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 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 10:35 PM  
Anonymous Jen said...

Have you had any contact with Libby? Is she really out now well, does she need any type of help?

March 16, 2010 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger Nate Phelps said...

I heard from several people that Libby had left. I made various attempts to contact her in case she needed help. When I did finally find a way to get a message to her, her reply was not favorable.

I understand that. She has spent her entire life to this point hearing that I'm the devil. I've made the overture and would gladly offer any assistance I could if she needs it in the future.

March 17, 2010 at 11:03 AM  
Anonymous Topekan said...

I still live in Topeka and never knew you, Nate. Kathy was the same age as me and Mark I sort of knew - he was one year older. Kathy was in & out. Is she part of the WBC now? Where is Mark these days and could a person contact him or would be prefer to just be left alone.

March 29, 2010 at 10:58 PM  
Blogger Rechelle said...

I think this is an excellent way to communicate with Shirley. In fact, it may be the only way to communicate with her. She doesn't seem to hear anything that anyone ever says. You are a miracle Nate. Even if we both know that there are no such things.

March 30, 2010 at 8:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What advice do you have for people who counter protest the Westboro Babtist Church.

April 2, 2010 at 6:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the best way to take care of a bad situation is not to give the person(s) the attention they seek. To much of which has been given to the WBC. It seems to me the more exposure the worse they get. Nate your sister is always going to see you as a traitor you have given out the dirty family secrets. Now the family is not perfect, in her eyes anyway. I and millions of others have other ideas. I'm just glad you have some thread sanity left. I'm afraid they may all drink "the Koolaid" someday.

April 3, 2010 at 10:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The WBC came to my community when a loved, local pastor was shot during a Sunday morning service. The WBC came to the funeral.

I was shocked that anyone would protest a funeral of a baptist preacher.

Since then, I have followed news on the WBC and continue to be apalled. I am tempted to say that we should just set up obstacles in areas they plan to gather. Park a lot of cars and arrange some large groups of people. Then again, that would only get them more attention and might motivate them to be a bigger pain in the rump.

I applaud you for leaving.

April 6, 2010 at 2:25 AM  
Anonymous Sarah M said...

you know the only thing good I've seen come out of TWBC pickets and there actions, is that when TWBC show's up, the community's RALLY and show how much we truly love care and support one another!! So let them do and say what they want to say, just know this is POSITIVE and it starts with us showing our love and faith in God and them our love and faith in each other and in our Community which THEY make stronger by showing and speaking there ugly words! God will show them there judgement!
Nate, i'm so glad you got out!

April 11, 2010 at 3:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found out about you after the WBC picketed our 29 Coalminers deaths in WV,about 2 weeks ago.That kind of Hate, has one wanting to look into the psych of such a group.
Websites and blogs,Youtube videos of Church meetings,Media interviews,all blatantly shows a Man of Rage and self-importance.I am referring to Fred Phelps.And Your sisters are like mirror images of Him.The Children are what grabs the heart.An adult can escape,But a child?What are the options?CPS? Running away?
The fear taught is horrendous.Nate,I am a Christian.But I have NEVER seen that hate,Not even in the Bible.They twist it,to suit Fred.But I am so glad you got out of there.Your story,?I can not express the anger, hurt, and protectiveness, I felt for little boy Nate.And the Pride I feel for the Get up and go Nate,The Man.
Of Course I wish you to find the Love of Jesus,Not the God of hate they taught,beat into,and preach.Those people live in and twist the Old Testament so bad.No wonder they had to go on their own from any other Baptist affiliation.I'm not Baptist,But Wow,If I was,I wouldn't want them either.
You and the ones that got out seem to be the only rational ones out of them all.Fred just likes to hear Fred,And Shirley just likes to hear Fred and Shirley,Be different and not agree with them?You're going to hell.So they say.
But I've got news for them....That hate?Not God.That Fear?He's not the author.They lie,Sue families of the dead,That THEY provoke to anger and Wrath.They're Buzzards circling the next carcase.

