave the church. On the day that Megan and Grace declared their intentions, most of their extended family stopped by to try and convince them to stay. They made it clear that cutting ties with the church also meant cutting ties with the entire family. It was "the hardest day of our lives," says Grace. "I won't get to hear my brothers playing piano again or see my parents' hair go gray."
In the year since their departure, the women have traveled and made many unexpected friends. They attended a Jewlicious Festival with Abitbol and went to church with gay activist Jeff Chu and his husband. For now, Grace and Megan are undecided about what they want to do. "We don't have a set home." Megan says, "... There's so much I want to do. I'm at a complete loss. But I do know that I want to do good, to have empathy. Even though we intended to do good, we hurt a lot of people."