KSNT News Special Report: Walking away from Westboro

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) - It's arguably the most controversial church in America and it sits in the capital city.

The Westboro Baptist Church regularly travels the country and world to picket against homosexuality.

The church was founded by Pastor Fred Phelps Sr. in 1955 and is most notorious for protesting the funerals of soldiers, claiming God is allowing them to be killed because the United States tolerates gays.

Walking Away

Libby Phelps left in 2009. Growing up, picketing was part of her everyday routine.

"We're pretty much conditioned from birth that the way you love your neighbor is to warn them of their sins. So, telling them that God hates them and that they're going to hell was a loving thing to do," Libby said.

She says she walked away from the church because her family caught her wearing a bikini on a trip to the ocean.

Photo credit: Libby Phelps

"It wasn't like, oh so you wore a bikini, then you got in trouble, so you left. It was the way they reacted. I stood up for myself for once in my life and then I saw how they really were," she said.

Her cousin, Lydia Phelps says she left in 2015 and is the most recent member to leave. Lydia says she lost her job and her family was accusing her of having a sexual relationship with a young man.

"I remember my aunt asking me, 'Will you go to the doctor to prove it?' and I told her yes," Lydia said.

Libby and Lydia say once you leave, you can never go back.

"So I looked at my siblings and they were just playing and I went upstairs and I took everything from the public places, the bathroom, the hallway and everything. I took everything that was mine and I put it in my room so no one would see me taking my stuff," Lydia said.

KSNT News asked the church to comment on the claims, but leaders refused.

Moving Forward

When you see Libby and Lydia today, two mothers, you would never guess the way they grew up.

Lydia says she isn't going to raise her son Jordan the same way she was raised.

"I want to travel with them and just be there, like going to the pizza party with them. just spending time with them and not taking them out and telling everyone they're going to hell and that God hates them."

Libby and Lydia say they aren't afraid of their past and want to speak out about why they left.

"I think something positive can come out of it and just show that we can all change," Libby said

Libby says she wants others to have that same courage.

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