Opening Hearts And Minds, To Leave Hatred Behind

For the past 2 days, hundreds of Westporters have been inspired by Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper.

In appearances sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, the young women — granddaughters of Rev. Fred Phelps — have described in raw, harrowing detail how the Westboro Baptist Church known for picketing the funerals of AIDS victims, American soldiers killed in Iraq, and Steve Jobs controlled their minds until they were adults.

And what’s happened since they gathered the courage to leave.

Last night, a packed Westport Country Playhouse audience heard the women talk about the wrath they long believed God held for anyone who did not follow his every commandment. They told of the agony of leaving siblings, parents and grandparents — whom they deeply love — behind forever. And they spoke with wonder of being welcomed into the home of a rabbi who, just a couple of years earlier, they had called a “whore.”

“It’s so comfortable not to have to think for yourself,” Megan said. “But it’s so important when you do.”

Megan Phelps-Roper, after last night's talk at the Westport Country Playhouse. Her sister Grace is behind her.

Megan Phelps-Roper, after last night’s talk at the Westport Country Playhouse. Her sister Grace is behind her.

This morning, hundreds more Staples High School students gathered in the auditorium. They sat in stunned silence as the women talked — then followed up with respectful questions.

One student wanted to know what the Westboro Church thought of the pope. “They don’t really like him either!” Grace said.

As the women were leaving for their next engagement, someone mentioned “The Laramie Project.” Last year, Staples Players performed the deeply moving play — about a Wyoming town’s reaction to the murder of gay student Matthew Shepard.

A defining moment comes when church members picket his funeral. They scream their signature “God hates fags” refrains, and worse. Laramie residents, in turn, raise angel wings to block the protesters from view.

Megan and Grace said they’ve never seen “The Laramie Project.”

Players director David Roth gave them a DVD of the show.

When these 2 courageous young women watch it, they’ll no doubt take a few more steps on their remarkable journey.

Westporters should feel honored — and inspired — they’ve shared it with us.

(Staples Players present “The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later” on May 19, 20 and 21, in the Black Box theater.)

"Reverend" Fred Phelps, and some of his signs. His granddaughters, Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper, described what it's like to grow up in that environment -- and how conflicted they feel because they still love their family.

“Reverend” Fred Phelps, and some of his signs. His granddaughters, Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper, described what it’s like to grow up in that environment — and how conflicted they feel because they still love their family.

One response to “Opening Hearts And Minds, To Leave Hatred Behind

  1. Our daughter was very moved by the experiences of Megan and Grace. In particular she was impressed with how these young women moved forward and away from their isolated lives, but still love for their family (with whom they no longer have contact). Their courage is an inspiration. Our daughter said it was the most impactful and meaningful assembly she’s attended while at Staples. Thank you for making this opportunity available.