I wish I could say I’d never heard of the Westboro Baptist Church. Unfortunately I, like probably many of you, have seen them on television picketing the funerals of soldiers, homosexuals, and murder victims, holding signs with such atrocious statements as “God hates fags” and “Thank God for 9/11.” Why a group of people, especially a group of people coming together to worship God, would spew such hateful diatribe is beyond my level of comprehension. Therefore, when I saw Lauren Drain’s book Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church on the New York Times bestseller list, I had to read it and find out just why these people are the way they are. What makes them tick? Why do they seem to hate everybody outside of their own church with such fervor? While I can’t say Lauren’s book definitely answered these questions for me, she does provide some disturbing insight into the group.
Once you start hearing more about the WBC it becomes clear that they’re much more like a cult than a church. They believe that everyone is going to hell except for them and they feel they’re doing God’s will by informing the world of this. They are led by one man, Fred Phelps, and most of the members are his children and grandchildren. At the time this book was written, there were only two outsider families involved in the WBC. Lauren’s family was one of these. Her father decided to do a documentary about the WBC when she was a teenager. The documentary was meant to shine a light on the negativity of the WBC, but instead he became enamored with the group and eventually moved his entire family to Topeka, Kansas to become more directly involved and join the church. Lauren takes us through her experience of moving to Kansas, being baptized into the WBC, and all the pressures she faced to be a “good girl” according to the rules of the church.
As I was reading the book I was a little bothered by the fact that Lauren doesn’t speak against the WBC, she seems to almost justify what they stand for and what they practice through much of the book. However, I believe what she was doing was explaining how she felt at the time. She didn’t choose to leave the WBC, she was banished by her own parents for a silly reason. She had to force herself to view their beliefs and traditions with fresh eyes before she could finally see how wrong their actions were. Having such a loving support system from my own parents, I can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been to be dropped off at a hotel and told never to contact her parents again, even if it was a life and death situation.
Overall I found this to be an interesting read. It provides an insider’s insight into the group. Lauren says in the book, “When passages [of the Bible] are taken out of context and twisted, the result is a powerful, manipulative, and dangerous weapon indeed.” Unfortunately, that is exactly what the Westboro Baptist Church does to control the minds of its members. Lauren still very much believes in God, she studied the Bible and other religions and formed her own beliefs and opinions. Luckily, Lauren’s story of once belonging to the WBC now has a happy ending.