You've likely heard of the Westboro Baptist Church. Perhaps you've seen their pickets on the news, the members holding signs with messages that are too offensive to copy here, protesting at events such as the funerals of soldiers, the 9-year-old victim of the recent Tucson shooting, and Elizabeth Edwards, all in front of their grieving families. The WBC is fervently anti-gay, anti-Semitic, and anti- practically everything and everyone. And they aren't going anywhere: In March, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the WBC's right to picket funerals.
Since no organized religion will claim affiliation with the WBC, it's perhaps more accurate to think of them as a cult. Lauren Drain was thrust into that cult at the age of 15, and then spat back out again seven years later. Banished is the first look inside the organization, as well as a fascinating story of adaptation and perseverance.
Lauren spent her early years enjoying a normal life with her family in Florida. But when her formerly liberal and secular father set out to produce a documentary about the WBC, his detached interest gradually evolved into fascination, and he moved the entire family to Kansas to join the church and live on their compound. Over the next seven years, Lauren fully assimilated their extreme beliefs, and became a member of the church and an active and vocal picketer. But as she matured and began to challenge some of the church's tenets, she was unceremoniously cast out from the church and permanently cut off from her family and from everyone else she knew and loved.
Banished is the story of Lauren's fight to find herself amidst dramatic changes in a world of extremists and a life in exile.
©2013 Lauren Drain (P)2013 Hachette Audio
Firstly, ignore the review by "Jack"; he is a Topeka resident and shill for the Westboro Baptist church. All his review really shows is that, even after all these years, Jesus can still sometimes be seen carried on the back of an ass.
This book is a sobering testament. It is one thing- tragic but comprehensible- for children or even a teenager to be indoctrinated into a ravingly inhumane religious ideology. But for an educated articulate adult, and an atheist no less? The sad fact shown in this book is that the members of this ridiculous church are for the most part highly intelligent people. They have gained the world of pure righteousness, but at the cost of any possibility of self understanding. This was a bargain that Lauren Drain seemed unsuited by nature to keep, so her conflict with the church was painful but inevitable. Go girl! Well read by the author.
The good news is that while this book was in press, two more young women defected from Westboro Baptist. Hopefully with publication, more will follow.
The fact that Lauren Drain herself reads the material gives it a poignancy that 3rd party narrators can't provide. Less expressive, perhaps, but more authentic.
The Phelps girls (particularly Jael and Megan) are always interesting, because they've never known a life outside of the cult-like family environment. Their sense of superiority is consistently undercut by having to keep themselves in check. I feel legitimate sympathy for them, as for any abuse victim, because they have no conventional "normal" to gauge their own conduct by.
Salvation from salvation.
The story is fascinating, particularly for its insights regarding Steve Drain, a clearly sick individual - in the sense that his behavior seems to be in real need of psychiatric intervention. After seeing Louis Theroux's two excellent documentaries on the WBC (the second of which interviewed Lauren post-departure), Steve comes off as quite the self-righteous narcissist, while his wife exists as the doormat of the family. Shame on her, in particular, for not advocating more for a normal life for her children - especially since she clearly knew life before the WBC and had insight to Steve Drain's behavioral inconsistencies for quite some time.
The first reviewer of this audiobook is clearly either a current church member or a sympathizer, but that's the price of truly free speech - hatred and ignorance continue to be well protected. Jack, your review was worth everything I paid to read it.
At this point, I'll wait patiently in the hope that Megan and Grace Phelps will also break silence on their experience inside this horrible organization. As far as Libby Phelps goes (another departee interviewed by Theroux), she seems paralyzed by the fear of a fiery hellish damnation - a mindset that I think sadly probably afflicts most of the clan. Call me crazy, but I can't visualize a God who creates humankind to deny its enjoyment and revels in its suffering and torture. And if that's the case, I'd want even less to do with him.
In the meantime, I will proceed with a beautiful quotation: "Live your life in such a way that the Westboro Baptist Church would want to picket your funeral". I certainly plan to.
Fantastic book, Lauren. Thank you for sharing a painful journey with us.
