The estranged son of anti-gay minister Fred Phelps is publicly calling on his father to stop his hate-filled picketing of funerals.
Nate Phelps also provides perspective on his childhood and his controversial father. That insight helps explain Fred Phelps theology, which may well conceive of God as an abusive parent. More on that below, but first the news about Nate Phelps.
The Topeka Capital-Journal reports today:
Nate Phelps said he left home for good in 1980 after a terror-filled childhood in which Fred Phelps beat him and his siblings during outbursts of violence.Nate told the newspaper that he hasn't spoken to his father or any of the family members who remain with the Westboro Baptist church in 15 years.
"When I watch what he's doing now, I see shadows and visions of who he was when we were growing up," he said. "When we were kids, he could vent his rage and anger on us. Now, I'm seeing the same kind of vicious rhetoric and cruelty, it's just that he can't beat these people up."
Fred Phelps and his minions have picketed just about everything in Kansas and the U.S. that might have the remotest gay connection. He was well known for picketing the funeral of gay-bashing victim Matthew Shepard and of the victims of AIDS.
Now the Westboro Church pickets the funerals of soldiers. He claims that U.S. deaths in Iraq are a sign that God is angry with this country for allegedly accepting homosexuality.
Leaving aside the fact that gay and lesbian Americans don't have anything close to equal rights, Fred Phelps' actions have united many Americans around the idea that it's abusive to picket funerals.
The Capital-Journal reports:
"The dominant feeling I have is anger," (Nate Phelps) said. "It's the idea that they can take something so private and personal and painful and be so hurtful about it. I categorically dismiss what he's doing and am appalled by everything he says and does."Abuse allegations have swirled around Fred Phelps for a long time.
Nate Phelps said he was speaking out about his family to provide another perspective about their protests.
"There's a perception that the family is unified on this, and that's not the case," he said.
In a 1994 story in The Topeka Capital-Journal, he and his brother Mark Phelps said they and their siblings grew up in a violent household in which they were frequently beaten by their father. Mark Phelps, who also cut ties with Fred Phelps, said he used to beat his own siblings under orders from his father.First, if this is true, then my deepest sympathies go out to all of the Phelps children. My prayers even go out to those who stay with Fred Phelps. Out of their own pain, they are attacking me and other gays and lesbians, and seeking to inflict pain on the parents and spouses of soldiers who sacrificed in Iraq.
Nate Phelps said the story was accurate.
"It wasn't fantasy, it wasn't hyperbole," he said. "He was cruelly, viciously violent -- physically, verbally and psychologically."
What I find most fascinating -- and sad -- about the accounts of Fred Phelps as an abusive father is the fact that he seems to conceive of God as being like himself.
In an earlier run-in on this blog with one of the members of the Westboro Church, that individual did a good job of summarizing the Phelps theology. In a sentence, it is:
You can't understand the love of God until you understand his hate.The subtext of this "theology" is as follows.
If you conceive of God as a violently abusive parent, then understanding his hate is all important. If you don't know what God hates, you can't, well, not do that. If you don't avoid doing the forbidden thing, God will (1) hurt you (2) refuse to love you.
As all children of abusive parents know, such parent's love is conditional. That seems to be the God Fred Phelps describes, although that's not the God I believe exists.
One of the most horrible things about abuse is that the child can never please the parent.That's because the parent's problem isn't the child or child's actions, but the parent's own pain. Thus, the parent keeps raging and beating and verbally trashing the child.
If this is Fred Phelps' conception of God, then how horrible for him and his children and followers. Even in their own theology, they can never win because this kind of God can never be satisfied.