In an emotional interview with NBC’s “Today” that aired Wednesday, a former member of Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church described what it was like to be part of the hate group, which is largely known for protesting the funerals of fallen American soldiers and anti-gay picketing.

“They think that they’re fighting for a nation that supports homosexuality,” Libby Phelps Alvarez, the granddaughter of the man who founded the church, said. She added, “They think that they are the only ones who are going to heaven and if you don’t go to that church you’re going to hell.”

Alvarez, who left the church nearly four years ago, said she first began to question it when members picketed the funeral of a soldier who was the husband of one of her friends. She also recalled another instance when her outlook changed.

“There was a point when we started praying for people to die,” she said. “I didn’t actually do that but I was around when they did it.”

‘Today’:

She decided to leave the church four years ago, slipping away while her parents attended a protest.

“I was terrified I was never going to see my family again,” she said, still tearful at the memory.

Alvarez still aches to see her parents, but “my aunt emailed me and said that nobody wants to talk to me anymore.”

Today, Alvarez lives about 30 miles away from the church. She still regrets the hurt she caused others but tries to remain focused on her current, peaceful life. She hopes her break from the church will inspire other relatives to make the leap.

Read more

— Posted by Tracy Bloom.

Wait, before you go…

If you're reading this, you probably already know that non-profit, independent journalism is under threat worldwide. Independent news sites are overshadowed by larger heavily funded mainstream media that inundate us with hype and noise that barely scratch the surface.  We believe that our readers deserve to know the full story. Truthdig writers bravely dig beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that tells you what’s really happening and who’s rolling up their sleeves to do something about it.

Like you, we believe a well-informed public that doesn’t have blind faith in the status quo can help change the world. Your contribution of as little as $5 monthly or $35 annually will make you a groundbreaking member and lays the foundation of our work.

Support Truthdig