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"You don't put a bunch of pictures up of someone you're not in-tuned with and have strong feelings for," Steve says. "My strong feelings for anyone in this world have to do with them wanting to serve God. Even in a worldly sense, you don't put a lot of pictures up of your drunk uncle who's always been an asshole."
Steve and Luci say they turned Lauren "over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh." She was disobeying God, and they couldn't have that in their house.
"It's a dangerous thing when you don't obey the Lord, and that is a fearful thing," says Luci, a dental hygienist in brown medical scrubs and with a long graying ponytail. "We don't mess around with that. We had to be clear to her that this was not acceptable. So we weren't going to mess around with that anymore."
The reason: Lauren was carrying on a relationship with a man she had met online. "They were pretty far down the road," Steve says. "Let's say that whether I did all of the things with a woman, I would say all of the things I would have done and could do. It got ugly, dude. I'm embarrassed.
"I can't be dragged down by somebody who has no interest in serving the Lord," he adds. "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's not that she offended us," Luci explains. "It's that she disobeyed the Lord, offended the Lord."
When church members met about Lauren, Steve was the first to say that Lauren had to go. After several months of trying to get her to change, he confronted Lauren, a registered nurse, when she came home from work one day. "It was an unburdening," Steve says. "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."
At first, Lauren didn't realize that she was being kicked out of the house. Luci cried because she knew that hell awaited Lauren. Steve gave his daughter money and a Toyota Camry. Several days later, Steve says, Lauren sent him an e-mail saying "good words." But he says he wasn't fooled. Anyone who has been around the church for a long time could mimic the words.
"We're fruit inspectors," he says. "You can't mimic an orderly walk. You either walk orderly or you don't."
Interviewed by Louis Theroux for a 2011 BBC documentary on Phelps called America's Most Hated Family in Crisis, Lauren said her father was caught up in "this crazy church." She said she'd like to see her family again but she knows it may never happen. "Some people lose their parents to cancer or car accidents or other things," Lauren said. "I've lost my parents to a cult." (The Pitch was unable to reach Lauren at her Connecticut home.)
Asked if he'd like to hear from her, Steve says, "God, no." He and Luci thank God that she left. Had she not been exiled, the BBC and the Australian version of 60 Minutes wouldn't have gone to Topeka to do stories. "Ultimately, she doesn't love the Lord," he says. "She doesn't fear God. She doesn't fear hell. And so, what can you do about that?"