Megan Phelps-Roper presents Unfollow

A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church.

Berkeley Arts & Letters and The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley co-present an evening with Megan Phelps-Roper for her debut book Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church. Phelps-Roper will be in conversation with Greater Good editor Jeremy Adam Smith.

At the age of five, Megan Phelps-Roper began protesting homosexuality and other alleged vices alongside fellow members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Founded by her grandfather and consisting almost entirely of her extended family, the tiny group would gain worldwide notoriety for its pickets at military funerals and celebrations of death and tragedy. As Phelps-Roper grew up, she saw that church members were close companions and accomplished debaters, applying the logic of predestination and the language of the King James Bible to everyday life with aplomb – which, as the church’s Twitter spokeswoman, she learned to do with great skill. Soon, however, dialogue on Twitter caused her to begin doubting the church’s leaders and message: If humans were sinful and fallible, how could the church itself be so confident about its beliefs? As she digitally jousted with critics, she started to wonder if sometimes they had a point – and then she began exchanging messages with a man who would help change her life.

A gripping memoir of escaping extremism and falling in love, Unfollow relates Phelps-Roper’s moral awakening, her departure from the church, and how she exchanged the absolutes she grew up with for new forms of warmth and community. Rich with suspense and thoughtful reflection, Phelps-Roper’s life story exposes the dangers of black-and-white thinking and the need for true humility in a time of angry polarization.

You can watch Megan’s TED talk here.

Megan Phelps-Roper
is a writer and activist. She left the Westboro Baptist Church in November 2012 and is now an educator on topics related to extremism and communication across ideological lines. She lives in South Dakota.

Jeremy Adam Smith edits the GGSC’s online magazine, Greater Good. He is the editorial director of the GGSC’s new Bridging Differences initiative, which mixes science and storytelling to help address one of the most urgent issues of our time: political and cultural polarization. Smith’s coverage of racial and economic segregation in San Francisco schools has won numerous honors, including the Sigma Delta Chi award for investigative reporting, the PASS Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, the National Award for Education Reporting, and many excellence in journalism awards from the Northern California Society of Professional Journalists. He is also a three-time winner of the John Swett Award from the California Teachers Association. Before joining the GGSC, Jeremy was a John S. Knight Journalism fellow at Stanford University.