Thursday, August 7, 2014


Children are usually fascinated by what their parents were like as young people.  We always want to know what they were like before we came along.  Recently a gentleman, who knew my mother as a young woman even before she married my father, said my mother was a “wonderful and gentle lady.” I remember this about her growing up. She exhibited these qualities as much as she was able in our growing up years.

But a story would unfold in my mother’s life that she never dreamed would happen when she got married.  And this story would only be seen in its entirety by her immediate family.  I remember as a very young child watching my father mistreat my mother.  I have often wondered what happens to a tender woman’s heart the day her husband begins to mistreat her.   In my mother’s case, my siblings and I would have to witness this mistreatment she suffered at my father’s hand turn into full-blown abuse. My father, Fred W. Phelps, Sr., the preacher at Westboro Baptist Church, had the habit of treating his wife; my mother; with extreme abuse, for years!

One day when I was eleven, I came home to find my mom sitting on the side of the tub in my parent’s bedroom, blue towel on her head, her lips pursed with anger and hurt. "Do you know what your father did today?" she asked.  It felt surreal. My mother seldom spoke out or vented her emotions, especially about her husband, to her children. She seemed quite different to me at that moment than the stoic, care-worn mother I normally saw.

I looked at my father.  He was standing across the room with his arms folded, an arrogant smirk on his face.  "No," I said. "I don't know.”  My mother stood up and whipped the towel down to her side. "He chopped my hair off," she announced, tears rolling down her face. I stood aghast at the grotesque head before me.  My mother's former waist-length hair had been shorn to two inches--and even that showed ragged gouges down to the white of the scalp. "Why?" I asked. "Your father says I wasn't in subjection to him today," she replied.

I remember being very afraid and uncertain at this turn of events since this was new territory for my father to have gone this far with my mother.  I was outraged at the injustice, believed his actions to be inexcusable and truly hurt for my mother.  In addition to those emotions came a sense of being dirty, ashamed and embarrassed, for my mother and probably for myself, too.  But something else was present that day; a feeling of despair.  Despair followed by sadness, discouragement and depression.  I believe a new reality hit me that day which was the sheer hopelessness of our situation.  I think I realized nothing could be done to stop this man or to change our family’s circumstances.

For months my mother had to wear a wig so the other two families in the church would not find out what Fred had done.  What their ‘pastor’ had done!  If what Fred had done was the right thing to do, why did he feel the need to hide it from the other ‘church’ members? Why indeed.

Fred was very effective at jamming Bible verses down my mother’s throat regarding the requirement that wives be in subjection to their husbands.  He also placed extreme importance on his belief about a woman’s hair being given to her for a covering and he obsessively emphasized the dreadful sin of any woman ever cutting her hair. So Fred’s cutting of my mother’s hair was the ultimate humiliating act toward my mother as far as my mother was concerned!  

Because the truth was that my mother was a quiet, peaceful, responsive, obedient, serving wife and was someone who truly worked at complying and submitting to her husband.  And that gentle submission was never appreciated, honored, nor respected by Fred.  Ever!  She was a small woman and very gentle. I guess she felt God had put her with Fred and she simply had to endure it.  The truth my mother never did understand is a woman who is willing to endure abuse is not being a more obedient, submissive wife. She's just being abused. One has nothing to do with the other. My mother did everything she could to endure the abuse against herself but when it came to abuse we kids suffered she would very often try to interfere.

When we children were being beaten she'd come running out, finally, into the church auditorium (Fred’s favorite beating venue) as the child beating would escalate in intensity and brutality, and frantically scream, 'Fred, stop it! You're going to kill him!'  And then Fred would turn on her. I remember him screaming, 'Oh, so you want me to just let them go, huh? You don't believe in discipline, huh? Why don't you just shut your goddam mouth before I slap you? Get your fat hussy ass out of here! I'm warning you, goddammit, you either shut up or I'm going to beat you!'  And then she'd shut up till she couldn't take it anymore, then she'd try once again.

Often when she did, Fred would start beating her and hitting her with his fist, and sometimes she'd just come up to him and grab him, to get him to stop beating a child. Sometimes she'd run out the front door of the church/house to try to distract him from the child beating. Sometimes he'd just slap her and beat her until she'd shut up.  I can remember times when she'd get hit so hard, it looked like she'd be just about knocked out, and she'd stagger and almost fall. She would give out this desperate yelp right at the moment of fist impact. What a way for a ‘pastor/husband’ to treat his wife.  What a way for someone to treat any human being!

Sometimes, after Fred would get done beating his wife, he'd have forgotten about the child he had been beating. But usually he'd go back to the child and beat even harder. Then he'd blame the child for what he (Fred) had done to their mother. In no case would Fred accept blame for himself as our abuser.  He always chose to blame his abusing on others. He was a man out of control, with no accountability to any other human being.

Out in public mom wore sunglasses a lot. 

The truth is mom was beaten at times even when she wasn't interfering with Fred’s beating of children.  After my brother Nathan and my sister Katherine, I figure my mother was victimized the most with Fred’s physical and emotional abuse. 

