Zach Phelps-Roper, grandson of the late Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps, said he has left the church known for its anti-LGBT “Got Hates Fags” vitriol, reports The Topeka Capitol-Journal. The 23-year-old joins two sisters and a brother who have previously abandoned the church.
Phelps-Roper told the paper he has found a new understanding of the world outside the walls of the Westboro compound since he left in late February, saying, “I feel like I have unconditional love for every person around the world. The Westboro Baptist Church sees things differently than I do now.”
His mother, Shirley Phelps-Roper, is a key figure in the church and often acts as its face at demonstrations — which often target LGBT people and their supporters — following the decline of her father’s prominence in the church, and ultimately, his death in March.
Family members Phelps-Roper was banned from seeing while within the church have surrounded him with warmth, according to the report. “I’m telling everybody I feel happier today than I did the day before, because I’m so happy to be alive. I see the world from so many different perspectives now,” he said.
Other members of Westboro, mostly extended family of Fred Phelps, too, have left the church of the years, including the founder’s son, Nathan Phelps. Nathan Phelps alerted the world to his father’s declining health just days before his death, saying the 84-year-old founder of the church was living in exile and that family outside the church had been blocked from visiting him.
The Phelps family and Westboro Baptist Church are known across the world for demonstrations and pickets outside the funerals of LGBT people, celebrities, victims of disasters, and military personnel as well as major events — protests at which members wave hateful posters and signs condemning LGBT people that say “GOD HATES FAGS,” among others. Fred Phelps, who was an ordained minister, founded the church in 1955.