4 Steps to Break Down Walls From a Former Westboro Baptist Church Member

Megan Phelps-Roper, who grew up indoctrinated with hatred in the Westboro Baptist Church, left the church in 2012 after what can only be described as an awakening.

"She left the church a while ago, and recently did a TED talk on why she left and how it happened. And it's fascinating because, I mean, there are parts of it that sounds like she's just lifting lines from Glenn Beck about how to deal with the world," Co-host Stu Burguiere said Thursday on The Glenn Beck Program.

Interestingly, Phelps-Roper's conversion began in the hateful universe of social media, where she encountered a pattern that repeated during her 144-character conversations on Twitter.

Initially, the people I encountered on the platform were just as hostile as I expected. They were the digital version of the screaming hordes I had been seeing at protests since I was a kid. But in the midst of that digital brawl, a strange pattern developed. Someone would arrive at my profile with the usual rage and scorn. I would respond with a custom mix of Bible versus, pop culture references, and smiley faces. They would be understandably confused and caught off guard. But then a conversation would ensue. And it was civil. Full of genuine curiosity on both sides.

Concerned with the current state of division in the country, Phelps-Roger has identified four steps on how to approach people with different ideas, especially on social media platforms:

1. Don't assume bad intent

2. Ask honest questions

3. Stay calm

4. Make the argument, explain

"If you want to make it happen, she's giving you the recipe. And it's Martin Luther King's recipe. Unfortunately, most of our society is siding with Malcolm X. Most of us want the anger and hate and rage. We all want it to stop, but we're all being led to believe that nothing will ever change with the other side," Glenn said. "That's a lie, and she's proof positive of that lie."

Listen to this segment from The Glenn Beck Program:

GLENN: I want to get to the media bias and American kids. Can they spot fake news stories? Can they spot bias? We'll give that to you here in just a second.

STU: So Megan Phelps-Roper. She was in the Westboro Baptist Church. So Phelps is the name.

GLENN: Right.

STU: Fred Phelps was the head guy.

GLENN: Is she -- is she a child of?

STU: No, I think she's married.

GLENN: Okay. So she was a child of Fred?

STU: Yeah. She grew up in -- or, it might be grandchild of Fred. Fred is -- I could be --

GLENN: Have we lost him?

STU: He's very old. I don't know if we lost him. I don't keep up with every iteration of what goes on in the Westboro Baptist Church. But I do find it a fascinating topic, in that it's -- they're just so crazy. And to see -- if you don't know who they are, they're the people that go and protest military funerals. They say God hates Jews and gays.

GLENN: All kinds of stuff. Really bad.

STU: You know, they're the worst part of every news story, basically.

GLENN: Uh-huh.

STU: They come out -- gosh, this is a tragedy. Now it's worse. They're able to do it every single time.

GLENN: Right. Right. Right.

STU: So she grew up -- and, you know, I know we had someone who left the Westboro Baptist Church a long time ago. And I can't remember if it was her or if it was someone else because a couple people have left. But almost everybody at the Westboro Baptist Church is from the Phelps family. It's like 80 percent Phelps family members.


STU: So she left the church a while ago. And recently did a TED talk on why she left and how it happened. And it's fascinating because, I mean, there are parts of it that sounds like she's just lifting lines from Glenn Beck about how to deal with the world. Now, you might not want to be associated with someone who is in the Westboro Baptist Church --

GLENN: But she's out of the Westboro Baptist Church.

STU: She's out --

GLENN: She's out and she's talking about why she left. And for everybody who says, "Well, you don't -- the left won't listen." Let's listen to how the woman -- do you think the left is less extreme than the Westboro Baptist Church?

STU: If you could communicate with someone like that and break down those walls, you could do it with anybody.

GLENN: And listen to what she said. How it was done. Listen to this.

MEGAN: In 2009, that zeal brought me to Twitter. Initially, the people I encountered on the platform were just as hostile as I expected. They were the digital version of the screaming hordes I had been seeing at protests since I was a kid. But in the midst of that digital brawl, a strange pattern developed. Someone would arrive at my profile with the usual rage and scorn. I would respond with a custom mix of Bible versus, pop culture references, and smiley faces. They would be understandably confused and caught off guard. But then a conversation would ensue. And it was civil. Full of genuine curiosity on both sides.

How had the other come to such outrageous conclusions about the world?

Sometimes the conversation even bled into real life. People I had sparred with on Twitter would come out to the picket line to see me when I protested in their city.

A man named David was one such person. He ran a blog called Jewlicious. And after several months of heated, but friendly arguments online, he came out to see me at a picket in New Orleans. He brought me a Middle Eastern dessert from Jerusalem, where he lives. And I brought him kosher chocolate and held a "God hates Jews" sign. There was no confusion about our positions, but the line between friend and foe was becoming blurred. And it changed the way we spoke to one another. It took time, but eventually these conversations planted seeds of doubt in me.