I remember Fred finishing one raging session by throwing my mother down the stairs from the second floor.  It had 16 steps (of course I counted them, as I had done hundreds of times before as a means of coping) and no rail! What could this man have been thinking?!  Mom grabbed at the stairs going over and tore the ligaments and cartilage in her right shoulder. The doctor said she needed surgery, but Fred refused his wife this needed medical care. She had a bad shoulder after that. Fred often chose that same shoulder to re-injure when he was throwing a fit and beating her. He'd grab her right arm and jerk it. She'd scream out. Fred seemed to enjoy inflicting pain on the people he should have loved and respected the most.

I will always remember the day my father, Fred the ‘pastor’, beat my mother with an oak mattock handle.  He thought she had not lost enough weight, after he had put her on a diet, so he beat her with the oak mattock handle that he normally used to beat his children.  I can’t describe the sick feeling; the terror and humiliation I felt. There was so much agony and shame in my heart watching Fred; my father; hit my mother; his wife; on her backside repeatedly with an oak mattock handle! I guess Fred was into “fat shaming” long before the women of today would coin that phrase! Oh, what a toll that must have taken on my mother’s soul, her psyche as a woman, and ultimately in their marriage.  How could there have ever been trust or love with this level of abuse?

As I mentioned, Fred taught clearly and regularly that wives were to be in subjection to their husbands.  However, in the 19 ½ years I lived at home and attended Fred’s‘ church’ I have no recall of him teaching any other aspects of the husband and wife relationship from the Holy Scriptures. I never heard teaching from Fred about how the husbands were to love their wives in the same way Christ loved the church.  I never heard that husbands were to love their wives as much as they loved their own bodies; or that husbands were to be considerate and treat their wives with respect and gentleness.  Oh, how that teaching about the special way women were to be loved by their husbands might have helped me understand the beauty of marriage and how much God loved people.  Especially women!  But, alas, that truth from God’s heart was something I never heard from Fred.  And never saw exhibited toward my mother!

Later, after leaving my family and ‘The Place’ (Fred’s reference to his ‘church’) it was extremely painful to realize the enormity of Fred’s deceitfulness in the teachings he put forth from his pulpit. 

The truth is The Lord places an extremely high value on the marriage relationship. In fact, The Lord compares the relationship between a husband and wife to the relationship between Himself and His church; His body, His bride.  He calls His relationship between His church and Himself a mystery.  It is beautiful and wonderful; and it is a mystery! Fred degraded his relationship with his gentle wife to below animal, base, beastly instincts; as being incredibly ugly and putrid; sick and twisted.  You would have thought Fred would have wanted to show tremendous honor, respect and admiration to my mother for cheerfully having 13 children in 15 years, (with two miscarriages). Fred did not seem to have that in him; for my mother or anybody else.

As a young husband, I knew I did not want to treat my wife the way Fred had treated my mother!  Despite this strong desire, and though I never physically abused my wife, I was emotionally abusive to her without even knowing I was doing it because of all the poison and brokenness I had in my heart from the actions of Fred.  I spent years intentionally overcoming this brokenness and poison because once I realized I was causing hurt to my wife, I was determined with all my might to never hurt my wife again.  My wife and my two adopted daughters were my powerful motivation for healing my own heart, with the strong purpose of never hurting theirs.

As an adult, and during all of my healing work, I discovered just how often women have been badly mistreated or abused by their fathers or husbands.  My experience growing up was, sadly, not unique.  But I believe men abusing women is unacceptable. 

Absolutely, completely and without reservation or exception, unacceptable!

Husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies, and love their wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her. Ephesian 5:25 and 28

While these words from The Lord may not have meaning for every man, (though I hope they will) certainly they need to have meaning for men who are pastors and leaders in the church, and for men who know Christ as their personal Savior and Lord.  I know of circumstances where pastors, church leaders and Christian men have emotionally and physically abused their wives, and apparently their wives have been expected to submit to and endure this abuse in order to glorify God. Amazingly these women are often told these exact words by other leaders, in an attempt to excuse and hide the wrongdoing of these abusive pastors and leaders.

This is unacceptable!

This is absolutely unacceptable!!

It seems clear to me that if husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for His church, there is no room for abuse or mistreatment of any kind by husbands toward their wives.  As husbands, if we love our wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her, we will NEVER abuse them or mistreat them, EVER!

Can you imagine Christ abusing His church?!!

Husbands, our job is not to force our wives to submit to us as the head of the household.  That was never assigned to us, from the Lord, as our job!  Our job assignment is to love our wives by the highest standard imaginable!  Why not let our wives take responsibility for their assignment and we can take responsibility for our assignment?  Husbands, we are never told, by the Lord, to force our wives to submit to us as their husbands! Never!!

I repeat there is no excuse for abusing a woman in any way, ever!  While the focus of this blog is on the abuse of women by their husbands it is true that men are also abused by their wives or girlfriends.  Both forms of abuse are wrong.

Men, if you are abusing your wife in any way, the first step to take is to stop abusing your wife NOW!  If your wife or your children are in immediate danger at your hand, move yourself into separate living quarters till this can be resolved. 

