The Westboro Baptist Church, known for its fiery anti-gay rhetoric and for protesting U.S. military funerals, has had a rough few months. Following the death of the church's founder, Fred Phelps, in March yet another high-profile member has left the church and is speaking out about why he abandoned it.
Zach Phelps-Roper, 23, the grandson of Westboro's founder has left the church. And while he said goodbye February 20, just one month before Fred Phelps passed away, it's just now becoming public knowledge. After spending more than two decades helping advance the church's controversial and hate-filled messages, Phelps-Roper is now singing an entirely different tune.
"I feel like I have unconditional love for every person around the world," he told the Topeka Capital-Journal. "The Westboro Baptist Church sees things differently than I do now."
This proclamation is a vast departure from the "God hates fags" message of doom and eternal punishment that the church has spouted for years.
Watch Zach speak about his experience below:
Phelps-Roper said he is still looking for answers, but he's sure of one thing: He wants to help others and be a positive force in society.
Since leaving Westboro, he's been surrounded by family members who were previously excommunicated from the church, likely including some of his siblings who recently made the same decision to exit. He has also interacted with gays and lesbians whom he has described as offering both kindness and compassion.
"I’m telling everybody I feel happier today than I did the day before, because I’m so happy to be alive," Phelps-Roper told the outlet. "I see the world from so many different perspectives now."
While it took him until recently to leave the church, Phelps-Roper said his doubts began at age 18, when he started to question why God would punish mankind.
"I viewed my creator as sadistic. He sent them to hell because they sinned, but he compelled them to sin," he told the Capital-Journal. "I felt it was an injustice."
His faith and belief in the Bible has changed dramatically and it continues to evolve, as Phelps-Roper is exploring any and all perspectives now that he's outside of the church's restrictive walls.
"I still believe I’m being led by my creator here. I’m just not sure what his name is," he said. "I am sure he is one who has unconditional love for his creatures."
Shirley Phelps-Roper, a member of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas (AP Photo/Bradley C. Bower)
His mother, Shirley Phelps-Roper -- daughter of Fred Phelps -- told the outlet that she is concerned for her son's salvation, but that Westboro's work will go on despite his departure. Zach Phelps-Roper is the fourth one of her children to leave the church.
In an interview with the Jewish Journal, Megan, 28, recently admitted that the two are still coping with their decision to leave — one that has left them cut-off and ostracized from their family members.
“We both still feel pretty lost,” she said. “But we’re getting there. The journey is incredible.”
Grace, 21, struggles with the concept of God, telling the outlet that she’s not sure if he exists. Read more about their story here.
These certainly aren't the first family members to leave Westboro, but some believe that their departure could spell trouble for the group's future. Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta recently wrote, "Westboro is crumbling fast, my friends. I’m positive the exodus isn’t over yet."
We'll have to wait and see.