Unfollow: A Memoir By Megan Phelps-Roper

Matthew L. Self

A story familiar to many Topeka residents, and those beyond the boundaries of Kansas’ Capital city, is the intriguing tale of the Phelps family and the Westboro Baptist Church. Over the past 30 years, the Phelps family has become synonymous with words such as intolerance and hatred, garnering a bad reputation for picketing military funerals and celebrations of tragedy the world over. But many are not familiar with the inner workings of the infamous family and its extreme religious beliefs.

This and more has been brought to light through the memoir “Unfollow” which was recently published by Megan Phelps-Roper. Within this book, Megan recalls her early years in the Westboro Baptist Church and how she eventually became de-radicalized through her conversations with those from different walks of life on the social media platform, Twitter.

Washburn University had the privilege of inviting Megan to the campus last week on Tuesday, Oct. 8. This event was part of her national book tour and was the second time she has spoken publicly at Washburn.

Hundreds of attendees from the local area and beyond arrived to listen to her read selections of her memoir and discuss her experiences in the Washburn A/B room. Washburn’s own Professor Eric McHenry of the English department joined Megan onstage as well to fuel the dialogue over her writings.

Megan’s account of her past is a frightening story as well as a cautionary one for those who become radicalized by their faith and take things too far. Her speech at this past Tuesday’s event consisted of topics such as her childhood with the church, how she learned to move past the church’s control and the value of expressing empathy for those who do not necessarily agree with one’s views.

Timothy Phelps, a cousin of Megan, said that he was at the event to support the book’s release.

“Everyone’s story is a little different with the family. From her perspective the book is an accurate portrayal of what happened,” said Timothy Phelps. “I grew up in a different family so I didn’t help her corroborate too much with writing the book.”

One of the attendees for the night’s event included Rachel Sergeant, who spoke about why she decided to drive from Kansas City to hear Megan speak.

“I identify as someone who comes from a religious background but has left it, much like Megan has,” said Sergeant. “[The Phelps] recently came and picketed the Lee’s Summit high school where I live. I was in conversations online with other families who wanted to counter protest to shield the students.”

Megan will continue to travel on her book tour across the states with a stop on Oct. 17 in Seattle, Washington, followed by a stop in Madison, Wisconsin. To find out more about Megan and her story, visit https://www.meganphelpsroper.com/ or order her book online.

Edited by Brianna Smith, Jessica Galvin, Adam White