Of course, the media attention means that the dozen or so people on the side of the road have had their protest smeared all over the world’s media, increasing their reach by many orders of magnitude, but that seems to escape everyone’s attention.
As well as news networks looking for an easy story, multiple documentary makers have visited the church and produced reports that have been, to say the least, confronting. Speaking personally, the most shocking part of those documentaries has been how utterly normal most of the members of the church seemed.
If you muted the TV (and ignored the placards), one would have no hint of the filth spilling from the mouths of the church attendees. It’s so easy to regard hate groups as being all but a different breed – when one realises how distressingly similar to us the members of some hate groups seem, one is forced to reflect on how fine the line is between such people and the rest of us.
Megan Phelps-Roper featured heavily in many of those documentaries. As well as being in many ways one of the public faces of the church through documentaries and news reports, she was the first to join twitter, and until October last year tweeted regularly (at @meganphelps) about scripture, politics and her family. That was until she suddenly disappeared.
Earlier this week, through a blogpost she linked to via her first tweet since October, Megan announced that she and her sister Grace has cut ties with the church.
One can barely imagine the emotions those two young women are experiencing. Leaving a cult is harrowing enough without knowing that the world’s media are taking an intense interest in your defection. It is impossible to know what psychological scars remain after their life in the church.
What their actions show us is that it is possible to flee a lifetime of conditioning to hate. It teaches us that the line between an (apparently) loyal adherent to a hate group and a terrified refugee can often be finer than we think.
Most of all it provides a true good news story. Forget communities banding together to drown out those controlled and lied to since birth by their own families. Never mind a media desperate to give us someone to revile, to despise for their abhorrent views.
In Megan and Grace, we have two young women who have overcome a lifetime of being taught not only to be suspicious of the world, but to hate it. Who, since infancy, have been conditioned to detest and fear the world and to make themselves a regular target of derision and ridicule.
Two members of a vile, destructive cult have, of their own accord, been saved. This is a very, very good thing.