The next step is to take responsibility for your own behavior. If you can’t manage to stop beating up on your wife on your own, you need to get outside help.  But stop abusing your wife! Get help immediately. Beating your wife one more time is one more time too many!  And it is against the law in all 50 states.  You are not just breaking God’s law but the law of the land.

And please don’t multiply the problem by blaming your wife and forcing her to endure this anguish.  What you are doing to your wife is a form of deceit or hypocrisy.  You are acting one way to the outside world; to your office buddies, your friends at church and the next door neighbor who is borrowing your lawn mower.  And to your wife you are saying with your actions that this abuse of her is perfectly fine. That this woman you made marriage vows to has so little value as a human being that you can treat her worse than you would treat an animal. That you never owe her an apology; that you never have to tell her what you are doing is diabolically wrong. Or that you are sorry from the bottom of your heart and know what you are doing to her is wrong.  You don’t give her that respect and honor.  So your life and your words are hypocritical and deceitful.

If you are a pastor, abusing your wife actually disqualifies you from the office of pastor. If you are acting with integrity you would go to your governing board or elders, confess this sin, step down from the pulpit for a season, and use this time off for counseling and additional steps for recovery. And you would attempt to rebuild what you can of your shattered marriage.

I have observed that women naturally love their husbands. Some women seem on the surface to be almost willing to take abuse from their husbands. Please don’t misunderstand what looks like willingness. It is never, ever willing.  It is a capitulation to you that is borne of fear, feeling trapped, desperate, or perhaps it’s a herculean effort on her part to stay in the relationship to protect her children.  But, it is never willing!  No one chooses willingly to be cruelly beaten.  As we are studying more about the effects of long term abuse of battered women there are a number of reasons why women initially stay in an abusive relationship (especially when they have children) and why it is very difficult for some of them to get out of the abusive relationship. But there is no reason this precious wife of yours should have to be abused by you, her own husband!  We must not depend on our wives to stand in the gap, to fill the big holes we are digging in their hearts by our abuse of them!  All of us need to stop wife abuse now!

I cannot imagine any man would tell me it is right for him to abuse his wife!  We all know in our deepest selves that abusing our wives is wrong!  So, what will it take for men to step up to their God given role of truly loving and cherishing their wives?  Perhaps it is help from other strong men who can hold them accountable to being the men they should be.

The evidence of the power of God I am looking for in myself and in other Christian men is whether we are truly changing, and whether we are growing in righteousness.  Righteousness is simply the doing of right behaviors.  Once an abuser confronts himself and his abusing he can choose each day not to lay a hand on his wife or to verbally abuse or belittle her. Some men are able to stop abuse by an act of their will. These men, once they have seen their cruel actions for what they are, can learn to respect their wives, see them for who they really are and begin to love them again, and have the actions to back that up.  This change of heart may come slowly.  You cannot love someone you are beating.  But if the husband has no self control and the abuse continues in any form he needs to move from that environment and let his wife and children live without fear while he is getting help.  And remain in another living arrangement for as long as it takes for him to treat her kindly and with respect.

The test of right behavior I am looking for goes far beyond just putting your marriage in neutral and ceasing to hit your wife!  I am looking for you to one day treat her as an amazing, gifted, precious woman who should be given every bit of respect, admiration and kindness that you would give the most important person in your life.  And she truly should be the most important person in your life. 

It is not our wife’s responsibility to make us change! The real power of God in our lives as husbands would be to be able to see our own faults, weaknesses, shortcomings and sinfulness regardless of the situation. And to choose to not excuse our behavior by any role we believe our wives may play in the conflict. Nothing, but nothing excuses abuse.  It never has and it never will.  And to effectively surrender our faults and weaknesses and even our evil streaks to Jesus so we can be healed, restored and grow in holiness.  Honestly, this is a picture of the Christian life.

We need to be willing to fight this fight and we should expect powerful results from our powerful God! Especially if we call ourselves Christians and hold church positions!

Any man who knows the Lord as his personal Savior and Lord, who is abusing his wife, perhaps blaming her for his own abusiveness, who believes he is unable to stop, and who is afraid to ask for help, I would like to talk with you. 

Please get in touch with me and together let’s find a way for you to stop abusing your wife!  Please!  Get in touch with me.  Your destiny will be impacted by the choices you make in this most important of relationships.  Let’s change that together!

Mark Phelps


  1. Hi Mark, I am just reading through your blog so far, as I was interested to see the kind of man you had become. This article brought tears to my eyes.

    Although I am an atheist, I was raised Christian, and the messages you convey through your writing about marriage, love, kindness and forgiveness are everything I have taken away from my religious childhood and try to apply to my life and my behaviour. I think the ability of people to change is beautiful, and I think you are remarkable. Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. Mark, Have you ever tried to contact Dr. M Scott Peck, author of "People of the Lie?" Seems like you might be benefited by the relationship.

    1. Thank you Pastor Chris!! I had not tried to contact Dr. M Scott Peck but I will. Thank you!!

  3. This is the worst form of abuse I've ever heard anyone doing to their spouse. It's any wonder he didn't kill her. I've *never* understood why men treat their wives with such cruelty. It simply makes no sense at all. :(