Sorry to go on Nate,But these miners deaths and what the WBC did is still fresh in our Minds. But I am so Glad you're not Fred's minion.I'm Glad you are your own Man.Be Happy Nate.

April 20, 2010 at 9:39 PM  
Anonymous Phineas said...

This must be the site of that sooky sulky disobedient cry baby; Nate.

Will he ever grow up and be a man? I doubt it.

He's too busy blubbering and feeling sorry for himself. What a whimp. Repent dummy, and go home to your folks. Wise up. Why will you perish?

April 26, 2010 at 11:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nate, I really admire you and your courage. I also found out about you and the WBC after we lost our 29 miners. I just wonder why these people think they deserve the right to be living in America because they have so much hatered for Americans. GOD BLESS YOU

April 27, 2010 at 6:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh hush up Phineas. Clearly you're a deranged Phelps family member and what you typed is obviously just taken right from the festering mouths of Fred and Shirley. Nate Phelps ought to be commended for his courage. If anyone is a crybaby, it's your lot...picketing with the most vulgar and offensive of signs and then crying to police when people react negatively. "That's battery dumbass!" whines the immature Shirley when someone merely brushes against her. It only takes half a brain and a brief look at interviews with Fred's children to validate Nate's claims of extreme verbal and physical abuse by Fred. Shirley is immature, argumentative, and just down right looney. Margie is a bitter old cow. It's no surprise to me that no man would ever take her nasty ass for a wife and she was forced to adopt. Jonathan looks and acts like he has Down's Syndrome, but you can't really blame him after all the beatings he took as a child.

Marge Phelps, wife of Fred and "matriarch" of this terrorist family ought to be ashamed of herself for allowing years of abuse to go on right under her nose. And she has the nerve to boast that she "convinced Fred not to beat the children until they turned one." It's a shame there isn't a hell for all of you to rot in.

When it comes down to it this family is nothing more than an insignificant skid mark on the fabric of this nation. Eventually, when they realize that our "destruction" isn't, in fact, imminent, they'll die out and remain only as a footnote in civil rights textbooks of the future.

May 5, 2010 at 8:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not get why peple are mean. My frend Lizet says that they relly are not happy and I think she is right. We should not say mean things to mean peple bcuz there is no good in it. I think there could be a god bcuz all this comes from somewhere but I think he lets things go til we die. Then we can go to heaven if we tryed to be good. When your life is relly bad it is good to be able to go to heaven. If you cant go to heaven you will want to just go ahead and die but I hope heaven is even better if you have a hard life but dont make it bad for others. we mite be here to lern to be good peaple we can't lern that if we have a ez life.

May 7, 2010 at 9:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to compliment you for your patience. I would have devolved into cursing pretty quickly if my sister started lying about me like that. Sometimes I really feel lucky being an only child of sane parents.

September 15, 2010 at 10:58 PM  
Blogger technomom said...

Hello, Nate. I no longer remember how I found your site, but I read about half of Addicted to Hate tonight, and your speech, along with some of your posts. I'm down here in Atlanta and really wish I'd heard your speech last year!

I truly admire you for speaking the truth about what happened in your family. I know that doing so can be healing.

I know from experience that dysfunctional families hate it when their lies are dragged into the light of day, and that they absolutely will not agree to communicate in forums open to outsiders who will back you up or call them on their lies and nonsense. I'm not at all surprised that they can't manage to hold their own without using anonymous comments and attacks containing ridiculous fallacies. I'm quite shocked that any of the family retain their right to practice law, honestly - and I hope that doesn't remain true much longer, as it is obvious from what I've read that every one of them abuses the law every bit as much as the patriarch did.

I must thank you for posting the excerpt from that Ingersoll essay on the Bible. I'm not familiar with it, but I intend to find it and read it in full. I was raised "deep water Southern Baptist" as well, and started questioning at a very early age. I left the church around the same time as my first divorce, just before I was 21, and now I'm more of a skeptic than anything else.