GLENN: Now, imagine how many Jewish friends this guy had who said, what, are you selling out? Don't you know she's using you? Don't you know, you're being pulled in? You're a sellout. You've got to stand against.

How many people she had in her life saying the same thing. But they both were being civil to each other. And -- and probably everyone in their life said, "It's not going to change anything." And look what happened. Do you have another cut from her?

PAT: Yeah.

STU: If you can win over the Westboro Baptist Church -- and she went on later. Something you said a million times. She said, the conversations always started, and neither of us changed our positions.


STU: Neither of us changed our principles. It wasn't -- it was just listening. You don't have to change your ideas. It was listening and communicating like your -- your friend.

GLENN: And then start talking about families and things you have in common.

STU: Yeah. And it helped, I mean, win over a Westboro Baptist Church member. And to the extent of how crazy that would be -- because you think of these people, I mean, they're obviously crazy.

GLENN: I mean, God hates Jews. God hates gays. I mean, you can't think of people who are more off their rocker than this --

PAT: She goes into that.

STU: Yeah. And to talk about how indoctrinated she was. She talks at the very beginning of this that the first protest she went to, she was five years old, protesting gays somewhere. Holding a sign she couldn't even read.

PAT: Uh-huh.


STU: That's how deeply she was in this. And she goes through this entire process. And through Twitter -- we think of all these good people being turned bad through Twitter. Here's someone who went through Twitter and turned her life from pure evil to something else.

MEGAN: My friends on Twitter took the time to understand Westboro's doctrines. And in doing so, they were able to find inconsistencies I had missed my entire life. Why did we advocate the death penalty for gays when Jesus said, let he who is without sin cast the first stone? How could we claim to love our neighbor, while at the same time praying for God to destroy them?

The truth is that the care shown to me by these strangers on the internet was itself a contradiction. It was growing evidence that people on the other side were not the demons I had been led to believe.

These realizations were life-altering. Once I saw that we were not the ultimate arbiters of devine truth, but flawed human beings, I couldn't pretend otherwise. I couldn't justify our actions, especially our cruel practice of protesting funerals and celebrating human tragedy.

GLENN: Okay. Stop here for a second. Let's just put this together. Both sides have this problem. Both sides in one way or another is the Westboro Baptist Church. Both left and right. We have extremists on both sides.

But let's just think of -- for this audience, let's just think of the right -- or, the left thinks they're the arbiter of everything that is true. They're the -- we're not science deniers. We're not that way. You're the science denier.

Well, you aren't educated. We are educated. We have all the universities. They believe that everything intellectually is on their side. Right? So they're morally superior. They don't see the -- the disconnect between saying, let's march for women and yesterday, while this was going on, they were advocating -- the left was advocating and going against the CDC, saying, women are protesting the CDC because you men can't tell us not to drink during our pregnancy.

Well, I agree that we can't tell you what to do. That's your decision. But that doesn't seem like something you later in life will be proud of standing and marching for.

It doesn't seem logical, to me, that when all is said and done, you'll be proud that you marched for abortion for the killing of children. That at some point in your life, you, or most, I believe, will come to the determination that, you know, that is a child. Because there's no way. Because of science. It's going to force you. I'm not the science denier. You're the one that says, I don't want a scan. I don't want an ultrasound to happen. And give the women a chance to say, oh, my gosh, it is a child. If they have that scan and they say, I don't care. Well, that's a different subject.

But you have to admit that that is a child; otherwise, why would you say no to ultrasounds?

Which one of us is in this bubble? Now, I'm only using this side because both sides are in a bubble. But anybody who says that they cannot reach the left, you're -- listen to what she just said. It was by kindness on the internet, first. Kindness of not slamming back.

Because the left does see the right as a monster, just like many on the right see the left as a monster. They're not.

We're not. We disagree on things. And we ratchet it up because we're screaming at each other. But if we'll just start talking -- and better yet, listening. Listening first. To one another. You will find what I have found, wow, we have a ton in common.

Now, it's not going to change everything overnight. People say to me all the time, yeah, well, who have you changed? Well, nobody. But I will tell you, look how many people from the left have been on this show. Just two days ago, we had somebody on the left who said, you know what, I changed my mind. I'm actually not on the left. I'm on the right. And I was die-hard on the left. And now I've changed. So while I haven't personally done it, I think it is happening.

And if you want to make it happen, she's giving you the recipe. And it's Martin Luther King's recipe. And unfortunately most of our society is siding with Malcolm X. Most of us want the anger and hate and rage. We all want it to stop. But we're all being led to be convince that had nothing will ever change with the other side.

