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Phelps Son: Westboro Founder ’Evil,’ Abusive

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Mar 18, 2011
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One of Fred Phelps’ sons says that his famously anti-gay father has done far worse than aim offensive messages at gays. According to Nathan Phelps, the founder of Westboro Baptist Church has also beaten his children and his wife to bloody pulps.

The Phelps clan preaches violence against gays insofar as their message is that God is punishing America with troops killed in action, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters because the nation’s laws are not adequately punitive toward sexual minorities. Moreover, the group echoes a message familiar to many fundamentalists: they say that "God hates fags."

Though the group never comes out and says that gays should be subjected to physical abuse, their rhetoric points to that conclusion, and the implicit violence in the roots of their message is hard to miss. The Bible prescribes the killing of homosexuals, with scriptural passages saying that men who have sex with other men are "abominations" in the sight of an angry God.

The Bible says similar things about a range of other behaviors, from the wearing of blended fabrics to the eating of shellfish to keeping close-cropped hair and shaving. The Bible also calls for execution for an array of offenses, ranging from "witchcraft" (which can be construed as everything from astrology to alternative medicine) to teenage rebelliousness. However, anti-gay pastors tend to ignore those inconvenient passages and focus on scripture’s anti-gay content.

But from what Nathan Phelps had to say, the Bible’s tradition of violence as a means of keeping order was handily observed in the Phelps household, a March 17 CNN.com story said.

The CNN article reported that, as Nathan Phelps told it, his father "hit his wife and beat his children with a mattock handle until they bled."

Faith-based hate speech directed at gays is nothing new, and the Bible has been cited as justification for anti-gay laws and ballot initiatives that go so far as to deprive same-sex families of the legal right to civil marriage. But Nathan Phelps suggested that his father’s anti-gay activities have gone beyond even those measures, telling CNN that the outrages perpetrated by Westboro constitute "one of the best reasons that America has been forced to get off the fence and address" the question of legal and social equality for GLBT citizens.

"He’s hurt a lot of families, not only in the gay community, but the families of these soldiers," Nathan Phelps noted, referring to Westboro’s relatively new attention-grabbing tactic of picketing the funerals of fallen American heroes who have died fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Phelps clan’s media seeking began with picketing actions that targeted the funerals of gays and people who had died of AIDS. The group’s behavior escalated to picketing the funerals of servicemembers after the U.S. invaded Iraq. The tactic worked almost too well, resulting in a lawsuit that saw the Phelps clan hit with an order to pay $5 million.

But the family fought back, taking the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which recently ruled in the Phelps’ favor under First Amendment protections.

Ugly placards plastered with provocative messages for public consumption are one thing, but the private dynamics of the family were another matter, according to Nathan Phelps.

"He used his fists," the son of Fred Phelps--one of the reverend’s 13 children--said of his father’s allegedly brutal disciplinary style. "He used his knees and he used... the handle of a mattock."

A mattock is an implement similar to a pick, the CNN article said.

"He used that in such a way that it split the skin on the back of the kid’s legs so they bled," Nathan Phelps said, adding, "If they want to call that discipline, that’s fine. But I call it abuse."

As for his father’s stance on political and social issues, Nathan Phelps said, "My father can make any connection to anything that anyone has done or hasn’t done in their life and point to that to say that that’s evidence they’re damned and going to hell.

"He’s convinced that homosexuality is the ultimate sin against God," Nathan Phelps added. "So since the United States is taking steps to move in the direction of equality for gays in America, he says that has doomed America." The placards carried by the congregants Phelps’ church--which is essentially made up of his own extended family--state as much.

"I think what he does out there is evil," Nathan Phelps summarized.

"Yikes," responded Shirley Phelps-Roper, who in recent years has been the congregation’s public face. "Hell no. His imagination goes on and on," a message by Roper, read aloud during the CNN interview, claimed.

"This lie should not have come out of his mouth when he decided to reject the word of God," added Roper. "Nothing he can say will change the fact that God hates fags and their enablers and therefore God hates America and America is doomed."

Speaking Out

The CNN appearance was not the first time that Nathan Phelps has spoken out against his father. Nathan Phelps kicked off the Pride Parade in Pittsburgh last summer, and he told the media at that time that that his childhood was marred by episodes of intense violence. Nathan Phelps also said that the laws should be less "curiously blind" to child abuse that is perpetrated in the name of religious faith.

A few months earlier, Nathan Phelps told Peter Klein, the host of Canadian news program The Standard, that his father was, clinically speaking, "a sociopath. He has a complete lack of empathy for others, and is extremely self-focused."

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, Nathan Phelps averred that she 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 Nathan 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."

Commentators at conservative chat site Free Republic--which is so devoted to gay news that it hosts a message board regarding the "Homosexual Agenda"--envisioned elaborate conspiracy theories in which Fred Phelps was a left-wing agent provocateur and a supporter of the Democratic Party.

"Fred Phelps ran for office several times as a democrat," one chat participant wrote. "He is a lowlife in every way he can be."

"So, do you think Nate will ’out’ his dad as a Democrat?" wrote another.

"They are doing the Devil’s work in making Christians look evil," another participant posted. "They are NOT Christians. They are Al Gore-supporting democrats, who are most likely doing all this purely to make Christians look bad."

Others expressed their outrage at how the Westboro congregation pickets military funerals.

"I don’t care how the fake pastor carries on about gays, but he and his followers should be strung up with piano wire for their military funeral protests," one contributor posted.

Another chat participant took the topic as an occasion to posit a theory about how being driven from the ranks of the religious and becoming part of the gay community impacts young people emerging from the closet.

"Far too many Christian churches have a poor (or no) answer for those who come to maturity and face an unexpected orientation," posted the chat participant.

"Some churches advocate a variety of questionable ’reeducation’ programs (an evangelical’s answer), others quietly condemn homosexuals to a life of solitude (a catholic’s answer), some shun them as lepers (a Jehovah’s Witness’s answer) or join Westboro’s infliction of hatred," the posting continued. "It’s a shame but not surprising many move away from the faith of their upbringing and fall into the seedy arms of secularism. Make no mistake, however, those ’safe’ and ’welcoming’ and ’tolerant’ secularists are among the most militant minds with their own doctrines to which they demand complete adherence: atheism, liberalism, hedonism."

Added the posting, "Caught between the indifferent ’gay community,’ an intolerant ’faith community’ and an inhumane family unit, it’s no surprise suicide rates are high among homosexuals."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

Comments

  • Anonymous, 2011-03-19 03:19:54

    Harassment by religious extremist Jehovah’s Witnesses instigated court decisions in 1942 which involved cursing a police officer calling him a fascist and to get in your face at the door steps,....this same JW 1942 court decision upheld infamous Phelps hate church in 2011 ---- Danny Haszard,more on this group http://www.dannyhaszard.com


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