Monday, May 25, 2009

Over the Top Fluffy Words

Richard Haynes' "Life Without Faith" website has been chronicling the salient events since I spoke at the American Atheist conference in April. Recently he featured a comment that my sister Shirley posted in response to my blog "Why Isn't That Man in Jail".

Within a few hours of reading it I was so angry I sat down and wrote for several hours. Then I walked away from it. Over the next 24 hours my mind went from fury to uncertainty to fear to intimidation and self-loathing to an apathetic resignation that left me physically weak and depressed. This is just one of the manifestations of growing up in that environment. Every step of this journey I fight through some version of that cycle. I’ve come to recognize it and am learning to work past.

In that spirit, I offer the following point-by-point response to Shirley’s comments:

SHIRLEY: “The arrogance of this man. Every rebel has a sob story to justify their disobedience. Richard the rebel I’m sure has a story of his own that he would palm off. But alas, you change nothing!”

NATE: It’s not clear who “this man” is. Maybe me, maybe Dr. Dawkins. Regardless, it says nothing except that we have a difference of opinion. To call someone disobedient is to imply an authority over them that you simply don’t have.

I’m not trying to “justify” anything. The WBC is quite active in telling people its message, and then letting others decide what the value of that message is. I am, in turn, telling my side of the story, and letting people reach their own conclusions. If those people conclude that I am a disobedient rebel, that’s their decision. However, since the WBC seeks to preach “the truth”, why is it that you are so afraid of the truths that I am telling? Why is it that so many responses from people in the WBC complain about “airing dirty laundry” or talking about “private family matters”? If you truly are the voice of God, following in God’s footsteps, then surely you would have no objection to having your lives submitted to the light of public scrutiny? These reactions seem to indicate the opposite; that you, and others in the family, fully recognize that the truth of the ‘inner workings’ of the Phelps household are shameful, and worthy of condemnation.

Denying the rest of the world their story is the hallmark of why your “ministry” is an epic failure. Your obstinate insistence that you’re right and the rest of the world is wrong has reduced your campaign to an international laughing stock.

SHIRLEY: “God set his standard in the earth. Fred Phelps was determined to serve God in truth. That means that you spank your children.”

NATE: Nobody said anything about spanking Shirley. No reasonable, rational person would argue that a child should be left to their own devices, without discipline. I don’t think I have ever used the term spanking in any of my writing or comments. It is deliberately deceitful for you to use that term for what our father did. I was careful in my speech to avoid words or phrases that might mischaracterize the nature of our father’s actions. I simply related the specifics of what he did. In fact, I only presented a small fraction of those specifics.

In light of your efforts to soft peddle it, I’m obliged now to counter your characterization. What our father did was violent child abuse. His actions were criminal. His actions today are a reflection of the same insensitive violence that he visited on his wife and children. You can shroud his deeds in robes of righteousness, with “over the top fluffy words”, and the plain stench of it is still there. He repeatedly, viciously beat us with that mattock handle, his fists, his knees, and his feet. That’s plain English and that’s my indictment! Bring your bible and your formidable legal army. It changes nothing.

SHIRLEY: “The truth of the matter is that Nathan Phelps was determined that he would go after mischief and criminal mischief as he grew older, with both hands. A further truth is that the vast majority of his deeds were never known by his dad. The body of his crimes was so big that his closest siblings were left some days in jaw-dropping amazment [sic] at what he might think of next to do that he had NO BUSINESS DOING!! By ANY standard, you don’t do the things that Nathan did. I know, I was the next child up from him. I lived up close and had a front row seat to the trauma that was the dark heart of disobedience called Nathan Phelps.”

NATE: Yes, I rebelled, and yes, I have done things that were wrong. I know of no human being who can claim otherwise. If you are arguing that this is the standard for determining the ‘truth’ of a claim, or the ‘right’ of a person to speak up, then our father – who abused drugs, and lost his license to practice law due to unethical practices – likewise deserves to be held to the same standards.

