Thursday, September 3, 2015

Second Radio Interview - Part 2

Daniel: Our guest today is Mark Phelps. He is the son of the late pastor Fred W. Phelps, Sr. Fred Phelps was the founder of Westboro Baptist Church, a group known for their thousands of picket protests against the US Military and the homosexual agenda. Mark Phelps has come forward to testify about what it was like to be inside of the church the process of healing he had to go through in order to overcome the negative impact his father had on him and his family.

Daniel: How did you cope with the environment in your mind? Here you are, your dad is using the Bible to preach on Sundays. You are told that Jesus is Lord and your dad is a religious leader. People come to him to get advice for their lives then you see him doing these things, and you are going through beatings. I mean, how do you cope with that?

Mark: Well, I disconnected to a large extent, is what I realized years later. But the main coping mechanism that I particularly, specifically had as one of the 13 children living there was I drew close to the abuser. I became the yes man. I became his executioner. He even had me beating the children, my siblings, during that last couple of years I was living there. I became everything he wanted. I figured him out and I became just like him. I became exactly the way I knew he wanted me to be and I figured out how to get safe after some horrible beatings I had endured. In a nut shell, that’s how I did it. And yet I was still terrified that I was going to hell the night I left because you just don’t get through that kind of stuff without that kind of terror, you know.

Daniel: Would you say that you drew closer to your dad then you did to Jesus?

Mark: I didn’t even know who Jesus was. My father took my older brother and I to a Bible Conference when I was 11 and I got saved. I’m sure my father must have been preaching something from the Bible about that, before this time, but the Bible Conference was the first time I actually heard the words. My dad never focused on the New Testament, or very seldom did. He focused on his doctrines; he focused on the Old Testament a lot. I certainly had not the foggiest idea that there was any such thing as a personal relationship with The Lord Jesus who loved me and gave His life for me to save me. I just knew He had died for my sins and I was overwhelmed by that and knew I was saved when I was 11. But I felt more guilt. I would regularly go through this 7-day guilt cycle. I would hear more about what I should be like on Sunday and then knew how I was the other 6 days of the week. I pretty much was in the business of extreme guilt.

I want to clarify . . . I didn’t draw close to my father. There was no intimacy or affection or closeness or relationship. I figured out how to stay safe with him which made him think that I was an ally. But I did not grow close to him at all! I just figured out how to stay safe around him. That’s all there was to that! I don’t know of a single human being who ever was genuinely close to my father. My father was an abuser all the years I knew him. People do not draw close, genuinely, intimately close, to an abuser! They are not capable and those around them are too frightened!

Daniel: So as you watched your dad’s ministry develop, how did he begin to branch out into this picketing and attacking different groups. How did you see that in relation to his character?

Mark: Well, I didn’t see it all because I was gone by age 19 but it fits perfectly. Basically the way I’ve been able to figure that out by watching and hearing things from the family; although they don’t have contact with me you can’t help but get some pieces of information. To put it simply there was a certain point along the line there where he did not have the need to abuse his children; his family. The other children were more compliant and they were doing what he wanted to do and he kind of lost his family as a venue for his hate. He no longer had the stresses as high as when there were a lot of children at home, and perhaps there was not quite as much financial pressure; I can’t be certain about this.

He had been an attorney and then he had his license suspended for two years and the family had no income for quite a while so he had all the kids selling candy for the church. He abused the candy companies by not paying them for their product after it was delivered and sold. So we would sell the candy and he would keep the money. He also had most of the children running every day, 10 miles a night, literally. At least the older kids; the younger kids couldn’t get that far in the time allotted each day for running at the track. But all the children were working from the time we got up in the morning until we went to bed at around 10 or 11 at night. We were going to school, selling candy, and running around the track. I think he had less of a need and less opportunity to be hateful as the children got older.

When he lost his law license in the early 1990’s; remember I left in 1973; but as I’m watching it, he ran for governor of The State of Kansas thinking that might be a venue in which he could function. He only got about 30 percent of the vote thankfully.

After that, he was so hostile with the local officials, the district attorney and county commissioners, and so on. Somehow he got personal information about the local district attorney and some of the others; county commissioners. (So here’s the next step Dan) He started sending faxes with hateful, vulgar language regarding those local officials and sent thousands of faxes to the local businesses. He just kept fax blasting his hateful messages. I don’t know how long that went on; for quite a period of time; months if not years; until the FBI shut down his faxing operation. Then he got his idea to do the picketing.

To me it’s all consistent. My father finds ways to be hateful. I think there’s a part of him probably that’s a little five year old who wants attention from his mommy who died. Anybody that has observed that situation very closely figures out that if you leave them alone that’s where they are the most vulnerable! They want attention. They crave attention! My father has just been a master at figuring out how to get attention. I told Rick last week this is not about God and the Bible, this is about his need and desire to be hateful and he has just used God and the Bible as a venue to vent his hatefulness onto the world! That’s what I believe he has been doing.

