Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Banished by Lauren Drain and Lisa Pulitzer

Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church by Lauren Drain and Lisa Pulitzer

NOW A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER 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. (blurb from Goodreads)

Rating: PG-13, 3 stars
Trigger Warnings: emotional abuse, familial abuse, religious abuse, homophobia

The Westboro Baptist Church is pretty well-known today as an organization that pickets funerals and spews hate and negativity, particularly targeted at gay people. When I heard that a former member of the "church" had written a memoir of her time with the organization, I was really interested in seeing what she had to say.

I have to say, I love how balanced the book was. Of course, Lauren Drain left the WBC for a reason, so the book wasn't completely unbiased, but I thought that she painted a compelling picture of her state of mind while she was still in the WBC and how that deteriorated over time. I appreciated recognizing the abuse of her father even while she was explaining how she justified his words at the time.

I also liked being able to the members of the Westboro Baptist Church as people and not just picketeers. I vehemently disagree with everything they stand for, but I appreciated seeing their good sides as well as the bad. Humans are complex creatures, and it is easy to forget sometimes that even people we disagree with are good and bad.

I was particularly intrigued by Drain's portrait of the leaders of WBC. For example, before reading this book, I had no idea that any of the Phelps had jobs outside of the WBC. It didn't surprise me to find out that most of them were lawyers, however.

Due to the nature of the Westboro Baptist Church, the book may be upsetting or even triggering to those on the LGBTQ spectrum, survivors of emotional abuse, those who have had bad experiences with organized religion, and those who are or know people impacted by Westboro Baptist Church's pickets, especially those with ties to 9/11. Even so, the book is a fascinating read for anyone who is curious about the Westboro Baptist Church and would like a rare inside perspective.

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