You’re big on the whole “connect the dots” rhetoric Shirley so let me speak in your own language for a moment. Please connect the dots between our father violating our mother by chopping her hair off and my mischief. Connect the dots between my misdeeds and the image of our sister Margie lying semi-conscious at the back of the church while our father repeatedly kicked her and brandished a frying pan over her head. Connect the dots between my misconduct and the distended lump at the top of your leg caused by the “spankings” you received from our father. Please Shirley, set your bible aside for a moment and lets play a little game of connect the dots.

Oh, one other point that may be lost on our readers. You mentioned that the old man wasn’t aware of “the vast majority” of my misdeeds. Why is that Shirley? In fact, why is it just as true that the vast majority of all our misdeeds were kept from our father? That’s not the behavior of a loving, properly functioning relationship between a man and a woman. Perhaps so much was kept from our father because our mother was terrified of his violent over reactions. Try finding some bible verses to support that.

SHIRLEY: So at the end of the day, you can multiply words and you can call the standards of God cruel, but you are just another rebel that will spend eterntiy in hell.

NATE: The Bible tells me that I should stone a woman who has a child out of wedlock. Would you support that Biblical standard, Shirley? What of our father’s beliefs that not only is homosexuality wrong, but that homosexuals should be put to death? That’s a side of ‘the message’ that you tend not to proclaim so publicly…why is that? The Bible says that murdering unarmed women and children is fine, as is taking virgin women as slaves. How exactly should we apply that Biblical standard to modern times?

SHIRLEY: However, you should STOP lying about these matters. Further, if you truly want an answer to why Fred Phelps is not in jail for properly raising his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord their God, well - that would be because it is not a crime to do that. Just because you have reached a day where your rebellion is full of over the top fluffy words where you call a spanking child abuse or where you whip out selective memory about events to justify your disobedience, you change nothing. Nathan did leave when he was 18 because he was not going to obey. Good. He had to do that. Then, I bet he left out the part in his little story where he came back.

NATE: As to your charge of lying. You have an army of lawyers at your disposal Shirley. If I have lied, utilize them. Otherwise, dispense with the vacuous rhetoric.

And…”over the top fluffy words”?!? Is that kind of like being a wordsmith? The very title our father so eagerly embraces.

And what of this charge of “selective memory”? Do you mean to say that there are other memories that, in combination with these, justify or excuse our father’s abuses? That his ‘success’ in the legal practice justifies beating us with his fist and a mattock handle? That the times he was nice to our mother justifies brutally chopping off her hair? Your very statement that it is a ‘selective memory’ belies your claim that what I say is not true. If Fred Phelps is the man of god that you claim, then neither you nor anyone else in the family should object to having the truth of our childhood told publicly. You are, of course, welcome to add whatever other information that you feel may ameliorate or justify his actions; but denying them is an act of deceit.

One final item deserves a response. You mentioned the fact that I came back. You’ve raised that issue before and once again, I’m puzzled. You raise the issue as though you think that mitigates the truth of me leaving on my 18th birthday. I’m not sure how. Do you perceive that as a lie of omission? Does my having come back for a time demonstrate that our father wasn’t abusive? I’m honestly confused.

However, I do think it’s fair to the reader to address that issue since you’ve raised it. In 1979, nearly 3 years after I left, I began communicating with you and Margie. My brother Mark and I had started our first print shop in Prairie Village, Kansas. Mark had been forced to leave the operation of the business to me because of a threat of legal action by his former employer. Mark moved back to Topeka and started another shop there while I attempted to run the first location on my own.

I was living alone in the Kansas City area and struggling with that isolation. You and Margie began to suggest that I come back home, work in the law office, and go back to college. The desire to be connected to my family was very powerful. And it should be noted, one very important aspect of that whole drama was the constant reassurance that both of you gave me that our father was no longer physically violent. Eventually, I made the decision to return home. That decision was very destructive to my relationship with my brother Mark.

Once home, I learned very quickly that my work at the law office was not going to be compensated. I had debt to service so I went out and found a job that was actually providing an income. This violated my father’s expectations and created tremendous tension. Although the violence did appear to be far less, my father had plenty of weapons in his arsenal to insure compliance. Eventually he called a meeting to discuss my disobedience. I refused to attend. The outcome of that meeting was that I was required to leave…immediately.

