The 51-year-old estranged son of anti-gay Baptist preacher Fred Phelps says that his childhood was marred by episodes of intense violence, and says that the laws should be less "curiously blind" to child abuse that is perpetrated in the name of religious faith.
Nate Phelps has been speaking to the media recently about his fathers church, Wesboro Baptist Church, which is based in Topeka, Kansas, and made up chiefly of Fred Phelps children and grandchildren. Fred Phelps has 13 children; two of them, Nate and his brother Mark, are estranged from their father and from his faith.
The Westboro congregation has become famous for picketing military funerals, the funerals of gays, Jewish houses of learning and worship, and schools where student productions of The Laramie Project take place. That play is based on the murder of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay young man whose brutal slaying shocked the nation. The Phelps clan picketed Matthew Shepards funeral; the groups colorful, often offensive placards have often made reference to Shepard, saying that he is burning in Hell for being gay.
The clan has also picketed the funerals of fallen U.S. servicemembers. The Phelps congregation claims that military casualties and natural disasters are the result of Gods displeasure with America for not doing more to persecute gays. The churchs placards have also made the claim that President Obama is the Antichrist.
Nate Phelps, who currently resides in Canada, left home at age 18 and kept quiet about the abuse he now says characterized life in the Phelps home. But he has started to speak up on the issue, telling the media that the Phelps congregation "fit[s] the description" of a cult and warning that the Westboro church could easily "turn to violence" under his fathers direction. To date, the congregation has staged loud and offensive demonstrations, but they have never been physically violent.
Nate Phelps addressed a gay rally for the first time on June 4, on the occasion of Pittsburghs Pride week, reported Pop City on June 9.
In an interview that appeared June 10 in the Pittsburgh City Paper, Nate Phelps explained a little of his familys brand of theology. When asked whether the Phelps clan understand how they are viewed by the wider world, Nate Phelps responded, "I think they do, through their own prism. They see it as a positive thing. That the world hates them, that the world reacts the way they do to them, is evidence to them that theyre on the right track. Were taught as little kids that you better be in opposition to the world, thats what God says. So they use that as proof theyre on the right track."
Moreover, Fred Phelps obsession with homosexuals stems from a conviction that a "choice" to embrace a gay "lifestyle" is contrary to God. "Hes always preached that homosexuality is the ultimate sin," explained Nate Phelps. "Its also a front-burner issue in society, so I think thats the lynchpin to the whole thing."
In an April 24 his address in Topeka, Nate Phelps talked about his father and early home life, referring to Fred Phelps as "combative, angry, hateful, destructive," and urging those at the rally to remember that the children in the Westboro Church need their compassion, rather than condemnation, reported local newspaper the Wichita Eagle on Apr. 26.
During an April 4 appearance on Canadian television news program The Standard, Nate Phelps told host Peter Klein that his father "demonstrates the characteristics of someone who is a sociopath. He has a complete lack of empathy for others, and is extremely self-focused."
Nate Phelps described life at home with Fred Phelps as an existence dominated by an autocrat who was convinced that some people are "born saved," while others never have a hope of spiritual redemption. In the Phelps household, "What was a dead giveaway" of someone who was not saved "was if anyone defied [Fred Phelps] interpretation of the Bible." Nate Phelps also described how is father would subject his children and his wife to beatings and verbal abuse, sometimes for hours on end.
When asked by Klein if the Westboro church were a cult, Nate Phelps responded, "The short answer is yes.... They fit the definition." Nate Phelps went on to add, "Ive said for years that that all it would really take is if my father made the decision, found the right justification in the Bible, they would turn violent."
Asked by Klein about his sister Shirley Phelps-Roper, who has become the "standard bearer" for Westboro as the aging Fred Phelps declines, Nate Phelps averred that Shirley had been his fathers "favorite," and added, "she was the kind of person who... insinuated herself into situations where she would gain the most authority and attention from him." Added Nate Phelps, "Theres no original thought unless it comes from my father... shes the most effective at parroting what shes heard from our father."