By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com May 07 2014 3:18 PM ET
Yet another one of the children of Shirley Phelps-Roper, the de facto leader of the antigay Westboro Baptist Church, announced today that he's abandoned the church and has reformed his views about love, tolerance, and acceptance.
Zach Phelps-Roper officially moved out of Westboro's Topeka, Kan. "compound" February 20, he told the The Topeka Capital-Journal. And like his siblings and relatives who have left the church in recent years, the 23-year-old says his ideology has done a complete 180 from the hateful doctrine he was taught since birth.
"I feel like I have unconditional love for every person around the world," Phelps-Roper told the Capitol-Journal Friday. "The Westboro Baptist Church sees things differently than I do now."
In a wide-ranging interview, Phelps-Roper said he's gained a new awareness of how his actions impact others in the nearly three months since he left the church, and is now dedicated to a more compassionate existence.
"Most problems come from a lack of understanding of how we affect other people and things around us," he said. "I feel like I have found the holy grail, the overarching solution to solving all of our society’s problems, and I want to learn more. I want to do more."
The 23-year-old former nurse said he has found the church's propaganda about the inherent violence of gay people to be patently untrue. In fact, gay people he's encountered "have been among the most loving and supportive people he has met in the past several weeks," according to the Capital-Journal's report. They have treated him with empathy and love, offering to buy him meals and drinks, he said.
Zach Phelps-Roper is one of 11 children born to Shirley Phelps-Roper — daughter of the church's late and infamous founder Fred Phelps — and her husband, Brent Roper, and is the fourth member of that immediate family to leave the church and consequently sever most ties with his biological family. Zach was reportedly reunited with his estranged brother, Josh, who left the church in 2003, though it's unclear whether he has reconnected with his sisters, Megan and Grace, who left the church last year.
In a statement to the Capital-Journal, Shirley Phelps-Roper adopted a typically blasé but fervently religious stance on the latest of her children's defections from the church they were raised in.
"His never-dying soul is what hangs in the balance," she said. "Of course I’m concerned. Why else would we spend our lives on the streets warning our fellow man to flee the wrath that is coming?"
See video of Zach's interview regarding his departure, his family, and what comes next for him at the Capital-Journal.