Former Westboro Baptist Church member reveals new life as fitness model
The Westboro Baptist Church is headquartered in Topeka, Kansas and only has about 45 members, but has become world-famous due to its inflammatory hate speech. The members travel around America, protesting at public events, military funerals, celebrity funerals, and the funerals of people who died of AIDS. Their obnoxiously bright picket signs promote crude, offensive slogans like, "Thank God for dead soldiers," "God hates America," and "God hates f**s."
Founded in 1955 by attorney-turned-pastor Fred Phelps, the church describes itself as primitive Baptist, although it is not affiliated with any Baptist denomination. According to their website, they "adhere to the teachings of the Bible, preach against all form of sin, and insist that the sovereignty of God and the doctrines of grace be taught and expounded publicly to all men." In 1991, the church began picketing at funerals, arguing that their deaths were God's punishment for America accepting homosexuality.
Lauren Drain, a 33-year-old fitness model and former nurse, was once a part of the Westboro Baptist Church. In her 2013 tell-all memoir, Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church, she describes how she became fully assimilated into their extreme religious beliefs. It all started when her father, documentary filmmaker Steve Drain, spent a summer with the church to make a film. After becoming fascinated by their doctrine, he converted, and moved the family from Florida to Kansas.
"It was a huge culture shock for me," Lauren told Fox News. "I basically went from living a somewhat normal life, to all of a sudden, I was taken out of school, I was homeschooled. … I couldn’t dye my hair. I had a strict dress code. I had strict reporting to my parents all the time. … There were always rules just thrust into my life."
At age 14, Lauren was inducted into the church, and claimed their regimen grew increasingly oppressive. Five years later, she began questioning their controversial beliefs, after picketing at a child's funeral. "It just felt wrong," said Lauren. "I saw people at funerals mourning their children, their son, their daughter. ... I just knew in my heart that it wasn’t right."
Despite desperately wanting to leave WBC, she could not go through with it, out of fear for losing her family. Finally, in 2007, her dad allegedly "banished" her from the church due to her heresy. "He cut me off without even a second chance," said Lauren. "Cut me off from my family, my home, my siblings. I haven’t been able to speak with them or having a relationship with them in 11 years."
"I’ve tried many times to stay in touch with my family," she continued. "Unfortunately, my father doesn’t really give me any room to do so. I’ve tried to reach out to my mother. She’s given me some feedback along the years, but not with any of my siblings. … I’ve done everything I can to reach out to them. I still continue to do so. ... I still continue to hold hope. I just always want my siblings to know I’m here for them. I’m always here for them. If they ever want to reach out to me, I’m here."
Steve Drain went on to become a devout member and noted leader of Westboro Baptist Church. In 2011, Topeka’s The Pitch reported that he removed all of Lauren's photos from their family home. "You don’t put a bunch of pictures of someone you’re not in-tuned with and have strong feelings for,” he explained to The Pitch. "My strong feelings for anyone in this world have to do with them wanting to serve God." When asked if he'd like to hear from Lauren, he said, "God, no. ... Ultimately, she doesn’t love the Lord. She doesn’t fear God. She doesn’t fear hell."
According to Steve, his daughter was removed from WBC because of a relationship with a man she met online. "They were pretty far down the road," he said. "I can’t be dragged down by somebody who has no interest in serving the Lord. So you go live your life, and I’ll live mine. It’s so shocking to people that I wouldn’t unconditionally accept my daughter for whatever she does. It was an unburdening. It was just a stifling burden for her and for us. She didn’t want to live this kind of life, and we did."
In response to Lauren's allegations, a representative from Westboro Baptist Church issued the following statement:
"At Westboro Baptist Church, our duty regarding our children is simple - we raise them by a Bible standard. Our children are taught from the cradle of what the Lord their God requires of them. Some of those children are given the grace of God, make a sincere profession of faith, and choose to suffer afflictions with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.
"Others, when they come to years, simply decide that they don’t want to live by the standards of God, and they leave without ever making a profession of faith. Still others claim a profession of faith for a time, but eventually are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life (Luke 8:14) and eventually leave, being overcome by those desires."
Fred Phelps died at age 84 in 2014, but his legacy lives on, as the WBC continues to picket public events and funerals - although many states require them to stand a "lawful proximity" from the service. Meanwhile, Lauren Drain is happily married and looks forward to starting a family. She says that after leaving the church, fitness training, weight-lifting and bodybuilding gave her a therapeutic outlet to overcome anxiety and depression.