Daniel: What you are saying is, absolutely whatever it was that inspired him, it was not the Spirit of God that motivated him to take the stands that he took.

Mark: That’s right! John 3:17 says: “Christ did not come into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved”. There’s a New Testament folks! There’s the Lord Jesus Christ. And He came and He died. He gave up His wealth in Heaven and He came to this earth and He gave His life. And there is now hope! There is none of this hope in my father’s words. He doesn’t know the Lord Jesus Christ as far as I can tell. I’m just going by his behavior. I just can’t see it. I’m not attempting to judge my father. I’m bearing witness to the behavior I have observed. Where is Christ in my father’s behavior?

Daniel: In my mind, I’m wondering; I have two questions at this point. 1. How did he get licensed and instated as a pastor. Did those that put him in his position really have an idea of what kind of person your father was? Or did he just work his way up? Did they know what he was preaching? I mean, maybe you don’t know the answer to these questions.

Mark: I do because that local newspaper was trying to do some research and Jon Bell wrote about it in his book ‘Addicted To Hate’. Basically what he learned was those folks there at Eastside Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas; my father had gone in there as an associate pastor; and those men tell the media in 1994 that they were deeply concerned for him. They told the press that they watched him. When I was 9 months old they watched him slap my face with his open hand and cuff my face with the back of his hand, jerking my head back and forth with his hand because I had begun to squirm in the church service. They said that several of the men approached my father and told him not to do that again. They were concerned about his behavior but nevertheless that pastor there, and those leaders, set him up across town at Westboro Baptist Church. And Dan, I wasn’t aware or old enough to know, but from what I learned from what those folks told the media, was that just about as soon as they set him up in his own church, he cut himself off from Eastside Baptist Church and my father has been on his own, by himself, from that moment until the hour he passed away, with no outside contact or accountability. He has had no accountability! No human on this earth can function effectively without healthy, meaningful, willing accountability! My father had none!!

Daniel: Our guest is Mark Phelps. He is the son of the late pastor Fred W. Phelps, Sr. Fred Phelps was the founder of Westboro Baptist Church, a group known for their thousands of picket protests against the US Military and the homosexual agenda. Mark Phelps has come forward to testify about what it was like to be inside of the church the process of healing he had to go through in order to overcome the negative impact his father had on him and his family.

When we left off we were talking about what it was like to cope with everything that was going on and now I want to get to the point where you know; this has been abuse, there has been different things going on; and you are ready to leave. You left at age 19. What brought you to that crisis moment and what was it like for you to actually walk out the door and not look back?

Mark: What led to it was, I meant a young lady who was not like anybody I had known. She was just a gentle soul, peaceful, very loving. My father liked her at first. She was there at the church one day at the end of the church service on a Sunday evening and she heard my father cursing and beating my sister upstairs shortly after the church service. My father thought she had already gone; he had no idea she was at the bottom of the stairs listening to his rage and filthy language. This young lady walked right out of that place and down to the local grocery store and called her dad to pick her up. She told me she was not going to be a part of this and refused, absolutely refused to keep seeing me, if I was going to stay there. This is what started the process of my leaving.

At that time, also, my father was doing some particularly savage, brutal beating of my oldest sister and my older brother. Some incredible things were going on. My father was at his very best worst in his violence and abusing. He confined my sister for 40 days with only water after he had beaten her so horribly. I’m the yes man and I’m standing around watching all of this horrific abuse and I walk in from all of my college classes one day and see him savagely beating my oldest sister. He is bending her backwards over the church pew hitting her in the face with his fist and spitting in her face. Then he is beating her with the mattock handle. And he is cursing and screaming and berating her. All I am able to do is stand there and watch this and listen to his rage at my sister.

All of this is starting to wear on me and I’m seeing this young lady that I had recently met, and her family. Oh my gosh and I’m thinking the two families are worlds apart in their character . . . And then the thing that probably led up to it was finally, it was coming into the end of the semester there in December and I knew I wasn’t going to have a 4.0 GPA. Well, we didn’t have to have a 4.0 but we had to be pretty close. And I just wasn’t ready to be there when that report card came.

So on December 27, 1973 at about 10:30 at night I spent about an hour and a half leading up to 10:30 p.m. just taking two or three clothes items at a time and putting them in a basket. I had a little ’66 Pontiac that I had managed to get and I put a basket full of clothes in the trunk of that car. I had met a young guy who told me if I ever needed it I could have a room to stay in for a night or two. At about 10:30 I slipped out that night and drove away with nobody knowing I was leaving. When I was at that house that night sleeping in a strange bed at a house where I didn’t even know anybody, I vividly recall I figured I was going to wake up in hell! That’s basically how I got the transition made. I just was terrified and I just did it anyway. I just felt something wasn’t right. That’s the best I could do at that time Daniel.

