Libby Phelps Alvarez, 34, is the granddaughter of Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. — the most notorious anti-gay hate group in America. Libby fled the church and her family eight years ago, and in her new memoir “Girl on a Wire: Walking the Line Between Faith and Freedom in the Westboro Baptist Church,” she tells her story with the help of The Post’s Sara Stewart. Libby has a radically different life now, teaching her kids tolerance and respect for all, but, as she reveals here, her love for “Gramps” endures.
I have a 3-year-old son, Paxton, who is very opinionated. No fear. He’s a lot like me: independent. I take after my late grandfather, who taught me to stand up for my beliefs.
But Gramps also told me that gay people were sending America straight to hell. Given that I now believe that people should be able to love whomever they want, I have some very complicated feelings about our relationship.
Growing up, I thought Gramps had all the answers: His was the unambiguous word of God. Gramps came out of the old school, the teachings of 18th-century theologian Jonathan Edwards and Calvinism. He taught his followers that we were the only ones going to heaven; everybody else was going to hell. That put pressure on us. I felt like someone was constantly watching, like I had to be perfect.
I know most of the world saw my grandfather as a hatemonger. I can’t argue with that, but that wasn’t his entire personality.
There were two sides to Gramps: the preacher I feared, and the grandfather I adored. He’d be loving and silly, and then at the flip of a switch he’d be an anti-gay zealot.
Gramps was the smartest person I knew — and the most fun. He was goofy with us kids. In the summers, we would play Marco Polo in the pool.
When I was applying to grad schools, he helped me study for the GRE, quizzing me on vocabulary words. I was terrified he’d yell at me for getting a word wrong — turn all fire-and-brimstone. But he would laugh it off: “That word’s in the Bible, girl!”
But then on Sundays he’d be a whole different person, leaning over the pulpit, banging it with his fist, yelling at us — the 70 or so Westboro Baptist Church members, most of them my family — to “wake up!” Telling us gay people are on the bottom rung of the ladder of depravity. He also railed against adultery, remarriage, abortion and laziness, but…