Calgarian Nate Phelps reflects on death of infamous father
Hours after the death of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps, his son Nate Phelps stood on a Calgary stage last night to talk about growing up in a hate-filled American home.
Although estranged from his father, Nate discussed the difficulty of forgiving a man who coined the phrase “God hates fags,” who picketed the funerals of U.S. soldiers, and who beat his children within the walls of the Kansas church.
Invited to speak at a secular humanist club event at Mount Royal University, Nate was asked what he would have said to his father if he could have been in the room during his final days.
“I cringe at that question,” he replied. “Because there is still a fear there that I left with. I’m not sure I could handle it if I was in the same room as him, but I thought I would tell him ‘I was sorry.’”
At 18, Nate moved to California to start a new life, and later settled in Calgary. Now 55, he is a Canadian citizen.
He told the crowd the few good memories of his childhood are overshadowed by fear and pain. Physical abuse was a staple of his father’s teachings, he said, recounting his father yelling at the children, calling them Satan, beating them until their skin welted red, leaving for a while, and then returning to beat them again until he drew blood. Nate said it was the verbal abuse that hurt the most and was hardest to recover from, especially when Bible scriptures were used to show him as a sinful person.
Nate said after leaving the church, he struggled to find ways to keep Christ and religion in his life.He has since stepped away from religion, and now considers himself an atheist. He speaks to many different groups, and encourages people to think critically about all aspects of life.
Invariably, the discussion turned to the topic of his infamous father who was reportedly excommunicated before his passing, and isolated by the congregation.
“They voted him out,” Nate said. “It’s terribly ironic that after 55 years of treating people poorly, they finally decided they were going to hold him accountable for it.”
Photo by Alexandra RabbitteNate said he is now moving forward, and is willing to help others who have struggled with religious-based abuse. He is also a major advocate for the LGBTQ community, which endured decades of attacks from Westboro Church followers.
He said he worries his father’s ideas will continue to live on in “small minds.” In remembering Fred Phelps, he said he hopes people can focus on the good that came from communities forced to rise up against the hatred.
“I will mourn his passing not for the man he was, but for the man he could have been,” he said.