Banished – A Westboro Memoir

/ posted in: Reading Banished – A Westboro MemoirBanished by Lauren Drain
on March 5th 2013
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Religious, Religion, Cults
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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Set in Kansas three-stars

You've likely heard of the Westboro Baptist Church. Perhaps you've seen their pickets on the news 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 Drain’s atheist father set out to make a documentary about the Westboro Baptist Church and its habit of picketing any event that will give them attention.  Over the course of the next few years he was drawn into the group.  He was influenced by their beliefs and started to pay a lot of attention to policing young teenage Lauren’s life.  He became convinced that she was a slut and a whore.  He pulled her out of school and cut off all contact with people outside of her penpals from the Westboro church.

Eventually he moved the family from Florida to Kansas to live on the same block as the church members in an attempt to control his wayward daughter.  The fact that Lauren was a well behaved teenage girl with no sexual experience did not change his conviction that she was on the road to hell. They were the only family not related to the pastor Fred Phelps in the church.

Lauren was glad to move.  By this point in her life the teenage members of Westboro were the only friends she was allowed to have.  She enthusiastically joined into pickets.  Pickets are a way of life.  Westboro members picket something every day.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church demonstrate at the Virginia Holocaust Museum on March 2, 2010. by JCWilmore

The Phelps cousins and Lauren would picket outside their school at lunchtime. They picketed their own graduations. They traveled around the country to picket funerals. The whole time paranoia ran rampant in the church. Any hint of wrongdoing or wrong thinking was discussed in group emails. Humiliation was common.

Lauren was taught that what they were doing was right. The fact that people got upset was proof that the church was right and people felt guilty about having their sins pointed out to them. The church prides itself on being very smart. Most of the Phelps family consists of lawyers. All of the younger generation are required to be at the top of their classes in school. They are trained to react to people who question them with intellectual rigor. It seems like the best thing to do at a Westboro protest would be to totally ignore it. They would consider that a failure.

Eventually Lauren’s online friendship with a male church supporter is used as proof of her sexual immorality even though they have never met. She is banished from her church and family. Over the last few years she has learned to live on her own. She realizes that the church is destructive. She isn’t a gay rights supporter by any means but so far she has progressed to live and let live.

It was so sad to read about how she was scapegoated in her family because of her sexuality. She was constantly told that she was a slut and a whore.

It is the typical fear that if you don’t control women from a young age that you will lose all power over them. Then you can make them complicit in their own humiliation.

There are a lot of documentaries on Westboro because they feel that helping with documentaries helps spread their message. This one claims to have footage of the Drains.

three-stars