RELIGION
05/07/2014 11:21 am ET | Updated May 07, 2014

Zach Phelps-Roper Leaves Westboro Baptist Church: Fred Phelps' Grandson Joins Three Ex-WBC Siblings

Another Westboro Baptist Church member has left the hate church -- Zach Phelps-Roper, age 23. The grandson of Fred Phelps is the fourth Phelps-Roper sibling to reject WBC's tactics of hate preaching and picketing, according to an interview he gave to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

"I believe that empathy and unconditional love are what is absolutely necessary for us to free ourselves and each other from mind traps and from the many problems that are plaguing our society," he said.

The WBC is well known for its virulently anti-gay stance and characteristic "God Hates Fags" signs. Phelps-Roper no longer holds these views, and said that he's received love and support from the gay community since he left the church on on February 20, 2014. He told the Capital-Journal that gay people have offered to buy him meals and drinks and empathized with his struggles.

Phelps-Roper joins at least twenty ex-WBC family members whom he was previously banned from speaking with, including his brother Josh and his sisters Megan and Grace.

Nonetheless, he doesn't blame WBC members for their hateful activities, because he thinks that they are stuck in the powerful "mind trap" of believing that the Bible is absolutely infallible, and fearing the eternal wrath of a judgmental God. In a comment he posted for clarification on the Capital-Journal's story, he wrote, "They are very afraid of that, so they cannot think clearly about the impact that they are having on others, and therefore, they seem to lack empathy."

"I would like to show them a different way of approaching people: indefinitely plenteous and unconditional empathy," he added.

Phelps-Roper's defection occurred a month before his grandfather, WBC founder Fred Phelps, passed away at the age of 84. Phelps-Roper said that other church members convinced him that Phelps had become "manipulative and abusive," and stopped him from visiting Phelps on his deathbed, a decision he regrets.

Siblings Megan and Grace have previously echoed these sentiments, reconciling their decision to step away from a hate church with the pain of being shunned by their family members. Their mother, Shirley Phelps-Roper, used to be the church's primary spokeswoman and remains very active in the WBC.

Zach Phelps-Roper told the Capital-Journal that the had tried to leave WBC five times previously, but had been convinced by family members to stay each time.

His decision to leave the church has been affirmed by the positive changes in his life. “If I have greater peace now than in the church, how can I be a wicked person?” he said, referencing the Bible verse "There is no peace, saith the LORD, unto the wicked" (Isaiah 48:22).

He's been helped by fellow ex-member Lauren Drain's fund for WBC escapees, which provides financial support for ex-members to start a new life.

Zach Phelps-Roper told the Capital-Journal that when he first left the church, he accepted that his decision meant that he would eventually die and go to hell. Almost three months, later, he's content and filled with gratitude, posting on Facebook, "The days are too good to me. I am happier today than I ever was before. I can giggle at myself in the mirror, having let go of so much emotional pain that burdened me before."

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