Daniel: And in leaving, did you begin to go through what they call survivors guilt? In other words, ‘well now I left but now I feel guilty that my siblings are still back there with that heavy situation’?

Mark: Well, it was that, and guilt and fear. I had an automobile accident a couple of months later and I was sure; I poured over the New Testament; and I just felt sure from reading Hebrews that God was giving me one last chance and then that was going to be it. He was going to squish me! But I just stayed the course.

Then I got a job, got married, my wife and I started our own business, my wife miscarried three boys all during the first ten years of our marriage. For ten years, Dan, I was in limbo. I just didn’t know how to focus on anything related to God and the Bible. I felt guilty. I felt frightened. I started to get a little bit into the positive thinking arena; Napoleon Hill, his book ‘Think and Grow Rich’, W. Clement Stone. A little bit of the positive thinking material from Norman Vincent Peale. I was trying to figure out how to manage all the feelings I had stuffed down into my heart. Stress was starting to build a little bit; normal life stress in my life. Operating a business we had locations in four different states. Things were going well but I was really struggling from the stress; from my past. I didn’t understand the psychological aspects of it as far as how the mind works. But I was spending such a large amount of my energy keeping that garbage all stuffed in there. And it was leaking out!

I’ll tell you bluntly and frankly, although I wasn’t aware of it, and that’s the simple truth of it. I wasn’t aware of it but I was damaging my wife. I wasn’t sensitive. I wasn’t present. I didn’t have the foggiest first idea of what it meant to be a husband or an intimate partner. And it was taking a toll on this precious little soul I had married! All she knew was that she loved me. It shook me to the core when she was finally able to come to me one day and tell me she was having some problems. I just fell to the ground, emotionally. It was still another year or two; I was so busy with business and so on. Then when my business partner who had helped us start our business crashed his plane and died, that was the final shake. By 1988 . . . I don’t know if people can understand this, but when you are broken and you don’t know you are broken, it’s hard to know what to do. I’m driving along with my wife up into one of the little mountain communities there in southern California for a little time away. She is still so gentle with me as she’s always been. I said to her: ‘Honey, do you think I could benefit from some therapy?” That’s all I said to her. She said: ‘Maybe you could’. And so I knew that’s what I needed to do.

I had to find the right person though, folks. I had to find a guy who was a pastor, a psychologist and an attorney who could take the brunt of what I had to dump out. There wasn’t going to be any little mealy mouth for me; and I don’t feel this way today about therapist; but understand this massive garbage that I had. And I had the same attitude as my father; fundamentally I disdained people. I said to myself, I’m not going to sit with some mealy mouthed little person that wants to ask me how I’m feeling! I ain’t going to do that! But if there is somebody that can take this doctrine of Calvinism and if somebody can take this massive intensity that is roaring inside my soul then maybe I’ll do it. And it was two years with this guy and I finally started to get to my soul. I got all the garbage off the top of my soul, enough so that I began to feel terrified and all I could feel were all the emotions that were laying underneath all that cognitive diversion I had put in place to protect my soul.

And then I found a husband and wife team, bless their hearts, and I spent five years. Two of those years I spent going two or three times a week. And I found a woman’s group. And I’m telling you, that woman’s group, going once or twice a week at night for three hours, working with women who had been abused in every kind of way. Listening and seeing and watching and hearing and then every now and then I would join in and work on stuff I needed to work on. And they were a big part of my healing. I began to understand women and I began to understand feelings and I began to understand what it was like to be a human being.

Daniel: Now, uh, man, and see, this is the problem folks. The problem is that when we think we can bottle everything up and just bulldoze our way through life no matter what we’ve been through, what we’ve endured or what kind of abuse, this philosophy doesn’t work in the long run! There has to be a breaking point where we allow God to touch those deeper parts of us and take out the poison. What Mark is beginning to tell us is that he had a lot of poison on the inside of him. Some of you have a lot of poison on the inside of you. Be encouraged! We have a God who has a plan to take it out.

Mark is describing how he had come to the point where God began to heal him on the inside, to pull out the garbage and the poison. You know Mark I want to ask you this question. Could you be where you are today if you had not submitted to a season of internal healing; going back and allowing God to deal with all of the pain that you had been storing up in you from all those years of abuse?

Mark: No! Absolutely not even close. It would not have been anywhere near possible to know the Lord as I have come to know Him. There is a normal sanctification process and I know folks understand that. But if there is nothing there to work with; if you are going to die to Christ, if you are going to put yourself on the cross and die to yourself and live to Christ and walk with Him, you have to have a self with which to do that, you know? So I glory in that. I now know and I’m alive and I can give that life to Christ because I just didn’t know anything.

