It’s hard to imagine how someone could be a part of a group that held as radically negative views as the Westboro Baptist Church, but to choose to join the group after having lived a “normal” life is even more incomprehensible. And yet, it happened to Lauren Drain when she was a teenager and her dad made the life-altering shift from being a perpetual college student to a minion for Pastor Phelps. In Banished, Drain tells, with the help of Lisa Pulitzer, of how her life went from school sports and hanging out with friends to one of weekends picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers and not being able to speak to boys.
For a young lady who has every reason to be bitter, as her teenage years were spent within the confines of a community who ridiculed her every choice, made her feel as though the slightest mistake would send her to the burning fires of Hell and wouldn’t allow even a clarifying question when it came to doctrine, Drain’s book is remarkably even-handed. I expected much more anger from someone who spent her formative years within the Westboro Baptist Church, but instead, it seems Drain has used her book as a bit of therapy, working through the issues that remain.
What I was most interested in learning from the book was more about the belief system of this church that is so often portrayed on the nightly news. I couldn’t fathom how a group of people could abide by ideas that were so anger-filled and purported a god who was so wrathful as to cheer the deaths of small children and patriotic soldiers. After reading the whole thing, I can’t honestly say I have much more of a grasp on it. While I now know the doctrines being taught by Phelps and his followers, understanding is far from mine. The teaching conflict with one another, saying that God has pre-ordained a certain number of people to enter Heaven and only those will be “saved” and then turning around and preaching that all must pray for forgiveness and atonement. But, if one is already set on the path to Hell before even being born, why bother? It doesn’t make much sense, and yet his followers trail behind him, spouting the same vitriol at their numerous pickets.
As far as writing goes, the book is a very straight-forward narrative of her family’s path to and within the Westboro Baptist Church. The book is a quick read and gives an interesting “inside” view of the inner working of the church and its congregation. Banished by Lauren Drain and Lisa Pulitzer is dynamic enough to overcome the rather bland writing (it isn’t bad writing, but it also doesn’t do much other than tell a story chronologically), earning: