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Hosted by Lycoming College, Pennsylvania College of Technology and AIDS Resource, Megan Phelps-Roper, a former member of the Westboro Baptist Church, will share her story of self-discovery along with her unique insights on the need for understanding and compassion toward others during her presentation, “Empathy for the Other Side: Dialogue that Overcomes Hate, Makes Connections, and Changes Minds.” The presentation will take place on March 29, at 7 p.m. at the Community Arts Center in downtown Williamsport. This event is free and open to the public.
Phelps-Roper was raised in the Westboro Baptist Church, a group that has gained national attention for its intolerance and public protests against members of the LGBTQ community, the military, and countless other groups. She is the granddaughter of the late Fred Phelps Sr., former pastor and founder of the church, and the daughter of Shirley Phelps, one of the church’s more prominent and outspoken figures.
Phelps-Roper’s journey toward self-discovery started in 2009 when she began running the church’s Twitter account, which eventually led to her decision to leave the church in 2012. Since then, she has championed the importance of empathetic dialogue, citing understanding and compassion as the key elements that can transform lives and transcend the widest of ideological gulfs.
Phelps-Roper’s TED Talk, titled “I grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church. Here’s why I left.” was one of the top ten most popular talks of 2017. Her message of hope continues to resonate with and challenge audiences nationwide.
Jeff LeCrone, director of spiritual life and community service at Lycoming College, believes that Phelps-Roper’s speech will benefit students and community members alike, and that her message could not have come at a better time. “Her experience, while dealing with a very specific issue, has broad implications for public discourse that are particularly timely. In today’s highly polarized political and social climate, she represents the hope that people can still connect across enormous ideological differences to recognize the humanity of ‘the other.’ I encourage anyone who finds it difficult to engage on ‘hot topics’ to come out and hear her.”
“We are honored to be a part of this community initiative and are inspired by Megan’s courageous spirit,” said Katie Mackey, director of campus and community engagement at Pennsylvania College of Technology. “She is an individual who shares hope through her personal story and allows us to examine the powerful attributes that unite us.”
“Megan has said that we must extend empathy and compassion to those who show us hostility and contempt,” noted Kirsten Burkhart, executive director of AIDS Resource. “Given the state of our increasingly polarized society, Megan has much to teach us about answering hatred with compassion.”
Phelps-Roper has been featured in several publications including the The New Yorker, The Guardian, VICE, The Globe and Mail, and NPR. She recently appeared on the National Geographic series, “The Story of Us,” and on Sarah Silverman’s Hulu series, “I Love you, America.” Her story is the subject of an upcoming memoir, titled “This Above All,” which is also being made into a feature film.