Louis Theroux’s Life on the Edge: Viewers in tears for former member of Westboro Baptist Church

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A former Westboro Baptist Church member left Louis Theroux viewers ‘in tears’ last night after admitting being cut off from her family has become ‘more painful’ since she became a mother.  

Megan Phelps-Roper, now 34, from Kansas, left the notorious church in 2012, after 27 years of controversial preaching, which included picketing the funerals of American soldiers and publicly celebrating when strangers were diagnosed with cancer. 

Appearing in BBC2’s Louis Theroux: Life on the Edge last night, Megan spoke of the ‘pain’ she feels being ostracised from her family and how, after becoming a mother herself, it has become even more difficult to think of her own mum, Shirley Phelps-Roper. 

Viewers were left in floods of tears over the emotional programme, with some saying: ‘Meghan saved herself by leaving her family environment. You only get one mother and it is extremely sad that she cannot reconcile with hers. I get it.’

Former member of the Westboro Baptist Church, Megan Phelps-Roper, now 34, appeared on BBC2's Louis Theroux: Life on the Edge last night and said becoming a mother had made her own estrangement from her family more painful

Former member of the Westboro Baptist Church, Megan Phelps-Roper, now 34, appeared on BBC2’s Louis Theroux: Life on the Edge last night and said becoming a mother had made her own estrangement from her family more painful 

Another wrote: ‘Tonight’s episode was heartbreaking on so many levels. Louis handles all these really difficult subjects so carefully.’

One added: ‘I always thought the presence of Louis Theroux and his questions had a huge impact on the younger members of Westboro, more than they could say.

‘Maybe even contributed to their leaving.’

One said: ‘Thorough enjoyed #LifeOnTheEdge. I found myself getting rather emotional about each of the revisited stories, but not in an uncomfortable way. Emotion you can give way to without any shame.’ 

The documentary maker first met Megan along with her siblings when he visited the church in 2007 to make his programme The Most Hated Family In America

The documentary maker first met Megan along with her siblings when he visited the church in 2007 to make his programme The Most Hated Family In America 

During the programme, Louis said that when Megan left the church in 2013, she got in touch with him.

He explained they had stayed in contact over email and have since become friends. 

Speaking with the presenter over Zoom, Megan opened up about her struggles since leaving the church and her estrangement from her family, saying: ‘It changes over time, the way the pain feels. 

‘It changes because I’m changing. I’m older, I am a mum I have these memories of my mum coming up all the time now.  

Many of those watching at home were left in tears over the emotional segment on the programme

Many of those watching at home were left in tears over the emotional segment on the programme 

‘Sometimes it’ll make me happy and sometimes it’ll make me cry.

She said: ‘She’s my mum, it never goes away it’s not the past it’s now and that is incredibly painful no matter how long it’s been.’  

Westboro Baptist Church has made international news many times for its strong views against homosexuality.

It was founded by the late Fred Phelps who, according to the church, had 13 children, 54 grandchildren.  

Louis said he has remained in touch with Megan since they first met in 2007, and revealed since she left the church they have become friends

Louis said he has remained in touch with Megan since they first met in 2007, and revealed since she left the church they have become friends  

Megan, who left the controversial organisation in 2013, said she remains 'in pain' over her estrangement from her family and mother

Megan, who left the controversial organisation in 2013, said she remains ‘in pain’ over her estrangement from her family and mother 

Made up mostly by the Kansas-based Phelps family, the religious group blames most tragedies – from the death of American soldiers to the recent massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School – on what they call a ‘pro-gay’ agenda in America. 

Theroux first encountered the group – known for its inflammatory homophobic hate speech – for his 2007 documentary The Most Hated Family In America, and again for a follow-up in 2011 in America’s Most Hated Family In Crisis.   

The original documentary saw members holding placards with the words ‘God Hates Fags,’ ‘Fags Doom Nations’ and ‘Thank God for Dead Soldiers’, at the funerals of U.S. personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and publicly celebrating when a stranger contracts cancer. 

In 2013, Megan announced that she and her sister Grace, now 26, had left the controversial Westboro Baptist Church.  

Megan spoke of the 'pain' she feels being ostracised from her family and how after becoming a mother herself, how difficult it can be to think of her own mum, Shirley Phelps-Roper (pictured right)

Megan spoke of the ‘pain’ she feels being ostracised from her family and how after becoming a mother herself, how difficult it can be to think of her own mum, Shirley Phelps-Roper (pictured right) 

Writing on medium.com at the time, she said: ‘Up until now, our names have been synonymous with “God Hates Fags”.

‘We know that we’ve done and said things that hurt people. Inflicting pain on others wasn’t the goal, but it was one of the outcomes. We wish it weren’t so, and regret that hurt.

‘We know that we dearly love our family. They now consider us betrayers, and we are cut off from their lives, but we know they are well-intentioned. We will never not love them.’ 

Her Ted talk I Grew Up in the Westboro Church – Here’s Why I Left, in which she details the shift in her perspective that caused her to leave the church, has been viewed over nine million times online.

Theroux first encountered the group - known for its inflammatory homophobic hate speech - for his 2007 documentary The Most Hated Family In America

Theroux first encountered the group – known for its inflammatory homophobic hate speech – for his 2007 documentary The Most Hated Family In America

Megan was just five when she joined her family in daily pickets: ‘I’d stand on a street corner in the heavy Kansas humidity, said Megan in the Ted Talk. 

‘I was surrounded by a few dozen relatives with my tiny fists clutching a sign I couldn’t read yet, gays are worthy of death. This was the beginning.’  

Megan ran the church’s social media presence, posting on Twitter up to 150 times a day from her phone.  

After joining Twitter, Megan found users were genuinely curious about her beliefs, and she began meeting people she argued with on Twitter while picketing  around the US. 

She said: ‘The line between friend and foe was becoming blurred, we started to see each other as human beings’.  

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