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.
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Here's some of our interview with Lauren:
BW: Your exit from the church...did you get kicked out or did you choose to leave?
LD: Basically, I started questioning things and some doctrines, some hypocrisies and inconsistencies. And I figured it might be received with some good intentions, and no one wanted to hear anything about it. So, they started casting me as a deceiver and evil person and starting creating theories to try to get me out. At some point I would have left on my own, I was getting to that point anyway.
BW: Do you feel that their hearts are in the right place?
LD: I used to think that their hearts are in the right place. Kind of you see my transition throughout the book that they have this type of strong fervency and this you know wanting to do anything despite persecution kind of thing. But really at the end of the day you know there is no reasoning with them. There is no rationalizing with them in terms of, "Well, can we have a discussion? Can I bring this other verse to you? Can I bring this other point to you?" They literally shut down. It's like talking to a robot. And it’s very disheartening because I actually had a personal relationship where as most people see them as picketers, mean picketers. Some people I was able to touch that human personality and I describe that also in my book. Some of them have it and they shut it off, so they don’t have to deal with the reality of the situation. Like, if other members leave, they don’t have to deal with the fact that they miss them or other things that happened.
BW: Did you picket any funerals? Or weren't they doing that during the time that you were there?
LD: Yeah, they started picketing military funerals when I was still there.
BW: Did you picket any?
BW: Have you since apologized to those families or reached out to any of those people who you may of hurt by picketing the funerals?
LD: Yes, I have done it in a couple ways. I have a YouTube video, I have a Facebook fan page, and I have my book. All three of which I’ve openly apologized to anyone I would have harmed. And I have had a lot of feedback, I’ve had personal feedback from families that have been affected. People are very forgiving and it’s amazing to see that.