TOPEKA, Kan. — Zach Phelps-Roper, the 23-year-old grandson of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps, has left the church after 20 years of anti-gay preaching and picketing.
Phelps-Roper left the WBC compound in Topeka in February, and since them has embraced a new message of empathy and unconditional love as the keys to solving the world’s problems, reports the Topeka Capital Journal.
“The Westboro Baptist Church sees things differently than I do now,” he says.
He is the fourth of his ten siblings to leave the church, home of the “God Hates Fags” movement now lead in part by his mother Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of Fred Phelps, who died in March.
Zach said that many of his earliest memories were taking part in church pickets as a small child, but in recent years had begun to question his church’s teachings.
He says he no longer operates under the assumption all homosexuals are violent. In fact, they have been among the most loving and supportive people he has met in the past several weeks, he says.
Since leaving the church, Zach says he has had limited contact with his parents.
The Westboro church, founded in 1955, has no ties to any other mainstream Baptist group and has been involved in actions against gays since at least 1991.
The group came into the national spotlight in 1998, when it picketed at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay student at the University of Wyoming who was tortured near Laramie, Wyo., in October 1998, then tied to a fence and left to die.
The church is reported to comprise fewer than 50 members, almost all of which are members of Fred Phelps’ extended family.