Thinking Out Loud

May 2, 2009

Fred Phelps: Driving the Hearts of People Away from God


Funeral Protests

Living one country removed, I am only superficially aware of the name Fred Phelps.  This man, his Westboro Baptist Church, and his crusade just isn’t the sort of thing that makes the evening newscasts here.    But when fellow Alltop blogger Jake Bouma had a link to the website I’m about to direct you to,  something about it intrigued me.

For those who don’t know, Phelps is a media-grabbing activist protester who preaches a gospel of hate, but does so in the name of Christianity, the faith named after the person who preached a gospel of love.

The above-mentioned website is a paper presented by Nate Phelps, one of Fred’s sons, at — wait for it… — the American Atheists Convention.   That shouldn’t come as a big surprise, should it?   That being raised in the home of man who is considered an off-the-scale extremist by both Christians and non-Christians alike should cause his children to grow up anything close to ‘normal’ would be the greater surprise.

The paper takes the better part of a half hour to read, but you really should read this.   It gives insight into the everyday life of one of America’s most famous religious extremists.    And actually, at the end of the day, Nate does seems relatively ‘normal’ after all.   At least now he does.   I’m just sad that he has had to ditch everything he grew up with to get normal, but I hope he eventually finds his way to what would be — for him — the spiritual middle ground.

Here’s the direct link to Nate’s paper.   Take the time to read this.

Personal to Nate:   The internet being what it is, if it happens that you’re reading this, let me say on behalf of millions of Christians everywhere that I am so sorry that you had to grow up with this.   I’m sorry that you missed out on a childhood and adolescence that could have been so much more beneficial.

I can’t agree with the philosophy you’re now embracing, but I can’t for one minute criticize the process that brought you there.   The people you’re interacting with now and things you’re reading now must all seem like a breath of fresh air.   I encourage you to continue reading and studying literature from a variety of faith perspectives.  It’s too soon to say you’ve now got it all sorted.

Down the road, I hope you’ll admit that your Dad’s take on the Bible and Christ’s teachings wasn’t that different than the way the Pharisees and religious leaders in Jesus’ day often completely missed the point and misinterpreted the Law and Prophets.    They were sincere, but they were sincerely wrong.   And as a family, you paid a price for that error.

Despite that, as Christ followers we are compelled to love Fred; even if he himself has been less than charitable towards anyone else.   And if we love Fred, we certainly love you.   You have been hurt, wounded, broken; a true casualty of “religion.”    But it is into our hurt, wounds and brokenness that I believe Christ longs to enter, to bring wholeness and healing.

Related Post – Albert Mohler’s blog – New Atheists Ready to Go Public



  1. I will take time to read that paper tomorrow with a cup of tea. But I did want to say that I say “Amen” to the letter you wrote to NAte incase he stumbles onto your blog. In fact I think I will pray that he does. Love always conquers hate in the end!

    Comment by Cynthia — May 2, 2009 @ 8:29 pm

  2. Hmmm..Fred Phelps is definitely at a far end of the spectrum. I grew up in a somewhat similar environment, father a pentecostal preacher, I learned how to read by reading the Bible and I was quoting verses at the age of 5. It was a strict upbringing, though, and harsh punishments were frequent. I Rebelled. As soon as I was old enough, I dropped out of school at 16 and got a job. At 17 I went in the Army, and from there I got mixed up in drinking and drugs.
    All organized religions are at some point in the spectrum, either to the left, middle, or right.
    I don’t think Fred Phelps can change any rational person’s mind, he has power over his relatives and congregation, and that is sad.
    I feel sorry for his son and appreciate him relating his experiences.

    Comment by Rick — May 2, 2009 @ 9:28 pm

  3. You live a country away from Mr. Phelps; I live less than 200 miles away and have traveled past his church on several occasions.

    I have run his gauntlet to get to my own church. The members of his church consist mainly of family members, caught in the trap of obedience to a dysfunctional parent.

    The entire family needs our prayers, Fred most of all.

    Thank you for your message to Nate. It is important for him to learn that our Heavenly Father is in no way like his earthly parent.

    May you find God’s arms of love and peace, Nate.

    Comment by Judith — May 2, 2009 @ 9:31 pm

  4. Question:

    Is Fred Phelps terrible because of what he says or how he says it?

    He voices claims that millions of other Christians believe (and many strands of Christians believe as doctrine). He may do so at inappropriate (understatement) times and unconstructive (understatement) ways that cause many to blaspheme God (c.f. David’s adultery, which cost him his sons life, even after God forgave him), but aren’t his actual statements not too far removed from what many strands of far more restrained Christianity say?

    He says “God is your enemy” and “you are going to hell” to those who are homosexuals. Don’t most American evangelicals make the same claim about every person who never comes to believe in Christ, regardless of the reason for that lack of belief? (and not just believe in Christ, but believe in the way they indicate they must believe)

    A standard doctrine is that all non-believers are “enemies of God” and by default only fit for God’s wrath. Are they far away from Fred Phelps merely in their presentation, or in their ideology?

    Comment by David Rudel — May 3, 2009 @ 5:10 pm

  5. David,

    Even though this post is really about Nate, not Fred, you do raise a good point here.

    The issue, when it comes it to any doctrinal or ethical belief we hold is finding the position of balance. What happens when “you are going to hell” — true doctrinal position though it may be — is taken to extremes?

    Would Fred’s church sing the old hymn, “Rescue the Perishing?” If they believe that is the mission of the church, I’m not sure they’re going about it the right way. I’m not even sure “Amazing Grace” truly fits their theology, because it implies that “a wretch like me” can be saved.

    Which begs the question, can Fred truly expect to hear God say to him, “Well done good and faithful servant…?”

    A true evangelist shines the spotlight on Christ, not on the wickedness or sinfulness of his listeners.

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 3, 2009 @ 5:25 pm

    • Paul,
      First thank you for taking my post in the manner it was intended.

      Secondly, while I generally think it is bad form to declare what Christ will have to say to anyone on the Judgment day, I’d wager good money that it isn’t that. I think some reference to 1st Peter 2:12 might be more likely.

      Comment by David Rudel — May 3, 2009 @ 6:04 pm

  6. For everyone else who doesn’t have the ref. memorized:

    1 Peter 2:12 (New International Version) Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

    …And yes, I ought to be more concerned with what he has to say to me on judgment day.

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 3, 2009 @ 6:14 pm

  7. Me too. Me too.

    Comment by David Rudel — May 3, 2009 @ 8:52 pm

  8. Update: May, 2010 — This post is still attracting comments, but it’s the wrong kind of comments; people are using this to vent their hatred toward Fred, which is ironic, because that’s kinda what he is doing.

    So I’m closing comments on this one.

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 25, 2010 @ 5:56 pm

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