Megan Phelps-Roper and her younger sister, Grace, left Westboro Baptist Church last year, joining other former members in a life no longer consumed by inflammatory anti-gay demonstrations and praying for people to die.
On Wednesday, the granddaughters of Westboro founder and pastor Fred Phelps Sr. made their decision public for the first time. In an online statement, they expressed regret for their past actions, but also admitted that it was difficult to leave the only life they had ever known behind.
"We know that we’ve done and said things that hurt people," read the post, signed by both sisters. "Inflicting pain on others wasn’t the goal, but it was one of the outcomes. We wish it weren’t so, and regret that hurt."
Megan, the 27-year old daughter of Westboro spokesperson Shirley Phelps-Roper, had been increasingly active in the congregation's public presence in the last few years. In their statement, the sisters acknowledged the consequences that their abandonment of the church would have.
"We know that we dearly love our family," they wrote. "They now consider us betrayers, and we are cut off from their lives, but we know they are well-intentioned. We will never not love them."
In an interview with the Kansas City Star, Steve Drain, a spokesman for Westboro, confirmed the repercussions for their former members.
"If they continue with the position that they have, those two girls, yeah, they’re going to hell,” he said, suggesting that the two women would no longer be allowed to have any contact with their family members.
Together they make up part of a contingent of onetime Westboro members who have departed over disagreements with the group's message. Among them is Nate Phelps, son of Fred Phelps Sr., who has denounced some of Westboro's most high-profile demonstrations.
As the Phelps-Roper sisters begin to transition into a world of some normalcy -- or at least one that typically shuns the picketing of military funerals and "God Hates Fags" signs -- they appear to have high hopes for the future.
"We know that we can’t undo our whole lives," they wrote. "We can’t even say we’d want to if we could; we are who we are because of all the experiences that brought us to this point. What we can do is try to find a better way to live from here on. That’s our focus."
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained a picture that inaccurately identified Megan Phelps-Roper.