Nate Phelps -- Son of Fred -- Kicks Off Pittsburgh Pride

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Jun 11, 2010

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 father's 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 Shepard's funeral; the group's 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 God's displeasure with America for not doing more to persecute gays. The church's 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 father's 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 Pittsburgh's 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 family's 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 they're on the right track. We're taught as little kids that you better be in opposition to the world, that's what God says. So they use that as proof they're 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. "He's always preached that homosexuality is the ultimate sin," explained Nate Phelps. "It's also a front-burner issue in society, so I think that's 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, "I've 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 father's "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, "There's no original thought unless it comes from my father... she's the most effective at parroting what she's heard from our father."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • , 2010-06-11 15:00:46

    I can hardly imagine the psychic damage this guy went through.

  • GreggySF, 2010-06-11 18:53:59

    Those poor kids. When I see the little kids in front of the CRAZZY Fred and those other adults, I just want to save them!!!

  • seriously, 2010-06-12 11:39:42

    Oh fer sure. Those poor things.

  • , 2010-06-24 10:53:38

    I get angry when people do horrible things in the name of Jesus. First, Fred looks like the crazy preacher in the Poltergiest movies. You can see the evil in his face. Secondly, when did Jesusu ever act like this? Never. Lastly, I’d love to be there when Fred croaks and has to beg mercy from God when he showed none to ’the least of these’ in his life. He will definately be looking up to Nate from the bowel of Hell.

  • , 2010-06-30 20:08:29

    Spent years observing the Phelps groups’ filth and filming it in public places. It was always humbling to imagine that one of the cult was one of the GLBTA. Impossible to be simultaneously angry & compassionate .

  • , 2011-01-22 20:43:36

    The westboro babtist is not a "church", it is a hate group. They are in it for the money and the press. Most of the members of this "church" are attorneys. If any other group showed up at your door, would they get away with this? No! Why do they? Any one can say they are a "church", that is not going to make you a Church! We in this country let a lot pass for "church". This is not about freedom, it is about being human. The hate is a way to make money, by bringing a Lawsuit against people THEY have provoked. They are running a "church" scam.

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