Nate Phelps hopes to heal

Estranged son of WBC pastor will speak of hope, healing at TPAC

The Topeka Capital-Journal/April 23, 2010

For nearly 20 years, Nate Phelps' estranged relatives at Topeka's Westboro Baptist Church have used picket signs to spread hate.

Nate Phelps recently decided to become a more active voice in countering the messages of his father, Westboro Baptist pastor Fred Phelps Sr., he said Friday at a news conference in Topeka.

"I believe I have a responsibility to use this voice in a way that will bring greater understanding, hope and perhaps some healing to this community," he said.

Phelps, 51, will speak about his childhood growing up in Westboro Baptist from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Topeka Performing Arts Center, 214 S.E. 8th. Admission is free.

"I want to help people understand the dynamics of how that group came to be, and why they are the way they are," he said.

Phelps is one of 13 children of Fred Phelps and among three who are estranged from their father's congregation.

Nate Phelps said Friday he left the family at the stroke of midnight on his 18th birthday, moved from Topeka in 1981 and has since passed through the city once. A divorced father of four adult children, he lives in Canada, works as a cab driver and is engaged to a woman who manages a retail store.

Phelps said that since the early 1990s, he has watched Westboro Baptist turn the hatred and cruelty he grew up with move outward on the Topeka community and the world. The church since 1991 has conducted anti-homosexual protests, which have drawn increased media attention in recent years as it began picketing funerals of troops with signs contending they are dying because God is punishing the U.S. for its support of homosexuals.

Phelps described his experience of returning to Topeka this week as being "kind of weird" and "very emotional."

He said he hoped he wouldn't run into any of his family members, though that was "very possible."

Phelps' sister, Shirley Phelps-Roper, said Friday she saw no point in picketing her brother's speaking engagement to spread Westboro Baptist's message because he was already giving the congregation publicity by making Saturday's appearance

"The reason Topeka brought him back is because he is you," she said. "This is a city of disobedient rebels against God."

Phelps will be joined on stage by the Rev. Nancy L. Wilson, moderator of Metropolitan Community Churches, the world's largest predominantly gay Christian denomination. The event is being sponsored by the Metropolitan Community Church of Topeka and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

Phelps said he contacted the Metropolitan Community Church because he considered it to be the congregation in Topeka that has been most damaged by his family's message.

Footage for a documentary film telling Phelps' story was taken at Friday's news conference and will be shot during Saturday's appearance by Upper Branch Productions. The film is being sponsored by the Richard Dawkins Foundation For Reason and Science. Phelps said he also was seeking a publisher for a book he was writing.

Phelps said he would be in Topeka for the Million Fag March in Gage Park on May 1.

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