Lauren Drain is gratefully moving forward with her life and pursuing a passion for wellness after enduring a harrowing ordeal that resulted in her reportedly being banished from the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) and, most importantly, her family.
In her new life, the 33-year-old fitness model and registered nurse runs a personal training and nutrition program in hopes of encouraging others to get healthy and feel confident about themselves. She also previously chronicled her experience in the 2013 tell-all titled “Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church.”
Still, she does wonder about her family, whom she hasn’t seen in over 10 years.
“I’ve tried many times to stay in touch with my family,” Drain told Fox News. “Unfortunately, my father doesn’t really give me any room to do so. I’ve tried to reach out to my mother. She’s given me some feedback along the years, but not with any of my siblings. … I’ve done everything I can to reach out to them. I still continue to do so.”
“It’s just hard because when you get the feedback from your parents that it’s not wanted, you’re cut off from the family, you’re like a black sheep,” she continued. “… I still continue to hold hope. I just always want my siblings to know I’m here for them. I’m always here for them. If they ever want to reach out to me, I’m here.”
Drain claimed she was inducted into WBC at age 14 when her father, documentary filmmaker Steve Drain, was making a feature film about the church. After spending a summer with the church, he converted to their beliefs and joined with his family.
“Honestly, I just feel like he was searching for some type of truth, some type of way to have control over his family,” said Drain. “[But] it was a huge culture shock for me. … I had already started going to high school dances and meeting guys… I basically went from living a somewhat normal life, to all of a sudden, I was taken out of school, I was homeschooled. … I couldn’t dye my hair. I had a strict dress code. I had strict reporting to my parents all the time. … There were always rules just thrust into my life. I just had to go with it.”
According to WBC’s website, the Topeka, Kansas-based church was founded in 1955 by former attorney-turned-pastor Fred Phelps to “adhere to the teachings of the Bible, preach against all form of sin, and insist that the sovereignty of God and the doctrines of grace be taught and expounded publicly to all men.”
Phelps began picketing as part of his antigay efforts in 1991, The New York Times reported, which was followed by protests at funerals of people who had died of AIDS. In 2005 the church then began to protest at military funerals, insisting God was punishing America for the acceptance of homosexuality.
According to the Times, Phelps called on widespread attention to his causes by using crude language. The slogan “God Hates F—“ still publicly appears on picket signs.
Phelps passed away in 2014 at age 84, but WBC remains active. On their site, they claim to have conducted over 63,000 pickets.
“On the picket line you’ll notice this weird energy,” said Drain. “It was like, you’re energized, but it just felt negative. … We were casting our judging on people. It just felt wrong. I felt a negative energy. I didn’t like how that felt. … I saw people at funerals mourning their children, their son, their daughter. When I saw that, it was just this disconnect. … I just knew in my heart that it wasn’t right. It felt wrong when I was there.”
Drain said she didn’t begin questioning the church until she was 19 and had a better understanding of what everything meant. She claimed that over time, the church’s regimen grew increasingly oppressive. Drain alleged it was at a child’s funeral when she reached her breaking point.
“I remember I was 19 years old,” she claimed. “It hit me out of nowhere. I was on the picket line. … They would send us off to protect. We didn’t even get to choose which one we went to. I was standing there on the picket line. … I had a sign. I was thinking at that moment, ‘I don’t want to be here. I’m so ashamed of being here.”
“If someone sees me, or the media comes up to me, I don’t want to answer for this.’ I just hoped that nobody could see me. It was at that moment when I realized, these aren’t my beliefs. This is not where I want to be. I don’t believe this is God’s way. I don’t want to judge people like this. … From there, I started questioning the doctrine, the signs, the protests, the judgments… I started bringing it up to my parents. But having that kind of curiosity was not met well.”
Drain alleged she was kicked out just before turning 22 in 2007, despite yearning to leave WBC. However, Drain insisted she didn’t leave on her own because she feared to lose her family. She alleged her father shamed her for questioning the church and for finding some of the elements of the doctrine hypocritical.
“Really, I didn’t have an opportunity to leave, although I was very close,” she claimed. “I was already questioning all the beliefs. He cut me off without even a second chance. Cut me off from my family, my home, my siblings. I haven’t been able to speak with them or having a relationship with them in 11 years. For me, the reason I didn’t leave on my own first is that I didn’t want to cut myself off from the family. I knew that was going to happen. [My father] kind of cut me to the chase, although it was a blessing in disguise. I’m not there anymore. I’m happy about that, living a better life. [But] it was not my choice originally.”
In response to Drain’s allegations, a rep from Westboro Baptist Church sent Fox News a lengthy blog post, which addressed “the departure and exclusion of non-believers.”
“At Westboro Baptist Church, our duty regarding our children is simple — we raise them by a Bible standard,” read the statement. “Our children are taught from the cradle of what the Lord their God requires of them. Some of those children are given the grace of God, make a sincere profession of faith, and choose to suffer afflictions with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. Others, when they come to years, simply decide that they don’t want to live by the standards of God, and they leave without ever making a profession of faith. Still others claim a profession of faith for a time, but eventually are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life (Luke 8:14) and eventually leave, being overcome by those desires.”
In 2011, Topeka’s The Pitch reported Steve, a devout member of WBC and a noted leader of the church, had reportedly removed all photos of Drain after she was kicked out.
“You don’t put a bunch of pictures of someone you’re not in-tuned with and have strong feelings for,” he said at the time. “My strong feelings for anyone in this world have to do with them wanting to serve God.”
Steve claimed his daughter was ultimately removed after she was carrying on a relationship with a man she met online. Drain said she wasn’t allowed to date and her cell phone was strictly monitored.
“I can’t be dragged down by somebody who has no interest in serving the Lord,” he claimed. “So you go live your life, and I’ll live mine. It’s so shocking to people that I wouldn’t unconditionally accept my daughter for whatever she does. It was an unburdening. It was just a stifling burden for her and for us. She didn’t want to live this kind of life, and we did. I wasn’t trying to be cruel about it.”
When asked if he wanted to hear from her, his response was “God, no.”
“Ultimately, she doesn’t love the Lord,” he added. “She doesn’t fear God. She doesn’t fear hell. And so, what can you do about that?”
Drain admitted she felt abandoned by her family, resulting in a deep depression.
“I actually remember praying, thinking, ‘God, please don’t take Christianity, faith, everything away from me just because of what happened to me at the church,’” she said. “I don’t want to believe that’s the way God really was, or that was it. … I just prayed for a new path.”
Drain said it was fitness that not only boosted her confidence again but made her feel strong enough, both physically and emotionally. After falling in love with weight-lifting, she embarked on bodybuilding competitions and encouraging others to get healthy through personal training.
“It was very therapeutic,” she said. “There were times in my life where I experienced a lot of anxiety and depression. For me, it was an amazing outlet. … I got my confidence from fitness and it’s really empowering. … As a nurse, I saw people at the bedside needing heart transplants, open-heart surgery. I really wanted to get on the preventative side of health care. And I just love empowering others.”
Drain has been a nurse for 10 years. She is happily married and looking forward to starting a family of her own. In addition to personal training, she has also launched an athleisure brand. Life today, she said, is joyous.
“… I just want to show people to be confident,” said Drain. “There are people out there that are willing to forgive, that are willing to support you. … There were times in my life where I didn’t really think I could move on. … [But you can be a really big motivator and empowerment source for other people if you share your story.”