Very informative read. Being from Kansas, I had grown up with the Westboro Church always causing commotion. As a Christian, you feel sorry for what the members are taught to believe. Well worth the read (or listen).
If you ever wondered why Westboro believes what it does, this book will make it clear.
My goal is to read 52 books in 1 year! I read 33 last year!
This book gave a truly human perspective of the Westboro Baptist Church. It showed them from firsthand accounts to be a selfish, cruel, unbiblical, hateful, mean group of religious zealots. The religion of the WBC contains all of the pitfalls of Christianity when proper biblical interpretation is replaced by opinion and base human emotions. I was angry as I listened to this. I was cheering for Lauren Drain to be banished, because it was so terrible inside of the WBC. Give this book a try if you are at all interested in the pulse of American Religious life. A real eye opener.
Anyone who leaves that place is awesome,strong and worth my time and money. ANYONE who is a member of that horrible place that call themselves a Christian is just a joke to Topeka and everyone who has had anything to do with them. THEY are NOT worth any energy it would take to respond to their pathetic excuse of worship. Or their childish little pickets Especially when the old man wears his
little spandex shorts. .REALLY FRED you and your family ARE the laughing stalk of Topeka. I just feel sorry for all the little kids you brainwash into believing your lies.
I felt like I needed to take a long shower after finishing this book. I considered abandoning it several times as it continually made my skin crawl. It doesn't help that the "victim" of the book is very unlikeable. The title "Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church" suggests that Lauren Drain was a poor girl trapped in the clutches of this group of evil loonies, whereas she comes across as almost defensive of the heinous behaviour of the WBC often going as far as to attempt to justify it. Its as if her only issue is that she was "banished" from the church rather than its horrid outlook on the world.
Several times during the book she tells of how "the Holy Ghost" told someone in authority what to do - but completely without irony, her tone is matter of fact and accepting. She describes her thrill of picketing military funerals and telling people they were going to burn in hell by saying "there was so much power in telling someone they were unworthy". Years later, she describes one teenager who refused to accept the WBC's teachings on face value as a trouble maker, saying "He'd always been a trouble maker,saying something absurd like there's no proof" in the middle of bible studies.
At one point in the book she says that her and her fellow hate mongers were "free thinking, highly intelligent individuals......very educated, well spoken and informed". And she's serious.
Once she is banished, she is still crazy enough to continue to embrace her religion, with the disclaimer that she no longer believes in picketing funerals or victimising people. My skin crawled all the way through the book.
I could never listen to this book again - it saps your optimism and your faith in humanity.
This story was so true to how we think and end up in certain situations. Her ability to understand herself, her father, and the people around her is amazing. You can tell that she is still in pain but looks forward to a lifetime of healing.
The overall story of which I had no idea of...
The ending...made me cry and happy that Lauren came through it all with her faith and belief in God and
people in tact!
No this was the first I had heard of her...will look up other now!
Almost!! finished it in less than 4 days...which is great for me...I usually take a month to finish a book!
I love reading about real life success stories...very inspirational so glad Lauren wrote and read this book!!
This book brought me to tears at the end to know of all the brutality in the world wrought by people who are supposed to be known to be full of love and care. I can only think of two words for Steve Drain (I'm sorry Lauren, I am sure you still love him) but they are fool and idiot. What I see is perhaps Steve loved the fact that he could finally feel purpose and importance in his life, even if it was all negative, that he could be in front of cameras and feel he had some purpose now, instead of his aimless wondering when Lauren was child. I thought at the end of the book he would have left with her. But to now understand that he totally cut her out of his life and his family is simply sad. This girl is still your daughter, yet she is treated as if she murdered someone or worse.
These WBC members truly are just a blimp. There would never have been any news about them if they did not cultivate it with ridiculous protests. Their form of religion appeals to just a handful of people and yet we are making such a big deal out of it. At times I wanted to stop reading the book since the story seemed so small and inconsequential, like making a mountain out of a mole hill. But I stuck with it, and now I see the book more a work for everyone who faces a deep and horrible sadness because of people they love, tearing themselves away because of a misunderstanding of faith. But even more than a misunderstanding, WBC members just use others: when Lauren's mom called to tell her they were claiming her as a dependent on their taxes, wow, what a joke, this family has grown used to using people, even in their own home.
Last night I went online and found Louis Theroux's documentary The Most Hated Family in America and watched Part II, a great documentary. This Steve Drain was a total disgusting individual in the film. I hope he reads Lauren's book and this review and begins to feel his ridiculous red hot lunacy, it can be the first step to true repentance and change to a pure love of God. Also in that documentary I was very moved by Grace Phelps. I thought her photography was wonderful and loved her explanation for shooting the beautiful young Muslim during a protest against Muslims. When I saw her I just knew in my heart she would one day leave that church. So I started googling and sure enough, she left last month with her sister Megan. I know she and Megan are young, but I only hope that they can be strong. I saw the pictures of Grace, Lauren and Megan united recently, and felt much happiness to know they have each other, as it must be horrible to lose one's parents.
I enjoyed the Epilogue when Lauren apologized to homosexuals, AIDs patients, the families of fallen soldiers and others for the pain she has caused at taunting them. And it was fascinating to hear of her reaction at the Vatican. I loved her book and am happy she took the time to write it. I related most especially to the part where 6 months in her apartment in Topeka she finally realized she had nothing, all her friends hated her and her family too, and she just had to move on. Something similar happened to me and it brings me much joy to know I am not alone.
On a personal note, I am a devout catholic (but also a very flawed one). I came to the faith on my own at 21 years old after doing drugs, hitchhiking all over the US and Europe and being in jail. I did not know WBC hated us so much but I totally understand it now. Yes, satan and individual evil has entered the catholic church and is trying to destroy it with abusive priests preying on little children. WBC had it right! It is awful and disgusting. But for me, faith is so much more pure then the evil of the day, it is first and foremost an authentic love of God in spite of all contemporary evil. I desire to do the right thing in life. It stems, for me, from understanding that there is a first mover, a first creator of all things. Knowing this, I know this first creator has a plan for me, as he does for every living thing in creation. So I try to determine, the best I can (as this first creator does not speak to me), what that role is. So I seek to find the best understanding I can of his way. For me it was the catholic church, with the 2000 years of history and unbroken petrine tradition, as well as the authority on the canon of scripture that even WBC hold today to be the only word of God. I fully accept and understand that others do not see it. But to me the final authority of all is conscience. You have to obey your conscience, no matter what. Once you turn away from it, your eyes go red and you begin to enter yourself into hell. But if we obey those little voices that tell us what is truth, we will be fine when we die, whatever our faith. But we have to obey it no matter what: the loss of family, the loss of what we thought was our faith, the loss of friends, the loss of home, the loss of all. But we all have the duty to inform our conscience with reading and thinking.
I think it was wonderful that Lauren kept asking questions as she read the bible in spite of being shut down by other members of the WBC. Her inquisitive mind was that small voice of conscience telling her to dig a little deeper until she finally began to see the light of truth. I wish her strength and success!
Harmon Meldrim, PhD, LCSW
I actually found it painful to read. To hear religion used as a weapon of hate not only at the church level, but at the individual, family and community levels was horrible, yet so important for the country and the world to hear. I did enjoy the contradictions, some of which I'm not even sure Lauren recognized. The church hates America, yet the church realizes that this is the only country in the world where one is safe to express hatred without retribution.
It reminded me of Orwell's 1984, Love is hate, war is peace and some are more equal than others.
The epilogue was relieving to hear that Lauren is able to move on with her life. I hope others will be encouraged, especially Lauren's mother and siblings, to break free of this slavery of hate.
Yes. The abuse was sickening and realistic. I have always found it amazing in my work as a social worker that children in foster care would rather return to the family that severely abused them than to continue in foster care. This book helps address the reasons that children stay attached even when severely abused by their parents and in this case their friends and community.
Best wishes Lauren. You are absolutely amazing! I also want to thank Jack from Topeka whose review helped me decide to purchase this book. I'm betting that Jack is part of the WBC.
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