The son of “God Hates Fags” preacher Pastor Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, has been speaking publicly about his relationship with his father.
Nate Phelps (51) is an atheist father of four, living in Calgary. He has told a Canadian newspaper: “I don’t accept the argument that growing up in a twisted environment is what led me to atheism …
“I accept the argument that growing up in a hyper-focus-on-God environment led me to search for answers. There’s no doubt about that. And I do accept that there’s damage there … I just don’t see any evidence for a God. But I see plenty of evidence for good and evil in humans,” he tells the Globe and Mail.
Nate Phelps’s father founded the gay-hating Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, which claims that God hates the United States for supporting the rights of gay people. His church members have even picketed funerals of US soldiers brought home from war zones.
Nate Phelps says in the Globe and Mail interview he feels a need for atonement and needs to work through his feelings about his upbringing. He plans to put his views into a book, says the article by Sarah Hampson.
“For most of his life,” she writes, “Nate Phelps, now 51, has been silent. But last year, after a writer figured out who he was when riding in Mr. Phelps’ taxi in Cranbrook, B.C., he went public. Mr. Phelps had moved to Canada to be with a woman he met online after a difficult divorce from his first wife, with whom he has three children and a stepchild.”
She cites Phelps Jr’s decision to return to Topeka a month ago to speak to a gay rally as “a move that put him at the centre of his father’s hate campaign.”
“It was terrifying,” Mr. Phelps says of his decision to speak at the rally.
“It was the first time I’d been there in any form to discuss it. [But] it was a very timid kind of pushing back against it,” he avers. “It’s not a real aggressive thing.”
She asks Nate Phelps about why he’s only now gone up against his father 30 years after leaving the church for good. She says he “reveals a complex set of reasons. Partly, there’s a need for atonement, he acknowledges, but it’s also an effort to gain momentum for a possible book deal.”
He talks of “tapes rolling in my head of my old man so critical of and hateful of any projection of positive feeling or emotion.” He has spent many years worrying about his salvation, because his father had inculcated in him that God would punish anyone who didn’t live according to his interpretation of the Bible.
Once Mr. Phelps had left his father’s control, he would interpret every event as evidence of God’s wrath – something as simple as a speeding ticket would be a sign of his impending damnation, he explains. Even though he understands that homosexuals don’t choose their sexuality, doubt creeps into his mind when he defends them. “It isn’t an intellectual thing. It’s an emotional thing. It’s what was hard-wired into my brain. And it whispers, ‘What if I’m wrong?’”
Each day, he says, is a struggle.
Hampson says Phelps Jr cringes when asked if he can forgive his father, or feel any love for him. He responds: “I appear heartless and maybe I am. But I just don’t feel there’s any love there.”