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Saturday, 12 August 2017 16:42

My grandfather started the most hateful church in America

Written by  Sara Stewart

Libby Phelps Alvarez, 34, is the granddaughter of Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. — the most notorious anti-gay hate group in America. Libby fled the church and her family eight years ago, and in her new memoir “Girl on a Wire: Walking the Line Between Faith and Freedom in the Westboro Baptist Church,” she tells her story with the help of The Post’s Sara Stewart.

Libby Phelps Alvarez, 34, is the granddaughter of Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. — the most notorious anti-gay hate group in America. Libby fled the church and her family eight years ago, and in her new memoir “Girl on a Wire: Walking the Line Between Faith and Freedom in the Westboro Baptist Church,” she tells her story with the help of The Post’s Sara Stewart. Libby has a radically different life now, teaching her kids tolerance and respect for all, but, as she reveals here, her love for “Gramps” endures.

I have a 3-year-old son, Paxton, who is very opinionated. No fear. He’s a lot like me: independent. I take after my late grandfather, who taught me to stand up for my beliefs.

But Gramps also told me that gay people were sending America straight to hell. Given that I now believe that people should be able to love whomever they want, I have some very complicated feelings about our relationship.

Growing up, I thought Gramps had all the answers: His was the unambiguous word of God. Gramps came out of the old school, the teachings of 18th-century theologian Jonathan Edwards and Calvinism. He taught his followers that we were the only ones going to heaven; everybody else was going to hell. That put pressure on us. I felt like someone was constantly watching, like I had to be perfect.

I know most of the world saw my grandfather as a hatemonger. I can’t argue with that, but that wasn’t his entire personality.

There were two sides to Gramps: the preacher I feared, and the grandfather I adored. He’d be loving and silly, and then at the flip of a switch he’d be an anti-gay zealot.

A photo from Libby Phelps Alvarez’s scrapbookGabriella Bass

Gramps was the smartest person I knew — and the most fun. He was goofy with us kids. In the summers, we would play Marco Polo in the pool.

When I was applying to grad schools, he helped me study for the GRE, quizzing me on vocabulary words. I was terrified he’d yell at me for getting a word wrong — turn all fire-and-brimstone. But he would laugh it off: “That word’s in the Bible, girl!”

But then on Sundays he’d be a whole different person, leaning over the pulpit, banging it with his fist, yelling at us — the 70 or so Westboro Baptist Church members, most of them my family — to “wake up!” Telling us gay people are on the bottom rung of the ladder of depravity. He also railed against adultery, remarriage, abortion and laziness, but homosexuality was his favorite topic.

From age 8, I regularly wore church T-shirts that said “God Hates F - gs” and went with my family to picket funerals and big events such as concerts. Instead of having normal family events like holidays (which we never celebrated; even Christmas was deemed a modern bastardization of our faith), my cousins and I would recall events in relation to when a picket was.

Phelps Alvarez left the church after a photo surfaced of her in a bikini and her family staged an ‘intervention’Gabriella Bass

At 26, I left the church, and my whole world. The pivotal incident was my family holding an intervention for me (like the ones they have for addicts) after I was photographed wearing a bikini. The insanity of that day helped me realize I didn’t believe in the doctrine.

In the years leading up to my leaving, church members had started to turn on Gramps. They said he was losing faith. They stopped letting him preach. One of his biggest fears was being sent away — he’d always half-joke, “You guys better not put me in a home!” That happened after I left. It made me sad when I heard about it.

Once you leave, you’re cut off from speaking to or seeing members. I never saw my grandfather again, which broke my heart. He died in 2014, shortly after Paxton was born. I found out on my way to my baby’s two-week checkup, and I just sat in the doctor’s office and cried.

In a pointed move, a gay-rights group took up residence across the street from the church in a rainbow-painted house. I heard that, before he was sent away, Gramps said in private, “Those people are good people.” I had a hard time believing this happened — but maybe he did have a change of heart.

see also

Westboro founder Fred Phelps Sr. dies at 84

    Westboro founder Fred Phelps Sr. dies at 84

    TOPEKA, Kan. — The Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., the fiery...

    Gramps taught me to stand up for what’s right. But my view of what’s right is so different from his. My life is so different.

    I have many gay and transgender friends. My son goes to a progressive preschool where one of his teachers is trans and prefers nonbinary pronouns.

    I teach my kids to treat everyone with kindness and respect — and that hearts can change.

    If I could tell Gramps anything today, I would simply say, “I love you. And I hope you had a change of heart.”

    Last modified on Saturday, 12 August 2017 22:04

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    I do NOT know anything about this church but I believe GOD and his Son Jesus do NOT allow gays or whatever!! They are very much against it!! THAT is why libturds do not like Christians!!

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    While I DO NOT agree with how the Westboro people did and still do things I have to say these things. 1) GOD and his SON CHRIST both call homosexuality an Abomination. Since they are one and the same and they NEVER change that name still and forever will describe their feelings on those of the same sex having sexual relations but the people who are doing the sinGOD and CHRIST love. CHRIST went to the cross for everyone not just those of a certain race or color. 2) Protesting funerals is not a way to win others to. CHRIST. My CHURCH preach on street corners in summer and go door to door in the winter. We offer to tell others about CHRIST but we NEVER try to shove our faith in anyone. 3) While it is true that allowing Gays and the wrongly named transgendered to have more rights than all others is hurting America only the people rejecting CHRIST and his work on and off the cross will send anyone to hell. Yes America is being hurt but it is the people who need GOD individually and that America which GOD helped come into being will die as a Nation when the Tribulation comes and nothing will change that because all Nations will cease to be during that time.

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    Jesus Christ our Messiah is not a social justice warrior. This girl obviously does not know or accept the truth of God's holy word.

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