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Nate Phelps, the 'counterbalance' for the Westboro Baptist Church, speaks at MU

Friday, October 28, 2011 | 8:04 p.m. CDT; updated 6:00 p.m. CDT, Sunday, October 30, 2011
Nate Phelps, son of Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps, speaks out against his father's teachings as a part of the MU Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists and Agnostics first fall conference Friday. Unlike his father, Nate is a supporter of LGBTQ rights.

COLUMBIA — In 1976, Nate Phelps ran away from home.

At midnight on his 18th birthday, he stole away from his sleeping family members. After living in a home filled with physical and mental abuse, he left without a second thought to what the world might have in store for him.

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"I was convinced what I was doing was going to end up putting me in hell," Phelps said.

If Phelps' last name seems familiar, it's because his family has received considerable media attention. In 2007, they were featured as the subject of a BBC documentary called "The Most Hated Family in America."

Nate Phelps' father, Fred Phelps, is the leader of Westboro Baptist Church, an organization well-known for its extreme anti-gay and lesbian rhetoric.  The church is located in Topeka, Kan., but members — mostly family of Fred Phelps — picket funerals and other events all over the country.

Phelps, 53, is now a public speaker on religion and child abuse and an advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. 

On Friday afternoon, he spoke to a crowd of about 85 people at MU's Women's Center. The question-and-answer forum was originally meant to be held in the nearby LGBTQ Resource Center, but the event was moved because the number of people would possibly have violated fire code restrictions.

Phelps said after he left his father's house and his church, Fred Phelps cut off all ties of communication with him. 

"When I first left, I tried to avoid anything to do with religion," Phelps said. "I thought I was fine. I thought I had survived, unscathed."

When psychological issues later arose, Phelps sought the help of a counselor. During counseling, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, something he attributes to the abusive environment he grew up in.

"I heard what he was preaching to us, but I also saw how he behaved. ... He was so willing to respond to other human beings cruelly," Phelps said. "If there was any sign of weakness, he would physically and verbally beat it out of us."

Phelps said his father believes homosexuality is a uniquely evil sin, but the hatred and protests were not solely for the gay community. 

"Make no mistake about it, he doesn't reserve God's hatred just for the gay community," Phelps said. "He hates everyone."

Fred Phelps also found he could provoke strong reactions and media attention from protesting at events, Phelps said.

In 2008, a student reporter wrote a story about Nate Phelps' experiences in the church. After the story received much attention and an award, Phelps was called to speak to groups about his life. 

He then realized becoming a LGBT advocate and speaking out against his father's teachings could help counterbalance the effects his father's church had on the gay community, Phelps said.

University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists and Agnostics and MU Organization Resource Group collaborated to bring Phelps to campus. He will also be speaking Saturday about his life at the organization's fall conference.

Dave Muscato, the group's vice president, said he hoped those attending the conference would gain a new perspective on religion and religious fanaticism from Nate Phelps' story. 

"It (religion) can be beautiful and give people hope, but it can be jet fuel for hate when applied as written," Muscato said.

Now an atheist, Nate Phelps has been speaking at events, including gay pride parades and atheist conventions, around the U.S. for the past three years.

He is also in the process of publishing a book about his life that is "pretty much written," he said.

"It would be nice to say we all lived happily ever," Phelps said. "Someone said give me a child until he's 7, and I'll give you the man. You put thoughts in a child's head and they never go away."


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Comments

Mary Waterton November 5, 2011 | 8:16 p.m.

Nate Phelps is an atheist. That alone negates anything he might say, either good or bad, because God said:

"The fool says in his heart there is no God. They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there are none that do good." (Psalm 14:1)

The Hebrew words rendered fool in Psalms denotes one who is morally deficient. That fits because Nate has gone far beyond doubting there is a God, and now works for the Devil.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking November 6, 2011 | 4:50 a.m.

Who does Fred work for? Please don't tell me it's God.

DK

(Report Comment)
mike mentor November 6, 2011 | 8:47 a.m.

@Mary
And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
(Mark 7:6)

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. (1 Corinthians 3:18)

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. (James 3:13)

And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
(2 Corinthians 3:3)

(Report Comment)

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