Girl on A Wire

Girl on A Wire

Walking the Line Between Faith and Freedom in the Westboro Baptist Church

Book - 2017
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It wasn't until Libby Phelps was an adult, a twenty-five-year-old, that she escaped the Westboro Baptist Church. She is the granddaughter of its founder, Fred Phelps, and when she left, the church and its values were all she'd known. She didn't tell her family she was leaving. She ran into her house, grabbed a bag, and fled. No goodbyes.

Based in Topeka, Kansas, the Westboro Baptist Church community is one of the country's most notorious evangelical groups. Its zealous members are known for their boisterous picketing, brandishing antimilitary, anti-Semitic, and antigay signs--"Thank God for Dead Soldiers," "God Hates Jews," or "Thank God for 9/11"--and their notorious catchphrase "God Hates Fags." Search for them online and you're directed to their website, The church makes headlines in news across the country. It has seventy members, and 90 percent of them are part of Libby's family. They picket concerts, football games, other churches, and, most notoriously, the funerals of servicemen and victims of hate crimes. For its members, to question its rules is to risk going to hell.

In Girl on a Wire , Libby is candid about her experience and what's happened since her escape. This unusual memoir presents a rare inside look into a notorious cult and is an astonishing story of strength, bravery, and determination.
Publisher: New York, NY : Skyhorse Publishing, [2017]
Copyright Date: ©2017
ISBN: 9781510703254
Branch Call Number: 286.092 PHELPS L
Characteristics: 208 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (chiefly color) ; 24 cm


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Jan 31, 2018

By the end of this book, I thought it was extraordinarily AMAZING!! I can appreciate the sentiments of the comment just below this one however, because the first half of the book, I did feel lacked something...which I can't quite articulate. I almost didn't read on...but I am glad that my curiosity kept me going.
Then, somewhere near the middle, I couldn't put the book down. I also felt myself wanting to offer comfort and kindness to the many injured members of the Westboro Baptist Church who were also victims. Although the author herself seems surprised that someone else characterized her family as a "cult," the story suggests thatWBC functions as one. In the second half of the book, Libby does an Incredible job of making visible the myriad subtle -- but powerful ways that cults can control members.
A more superficial read of this book or less understanding of human development could lead one to underestimate the deep, profound wounds anyone coming from this family could not escape. Perhaps this was the case for the previous commenter -- or maybe they didn't actually finish the book? It does seem like a miracle that Libby seems to have done as well as she has since leaving the church. Her parents (still in the church) apparently have been unwilling to see her in all these years since she left. Yet Libby demonstrates the amazing ability of the human spirit to heal, grow and persevere under even after some of the most horrific conditions. But it's also because not EVERYTHING WBC did was toxic and horrible. Even Fred Phelps was a much more complex and caring person than the caricature of him suggested by the media. The church community provided some things that contribute to emotional health and resiliency --like a large connected family, encouraging education, hard work, and lots of time adults who cared deeply about the children's growth and development, and spent time with them.
In light of all this, the first half of the book, now makes more sense to me -- it was written to try and help the reader understand what it was like to be in that cult -- what that felt like, how she thought about things, why she didn't question or object when obviously, on some level she did at times feel conflicted about the suffering she saw the church inflicting on others. I also felt the author anticipated and answered many of my questions too. No question all raised in this church, have profound injuries. Apparently many of those who have left WBC have not done as well as Libby has and often have problems connecting with the others who have left too.
In the end, this is a POWERFUL book. It sheds light on how a parent's injurious behavior, in spite of meaning well and even having many talents and working hard, could cause much harm down through his descendants. But more than that, it really reminded me that no matter how terrible someone behaves, how cruel the things they may say or do seem...we must remember this is evidence of how they have been injured and are possibly also a victim.
My take-away from this book? We all need to be more compassionate and kind -- even to those who appear to be angry and intentionally hurting others.

Dec 06, 2017

I've got a lot of respect for Libby Phelps and her life as she's choosing to live it now. Unfortunately, I didn't get much satisfaction out of her book. It seemed lacking in self awareness. Perhaps she wasn't far enough removed from the WBC to truly reflect on it or maybe the writing itself was the problem. Either way, I found myself cringing at times when she would say things like, "I didn't think we were bullying anyone. I thought we were helping them," but then she wouldn't really go on to say that now she understands. I needed more. She may not be ready to give more and that's understandable but I found the lack of revelation disappointing.


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