Woman banished from Westboro Baptist Church to publish memoir

Lauren Drain spent seven years inside church

The Topeka Captital-Journal/February 24, 2013

Lauren Drain said she continues to have hope for her family members who are still members of Westboro Baptist Church — the same church she was banished from after having spent seven years picketing the funerals of children, soldiers, homosexuals and spreading a message she once believed.

"It's horrible to throw your child away," Drain said of her parents. "But I do continue to hold out hope for my family. I hope one day they will realize that isn't a Christian-based message. I'm their daughter, and I hope they change. In a way, I think they are still brainwashed. The best thing I can do is hope."

Drain has written a book, "Banished, A Memoir, Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church," which will be released March 5.

"It gives an insider's opinion. It gives you insight into the inner workings of the church," Drain said in a telephone interview from Connecticut, where she lives. "The church wants to put on airs that they are sin-free. That is not the reality. That is not the case. It (the book) is going to be an eye-opener. I am honest about it."

Drain's father, Steve Drain, was a filmmaker who wanted to shoot a documentary about the church. In the end, he became a believer and moved his family to Topeka to join WBC.

Lauren Drain was 15. She said she was "young and impressionable."

"I wanted to be a good Christian," Drain said. "I really did want to make my dad proud."

In her book, Drain said she is part of the reason her family came to Topeka.

She describes how her father found letters she had been exchanging with a boy while living in Florida.

At the urging of Shirley Phelps-Roper, who is the daughter of church founder Fred Phelps, Steve Drain packed up his family and moved to Topeka to help get a handle on the young girl, Lauren Drain wrote.

Lauren Drain said her father, mother and other members of the church often called her inappropriate names. She tried to fit in with the other girls in the church who were close to her age, but Drain said she often felt like an outsider.

Despite those feelings, Drain wanted to make her parents and her church proud. She was baptized a few months after the Drains moved to Topeka.

"I was brainwashed to believe what they said was truth," she said.

But, Drain said, she wasn't so brainwashed that she didn't question the church's beliefs.

Drain did learn "a couple of things" from the church, such as a respect of a family unit and studying the Bible.

"But they had a lot of bad things that overshadowed the good," she said.

Drain was banished from the church and disowned by her family when she was 22 because she had been chatting and emailing a man who wasn't a church member.

"Had I not been kicked out, I would have left myself," Drain said.

It took Drain time to acclimate to living outside the church.

"When I was initially out, I was traumatized," she said. "I missed my family terribly. I left a life I had been leading for seven years. I really needed to establish myself in terms of what I believed."

Friends and family members encouraged her to write a book, but she needed time.

It took her about 11/2 years.

"There is happiness on the outside," she said. "There is a loving God on the outside."

When Drain was a member of WBC, she said there were two things she felt really uncomfortable with — picketing the funerals of small children and soldiers.

"That floored me," she said. "I was so uncomfortable with it. That was horrible. I remembering asking questions about that."

She recalls a picket at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where signs church members carried said "Thank God for Crippled Soldiers."

"I just wanted to run away from my skin," Drain said. "It left a lasting impression on me that we did not have a good message. I didn't feel like a good Christian. I felt like a horrible person. Our message was not of love."

Attempts to reach Steve Drain for comment were unsuccessful because he was out of town picketing the Academy Awards. However, Shirley Phelps-Roper spoke about the church's reaction to Drain's book.

Phelps-Roper called the book "a money-making opportunity" for Drain.

"She walked here for a while," Phelps-Roper said. "She didn't want to do it. It's so sad when they leave here. What do they have? No one to point them in the right direction."

Phelps-Roper said none of WBC's young children are "mistreated."

"We treat them with great kindness," she said.

When asked if it sad when a young member leaves or is banished from the church, Phelps-Roper said: "At first blush, it's sad. The sadness is in this: You know what they have done or are doing is against their own interests. You would have to be a cruel, soulless person not to see that. We are thankful for her book. It doesn't change a thing. God still will not have same-sex marriage. That is the bottom line to it all."

Today, Drain lives in Connecticut and works as a cardiac nurse. She is engaged and happy.

But she misses her family. She isn't allowed to contact them, but she still has a message for them.

"I would tell them that I love them, I miss them," Drain said. "There is love and compassion. There is room for forgiveness."

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