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Tuesday, April 9, 2013 9:42 p.m.

Son of Westboro Baptist Church pastor tells story of escape, activism

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Kirstie Murr.

The son of the Westboro Baptist Church pastor Fred Phelps opened his talk Tuesday at GW with a condemnation.

“God hates the George Washington University,” said Nathan Phelps, the 54-year-old former member of one of the nation’s most infamous churches.

Phelps left the extremist Baptist church, known for its anti-gay rhetoric and protests at funerals, 30 years ago, and now gives talks about the abuse he suffered as a child.  He fled his home at midnight on his 18th birthday, and after moving to California and starting a family, he still struggles to find faith.

Phelps said his father physically beat his 13 children and cut off his wife’s hair to assert that he had “absolute power over her.” He kept the children within the confines of their home as often as possible, telling them that the outside world was evil.

“He would literally find anything that he could to judge that everybody out there was going to hell,” Phelps said at the event Monday organized by the GW Secular Society.

He and his sibling were also forced to memorize the names of the 66 books of the Bible and listen to their father preach Calvinist doctrine for hours. Phelps said he has remained estranged from his father since 1976, and that three of his siblings also cut ties with the church, which has been declared a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League.

His father, Fred Phelps, formerly a lawyer, was permanently barred from practicing law in Kansas in 1979 and has campaigned for political office.

“My family preaches a message of hate and insists that we abandon hope,” Phelps said. “Let me challenge you with a new and simple idea: Faith is not a virtue. It allows you to flourish unchecked. It is the justification for too much hatred.”

He said the events of Sept. 11, 2001, in which terrorists justified their four coordinated attacks as acts of God, proved the breaking point of his faith.

“We live in a world of ideas. We define our reality with ideas. We give credibility to our ideas by calling them facts or truth, but they are just ideas until they can be proven true to experience and subject to regular research,” he said.

Phelps works for the nonprofit Center for Inquiry and is now writing an autobiography. His story will also appear in an upcoming documentary, according to his website.

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