However, I have found the Unitarian Universalist Association (see ) to be welcoming to atheists as well as others, and it can be good to be part of a community, especially when raising children. I don't know how much you get to see yours now - I hope you're still involved with them, for your and their sakes. Every UUA congregation tends to be quite unique, and then there's the Church of the Larger Fellowship, which is something of a church for those who are far away from local congregations - and I honestly don't even know what things are like in BC :-)

You may not feel any need for such a community, but I did want to mention it.

I'm NOT going to be anonymous - I've dealt with years and years of harassment online, and I don't ever write anything I won't put my name with. Anyway, if you should care to reply, I want you to know how to contact me :-)

October 9, 2010 at 12:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Searching for inconsistencies and hypocrisies within the WBC isn't all that hard.

For example, they claim to be non-racist, yet they use language such as "We pray for more dead Krauts" (in response to a massacre in Germany); they have called Chinese people "slanty-eyed idolators" and "yellow-skinned bastards"; they have also said, "We pray for the deaths of more vile Indonesian Muslims" and so on.

Also, Nate and Mark have claimed that Pastor Phelps, during his tenure as a civil-rights lawyer, would refer to black clients as "DN's" (meaning "dumb niggers") when the latter weren't around.

Moreover, several WBC members work, or have worked, for the Kansas Department of Corrections, even as the WBC condemns U.S. soldiers for working for the government and collecting U.S. taxpayer-funded salaries. That's just a tad "pot-and-kettlish", methinks.
I have brought up this issue with them on several occasions, yet none of them seem to be willing to address it.

I have told them, "This is not an attempt to get those members fired or laid off from whatever jobs they may have, government or otherwise, at least as far as I'm concerned. Nonetheless, I think it's a fair and valid question to pose."

re: the WBC's belief that homosexuals should be executed. As Nate has said, the Bible (at least in the Old Testament) says that people who do any work on the Sabbath should be stoned to death (in Numbers), and that it's all right to kill unarmed women and children (in Ezekiel).

However, the Bible also says that women who have children out of wedlock should be killed, and that illegitimate children are not allowed to attend religious services. As Nate has said, "Would you support that Biblical standard, Shirley?"

Shirley might appeal to the New Testament story of the adulteress whose life was saved by Jesus. However, the fact remains that that women was still subject to the death penalty by Old Testament law, whether or not she was repentent of her adultery.

It's true that one could reasonably argue that the Bible does condemn adultery, homosexuality, fornication, prostitution and bestiality as immoral. Some countries (especially in the Islamic world) administer prison sentences, and even corporal and/or capital punishment for those. South Korea and Cambodia don't execute people for adultery, but one can be sent to jail for up to 2 years and receive a heavy fine.

In also understand that the African country of Uganda is considering the enactment of a law to punish homosexuality with execution.

November 12, 2010 at 12:39 AM  
Anonymous Lucy said...

Phineas = Dumbass

October 18, 2011 at 8:56 AM  
Anonymous Katrina Leigh Tilley said...

Dear Nathan,

I found this site of yours recently and I have to say, it has been a blessing. I have done LOTS of research and investigation into the WBC and am quite familiar with them by now. I have read several of your blogs, and they are all just pure wisdom and honesty. You are one of the most admirable people alive today, that I know of.

Someone above asked you about Libby, and I saw your reply. Honestly, I'm not sure if Libby has made any major change in her beliefs at all, or if she wants to take any steps toward doing so. It seems to me that she left because she got scared of being kicked out for her "disobedience" (starting with her sin of wearing a bikini, for crying out loud). Scared and hurt and confused. She even expressed her fears that she'll be going to hell for her disobedience. Sadly enough, I think she might even go back to WBC, if she hasn't already.

The topic of Libby makes me want to ask you, what about Lauren Drain? Do you know about her story? I know that she is not related to you, but she was a member of WBC and her story is somewhat similar, the main big difference being that Lauren ultimately has come to reject what WBC trained her to believe and has said that she would never go back. Though she may not accept help from you (she told one kind offering person on her official facebook page that she didn't think it would be right to accept help from a stranger), I think she would respond to you favorably, and indeed, the two of you would have alot to talk about, and I think you could have much to offer her in the way of incite and wisdome.

December 28, 2011 at 2:24 AM  

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