And so it's of no use. That's a lie. And she's proof positive of that lie. At least I think so.

STU: At the most extreme level. If this isn't a proof of concept, I don't know what is.


GLENN: Craziest elections, our series continues in just a few minutes. Also, we want to talk to you a little bit about Obamacare. And Stu wants to give us the four steps that this woman from the Westboro Baptist Church said got me out of the church.

STU: Yeah, she identified these. Which I thought were interesting. One, don't assume bad intent. And that's something I like to use on social networks. Because it makes your -- it just makes your life better. You know, if you're constantly getting in fights with people, it's just annoying. And I've -- because people will insult you. Like I insult Jeffy all the time, and he knows it comes from a good place.

GLENN: Uh-huh.

STU: But that's how I look at everybody who calls me Hitler on the internet.

PAT: They mean it in a nice way?

STU: They mean it in a joking way. And I just treat it that way. And I don't care. It makes me feel better.

GLENN: You know what, a lot of times I'll see people online. They'll say something like, you know, you're so mean to Glenn. And blah, blah. You know, the one defender. Blah, blah, blah. And they'll be like, no, I'm a big fan of the show. I was joking.

STU: Right.

GLENN: And so if you don't assume bad intent, it saves you a lot of angst.

STU: Yeah. And it also means you never get pissed off at the internet.


STU: So many people get obsessed in these little battles. They never bother me. I never care what you say about me. If you go with that principle, just don't assume it's bad. All these interactions wind up being better. And many times, by the way, you turn people around. There's people who are fans of the show that didn't like some things we said. They came out, they call us all sorts of names. If you respond nicely, typically they'll just turn around --

PAT: Yeah. I'm having a hard time finding the rainbow in all of that, during the election. When they were saying things like eat crap and die, I didn't think that was necessarily good-natured.

GLENN: But I will tell you -- I gave up. It was overwhelming at the time. But I will tell you, a lot of people will say, you know what, you're right. I'm sorry. I flew off the handle. I don't agree with you. But I appreciate it.

PAT: Yeah.

STU: Step two. Ask questions. So that's a great thing to do.

PAT: Even the very existence of God. For if there be a God, he must surely rather --

GLENN: Shut up.

STU: But I mean, asking questions is important. And honest ones. Right? It's not just like trying to come up with a point and just saying what you believe and pushing other people. And then asking questions that aren't honest.

GLENN: Don't ask a question that you know the answer too.

PAT: Just trying to set people up.

GLENN: And you're just trying to trap people into it.

PAT: Yeah.

STU: This one is very difficult for a lot of people. But if you do the other two, you can do this one, which is stay calm.

You know, the person who you're going up against in an argument, especially from the other side are going to say terrible things about it, why let it bother you? That's you. That's not them. That's you letting it bother you. You're making the choice to allow it to bother you. If you stay calm and don't let it bother you, you're able to kind of reason your way through the argument.

PAT: How amazing is it that this is coming from a Phelps -- the granddaughter of Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church. This is astounding.

STU: Yeah, because it worked on her to get her out.

PAT: That is really amazing. She and her sister both got out.

STU: Yeah. It might have been her sister --

PAT: It might have been her sister Grace we talked to. I think so.

STU: We should see if she'll come on too. Because it's great.

And the last one is make the argument. Which that one didn't strike me as obvious when I was listening to that list. But if you're in a battle with someone on the left or you're in a battle with someone who is nuts and you're trying to actually persuade them, a lot of times I think because we believe, for example, low taxes are the right thing to do or abortion is wrong or whatever the belief is, it's so apparent to us, we treat it as if it's doctrine to everybody. And we don't bother to walk people through the step by step argument of how you actually get there. So many people have -- they start at their arrival point. I'm young. I'm in college. I'm a liberal. I'm a leftist, I love abortion.

PAT: Uh-huh.

STU: And the process very well may not have ever happened, where they made that decision organically. Where they walked through the steps in their head.

GLENN: You know, I got to get to the survey. The survey shows that most people -- and this includes teens -- and I will narrow it down to teens. But most people get their money from a friend, or I blog. A commentator of some sort. They haven't done the thinking. They get the opinion from someone else who may or may not have done all of the thinking themselves.

STU: Take the time to actually make the argument when you're talking to someone. Calmly. Don't assume their bad intent. You follow those few steps -- you're not going to win everybody over, nor should you care --

GLENN: Isn't it interesting, you're on the bandwagon.

PAT: I've been on the band freaking wagon. I brought these clips to the show.

GLENN: Listen to him now.

STU: Stay calm! That's all I'm saying. Stay calm!

GLENN: I'm assuming bad intent.


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