(Lauren Drain, now 27, spent her formative years in the Westboro Baptist Church before being cast out after challenging many of its beliefs. Her new book BANISHED: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church will be published on March 5th.
The following is an excerpt from BANISHED that illustrates the inner-struggle Lauren had as she questioned the intentions and practices of the Church and whether this was truly the right place for her.)
I still had more questions than anybody in the congregation was willing to answer. Certain verses in the Bible seemed contradictory to so many things we were preaching at the pickets, but I wasn’t able to get explanations as to why.
I thought people who challenged us deserved honest, straightforward answers. One of my biggest problems was trying to reconcile the scripture with our message, especially when it came to death. A lot of people at the pickets wanted to know how we could make definitive statements such as “Thank God for September 11” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.” I wondered, too, how we could say these things with such authority when Ezekiel 18:32 says, “For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth” and Ezekiel 33:11, where he says, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” People at the pickets would ask me, “God wants us to go to hell?” I really didn’t feel like I knew the answer.
The church had taught me to put my doubts in a certain context if I was having trouble with scripture, but it still didn’t add up for me. I didn’t want to fight, though, so I accepted that cer¬tain things were fundamental beliefs of the church, but I never felt satisfied. My name was already associated with words like tension, strife, and contention.
Church members liked to say that I stirred up strife. They thought I was trying to change the rules, that I was up to no good, and that I was trying to find loopholes. I was not intentionally trying to be contrary or malicious. I was just trying to logically understand when things were okay in the WBC, what our religion was, and why we were allowed to do some things and not others.
Sometimes in a Bible study I just couldn’t keep myself from posing what I thought were probing, intelligent questions or bringing up inconsistencies about things like unconditional election, eternal damnation in hell, and Judgment Day. I would read a verse in the Bible about a catastrophic disaster, then say, “This doesn’t seem to match up with what we tell everyone about calamities and tragedies.” We were telling people at our pickets all these prophecies, but I was reading something different. At the very least, I felt the biblical events were open to interpretation. God wasn’t always straightforward, and His ref¬erences didn’t necessarily mean the same thing in every verse. The church was trying to make everything black and white, but I didn’t see how we could be that certain.
There was nothing I could do about what the church members thought of me. They misunderstood my curiosity as skepticism. I wanted to be a good Christian, and having my questions answered was important.
Nevertheless, Shirley dismissed me. She told me, “Nobody else asks questions, not like this,” and she said the pastor was in agreement. The part that bothered me the most was that everybody else was also asking questions that were seen as sincere. I thought mine should be, too, and I wasn’t sure why I was being singled out as a contrarian.
Doubting Thomas, one of Jesus’ twelve apostles, had asked questions about the verity of the crucifixion, and he had later been sainted. I just wanted to know how to explain passages that seemed contradictory to me. If someone asked me, “Why would you thank God for killing our soldiers?” I wanted to have a dignified answer. I didn’t think that saying “because he didn’t obey” was sufficient. There were examples in the Bible where a person dutifully obedient to God was severely afflicted, like Job, and other people who had led disobedient lives went unpunished on earth, like Pontius Pilate.
Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.