You've likely heard of the Westboro Baptist Church. Perhaps you've seen their pickets on the news, the members holding signs with messages that are too offensive to copy here, protesting at events such as the funerals of soldiers, the 9-year-old victim of the recent Tucson shooting, and Elizabeth Edwards, all in front of their grieving families. The WBC is fervently anti-gay, anti-Semitic, and anti- practically everything and everyone. And they aren't going anywhere: In March, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the WBC's right to picket funerals.
Since no organized religion will claim affiliation with the WBC, it's perhaps more accurate to think of them as a cult. Lauren Drain was thrust into that cult at the age of 15, and then spat back out again seven years later. Banished is the first look inside the organization, as well as a fascinating story of adaptation and perseverance.
Lauren spent her early years enjoying a normal life with her family in Florida. But when her formerly liberal and secular father set out to produce a documentary about the WBC, his detached interest gradually evolved into fascination, and he moved the entire family to Kansas to join the church and live on their compound. Over the next seven years, Lauren fully assimilated their extreme beliefs, and became a member of the church and an active and vocal picketer. But as she matured and began to challenge some of the church's tenets, she was unceremoniously cast out from the church and permanently cut off from her family and from everyone else she knew and loved.
Banished is the story of Lauren's fight to find herself amidst dramatic changes in a world of extremists and a life in exile.
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Get Thee Behind Me Phelps
Hopefully the first of many more to come!
The fact that Lauren Drain herself reads the material gives it a poignancy that 3rd party narrators can't provide. Less expressive, perhaps, but more authentic.
The Phelps girls (particularly Jael and Megan) are always interesting, because they've never known a life outside of the cult-like family environment. Their sense of superiority is consistently undercut by having to keep themselves in check. I feel legitimate sympathy for them, as for any abuse victim, because they have no conventional "normal" to gauge their own conduct by.
Salvation from salvation.
The story is fascinating, particularly for its insights regarding Steve Drain, a clearly sick individual - in the sense that his behavior seems to be in real need of psychiatric intervention. After seeing Louis Theroux's two excellent documentaries on the WBC (the second of which interviewed Lauren post-departure), Steve comes off as quite the self-righteous narcissist, while his wife exists as the doormat of the family. Shame on her, in particular, for not advocating more for a normal life for her children - especially since she clearly knew life before the WBC and had insight to Steve Drain's behavioral inconsistencies for quite some time.
The first reviewer of this audiobook is clearly either a current church member or a sympathizer, but that's the price of truly free speech - hatred and ignorance continue to be well protected. Jack, your review was worth everything I paid to read it.
At this point, I'll wait patiently in the hope that Megan and Grace Phelps will also break silence on their experience inside this horrible organization. As far as Libby Phelps goes (another departee interviewed by Theroux), she seems paralyzed by the fear of a fiery hellish damnation - a mindset that I think sadly probably afflicts most of the clan. Call me crazy, but I can't visualize a God who creates humankind to deny its enjoyment and revels in its suffering and torture. And if that's the case, I'd want even less to do with him.
In the meantime, I will proceed with a beautiful quotation: "Live your life in such a way that the Westboro Baptist Church would want to picket your funeral". I certainly plan to.
Fantastic book, Lauren. Thank you for sharing a painful journey with us.