How Brittany Murphy’s Death Saved Megan Phelps-Roper From the Westboro Baptist Church

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Phelps-Roper loved Murphy in Clueless. Photo: Paramount Pictures

In The New Yorker's fascinating exploration of Megan Phelps-Roper's decision to leave the Westboro Baptist Church, the granddaughter of church founder Fred Phelps reveals that her disenchantment with her family's beliefs sprung from their reaction to the death of Brittany Murphy in 2009. As Phelps-Roper tells reporter Adrian Chen, she learned of Murphy's death on Twitter, where she was active in spreading the church's antigay message. Her fellow churchgoers were delighted by the news: "Lots of people were talking about going to picket her funeral," she recalled. But she couldn't muster the same glee. She tells Chen she "had loved Murphy in Clueless, and she felt an unexpected pang — not quite sadness, but something close — over her death." Seeing all the mournful tweets about Murphy made Phelps-Roper stop and reconsider the Church's message of hate — "I felt like I would be such a jackass to go on and post something [celebrating her death]" — the first in a long line of ambivalent experiences that ultimately ended with her renouncing Westboro altogether. "I just couldn't keep up the charade," she says. "I couldn't bring myself to do the things we were doing and say the things we were saying."