Friday, May 8, 2009

Fred Phelps' Son's Speech at the American Atheist Convention

The Uncomfortable Grayness of Life
by Nathan Phelps
American Atheists Convention
April 11, 2009
Atlanta, GA

(recite the books of the bible)

At the age of 7, I could recite all 66 books of the Bible in 19 seconds. My father insisted on this because he was frustrated at waiting as his children flipped back and forth trying to find the verses he was preaching from. Afterwards, if one of us took to long my father would stop in the middle of his preaching, cast a gimlet eye on the offender and demand that, “Somebody smack that kid!”

I would like to take a minute to thank a few people for their efforts in making this opportunity possible for me today. David Silverman for inviting me here to speak. Arlene Marie for all her effort and support in slogging through the logistics. John Lombard for his time and invaluable support in helping me get my thoughts down on paper. And finally, my fiancé Angela for her unflagging love throughout this process. And thank you all for being here today.

For me, the story of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church is a very long and painful one. But the first time that the wider community became aware of them was in 1991, when my father led his church in Topeka, Kansas to stage a protest against gays at a local city park. (Almost the entire membership of the church consists of 9 of my 12 siblings and members of their immediate families.)

The community reacted with outrage at the mean-spirited and hateful nature of the protest, and sentiments on both sides escalated quickly. However, far from discouraging my father, this incited him to much greater efforts at publicly protesting all that he decided was wrong. The church was soon staging dozens of protests every week, against local politicians, businesses, and citizens who dared to speak out against him and his church.

But public protests weren’t enough. My father equipped his church with a bank of fax machines, and daily sent faxes to hundreds of machines across the city and state, filled with invective and diatribes against anyone who had offended him. To demonstrate the effectiveness of his methods, this tiny church of 60 people, led by my father, is today known not just throughout the United States, but across the world.

Over the past 17 years, their campaign has expanded to picketing funerals of American soldiers, and victims of high profile disasters from 9-11 to Hurricane Katrina and from the murder of Matthew Shepard to the slaughter of 5 young amish children; and declaring the entire country – indeed, the entire world – doomed for embracing the notion of equality for gays.
The church’s original website,, now links to companion sites, each of which is more outrageous than the last. The latest addition is, which intends to list, for every nation, the reasons why God hates them.

Most people, coming in contact with them for the first time stare in stunned amazement. But for me, it is a natural and almost inevitable progression, from the things I was taught and experienced in the Phelps household as a child, to the circumstances we find today.

Some of my earliest memories of my childhood include children’s song lyrics about god’s might and wrath. Lyrics like, “The lord he thought he’d make a man with a little bit of mud and a little bit of sand”. Or a song about Noah’s ark with these words, “The animals come in two by two, the Rhinoceros and the Kangaroo, said the Ant to the Elephant “Quit your Shovin”, it’s rainin’, I believe.” The message was fed to us from an early age, packaged to catch our interest. But, I also recall a storybook with a stark image of the ark setting sail as frantic, half-clothed women clawed against the side of the ship, lifting their squirming infants in supplication towards the impassive man of god on deck.

And there was the painted sign, with one corner broken off, that sat in the vestibule of our church for years, with a verse from the book of Hebrews declaring, “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment.”

The danger inherent in these messages was not apparent to me until an event that occurred when I was about 8 years old. I recall sitting in a church pew, My father’s voice droning on in the background with yet another sermon about suffering for eternity in a lake of fire, where the worm that eats on you never dies. With an emerging obsessiveness, I’m determined to grasp the concept of eternity. As my mind struggled with this issue I’m suddenly in the midst of a panic attack. Tears come unbidden.

The message was getting through.

My father is a self-styled Primitive Baptist, adhering to the teachings of John Calvin. The acronym TULIP defines the basic tenets of this branch of Protestantism.
“T” stands for “Total Depravity”
“U” stands for “Unconditional Election”
“L” stands for “Limited Atonement”
“I” stands for “Irresistible Grace and
“P” stands for “Perseverance of the Saints”
But the heart of Calvinism is the doctrine of absolute predestination, which posits that in the council halls of eternity past, an omniscient and omnipotent god preordained who would be saved, and who would be damned. Mankind would have no say or choice in this, since they are dead in their trespasses and sin. If you are selected you gain eternal life. If you lose, you suffer the most extreme physical and mental anguish forever. My father has simply refined Calvin’s doctrine to the point where the vast majority of us are going to hell. And he and his followers are among the privileged few chosen by God.


No comments:

Post a Comment