As the pastor of the much-reviled Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps has become synonymous with hatred. The pastor and his family make it a point to carry signs at the funerals saying, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” They show up to media-friendly events with signs that read, “God Hates Fags.”
Nate Phelps is the sixth of Fred’s 13 children, and he has the scars to show for it. He describes his father as verbally and physically abusive. When he was 18, Nate ran away from home and from the fundamentalist Calvinist religion in which he was raised.
Now in his 50s, Nate finds himself publicly squaring off with his father and siblings to reverse their legacy of intolerance. He lives in Calgary, where he has become a public speaker who champions LGBT rights and raises awareness about the connection between extreme religion and child abuse. He is currently writing a book about his life and is the subject of an upcoming documentary.
What was your childhood like?
It was a very strict environment. We were isolated from the community, not so much physically, as ideologically. We heard from the time we were very young that we were to be separated from the world, and we were unique. We were God’s chosen ones. On one hand we had this sense that we were better than everybody else, and on the other hand we had this clear awareness that we were different from everyone else. That cut both ways. And then all of that ideology was supported and promoted with violence and psychological — I don’t know if you want to call it abuse, but you know those lessons we learned in that religious environment were such that we were constantly anxious and frightened for whether or not we were going to upset God.