Phelps Son: Westboro Founder ’Evil,’ Abusive
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.