Nothing about that chapter in my life speaks to the essence of the story as I’ve told it; except to highlight the fact that the only way that you were able to get me to come back was through promising that our father’s violence had decreased; a violence that you now seek to deny or justify. If that violence were untrue, or were justified…then why would a decrease in that violence be a desirable thing?


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I appreciate that you feel like you need to respond to all of the accusations from your sister. I myself went rounds just like this with my own father for a couple of years. The fact is that you don't need to. It only serves to give them more of a voice in the matter and before you know it they will begin twisting your words around for their own self-serving interests. I know this from personal experience.

All that matters is that you know the truth and they remain living in a delusional, manufactured reality.

I would suggest that you respond to comments like these by addressing the comments not the commentor.

I spent a couple of years having tit-for-tat conversations via email with my father very similar to this only to have my own words twisted into his alter reality and relayed to others. In your position, your words and actions are much more visible than mine.

Just a word of warning.

Thanks again for sharing your story to those of us that have been through similar situations. You have inspired me and I'm sure many others by stepping out and speaking on this issue.


May 27, 2009 6:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am just so sad for you. i can't remember how i stumbled upon your story today, but i have been reading it off and on all day; researching your family, etc. i feel like a stalker. but i am just so sad that these WBC people use God as a wizard of Oz for their obviously serious psychological aggravations.

i am sick to my stomach that there are children growing up in this way. no doubt, many would say i am brainwashing my three children b/c i am a christian and i teach them about Jesus. but the fact of the matter is that everyone has a creed or a religion, be it christianity, islam, or atheism. to not believe is to believe in not-believing. i digress. i guess i just want to say i am so sorry for you and your siblings, even that depraved woman, shirley, may God save her. i don't even know if i will be able to sleep tonight.

grace and peace,
courtney jewett

May 27, 2009 9:51 PM  
Blogger Nate Phelps said...

Thanks for your comment AJ. I took a long time deciding whether to post this. I agree with you that tit-for-tat is ugly and ineffective. In the end, I thought it important to, at least once, give my side of her arguments for the benefit of those who've read my story then come across her comments.

I have no interest in bickering with her beyond that.

May 29, 2009 6:52 AM  
Blogger DrFood said...


I wish you strength in your journey. I knew your father was sick, but I didn't realize just how twisted and depraved until today. Please keep telling your story--it needs to be heard.

I do wonder what your father was afraid of. It seems to me that most bad things people do come from fear.

June 13, 2009 2:59 PM  
Blogger Mia said...

Nate, I just wanted to post to commend you from escaping from what you were born into, and for being so strong that you're standing up and speaking out. It must be exhausting and wearing for you to keep speaking up and trying to stop the flood of hatred and abuse that is the Westboro Baptist Church. You are an example to so many people in so many ways, you don't even know. Keep it up!

July 6, 2009 11:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nate, I stumbled on your story at and I just want to let you know that my heart goes out to you. A childhood of abuse is hard to overcome, but I'm glad to see you are overcoming in your own ways. I wish you all the best, and get your story out there so all can see how twisted that "Church" is.

July 12, 2009 8:49 PM  
Anonymous highwinder said...

Although I can't agree with some of your ideas about religion, I can certainly support your motion against the kind of child abuse you were subjected to. The WBC is an interesting case that frankly disturbs me, and most in the religious community; their doctrines, specifically.

It's very through provoking, the idea of predestination, and while it might be valid, perhaps no man understands it, not even e-mailing rhetoricians that think they have the answer, and try to judge you accordingly. Perhaps the bible is so old that the true meanings have been lost, and we can only account for what the best speaker has to say about it. I know it isn't Shirley's prattle that I subscribe, and perhaps we have reached an age when the thinker, the man, must interpret for himself, and no one else.

Please continue to update and provide us with insights into this church, and take care of yourself.

September 26, 2009 10:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shirley is a flabby whore with a stinky vagina

February 28, 2010 10:08 PM  

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