Daniel: Now let’s talk about the whole experience that you had with Jesus, in light of everything you have told us. So you actually genuinely received Jesus as your Lord and Savior when you were 11 and then continued to go through many years of abuse after that. And it was just terrible and you were terrified of hell but you had no relationship or intimacy with Jesus. You didn’t have intimacy with your father. Frankly it was hard to have intimacy with anyone. Now you leave your family and then there is a span of years. Now during those years, were you just keeping Jesus as far away as possible? Were you like kind of dancing on the sideline with Jesus? What was that element of your story like?

Mark: I was just so frightened and I just figured God felt the same way about me as my father did. I heard that I had become a primary part of my father’s sermons, that I was a heretic and I was a reprobate and I was the evil one and my father used me as an object lesson often, as I understood it, in his messages. And I just felt God hated me and I was just holding on by some kind of faith and hope that I wouldn’t just end up in hell.

What I didn’t mention earlier, that I want to mention now, in about 1984 I was finally able to start back into a church body. I still had the same arrogance and pride, with a chip on my shoulder that every single person in my family has, which we received from our father . . . that we had superior head knowledge about the Bible and a lot of doctrinal understanding. I joined a men’s Bible study that was a part of this church. It was the men in this men’s group that were the primary source of change for me. The leader simply had us memorize verses, and there was a lot of conversation and discussion. It was a Bible study with men and we would talk about our lives. And I just stuck with these men in this group. So by the time it came to 1988 and 1989 and I was beginning to do some of the formal therapy work, I had a relationship with the Lord that I had never had before. And it was by that, by taking what I had learned from these men that helped me so much. And I would listen to Focus on the Family a tremendous amount and I was ‘fathered’ a lot by Dr. James Dobson. And then some of those men; they all know it personally, I’m not telling anything here that they don’t already know personally; some of those men are like fathers to me and like big brothers to me. But these men were the way the Lord started getting into me.

So when I would go into those times when I would be driving my car from my house into the therapist office to do healing work, that time was spent in prayer. This is just as real as I know how to get with folks. This is not some holy stuff. I’m talking bluntly in conversation with the Lord, saying “I don’t know what I’m doing here. I don’t know what is coming next. I am scared. I need your help! I am begging you, Lord, to go with me into this next period of time with these guys and help me face what I have to face.”

The professional therapists had me lying on the ground, helping me to try and relax. Then, for example, they would start raging and throwing books off the shelves and they would try to recreate a little bit of the environment that I had been raised in. And I just asked the Lord to help me and to please be there with me in it as I faced the fear. And I began to be able to allow myself to open up very slowly.

When I was still living there, as long as I could avoid getting beat, I just shut off. The raging of my father and his beating of my brothers and sisters . . . I just shut myself off to all of that violence Dan. And I had to go back in and face all of that. So these professionals tried the best they could, bless their hearts, to recreate the reality of what I had faced. And it was sufficient because the Lord was with me and I just kept asking over and over for Him to go with me and to be with me and to go into my heart with me and to help me see this and help me face this and help me deal with this.

Also, I would drive my vehicle for business. We had businesses in Orange County and San Diego about an hour and fifteen minutes apart. It was just as common for me to pull off at an exit between Orange County and San Diego as it was for me to just drive all the way through to a normal day. I would be working on some aspect of my healing the night before in therapy, or some audio tape that I may have gotten from Focus on the Family that I had been listening to. I worked at my recovery day and night. I’d be in front of the Lord and I would be listening to stuff and I’d have to pull off at an exit and park my car and deal with whatever the Lord was bringing up for me to deal with. I would weep and roar with pain, and cry, and cry out, and I just had to take it as it came. My wife would head off to her work in her profession and my daughters would be off to school and I’d be there in the living room or family room, just laid out on the floor listening to something or reading something and dealing with the emotion of what it was bringing up for me.

I remember, for example, when I learned what love was. I learned that my father had replaced the word love with the word evil. What my father tried to pass off to me as love was his evil! I had to learn my whole vocabulary. I just had to be remade in the Lord Jesus Christ and He was with me every second, every moment of that time, and He held me up and He brought me through it. And He was with me and He still is!

Daniel: So you are telling us that your very vocabulary and definitions of things had been so tainted by your dad that even when you would try to read the Bible, for example, you were almost reading a different book then the love letter that God has really given to us.

Mark: I wasn’t almost reading a different book. I WAS reading a different book! And I heard from my niece recently near the time my father was passing away, bless her heart, she and her sister had left the church, and of course, therefore, had left their family. And in their words, they are ‘trying to do good’. This is second generation now. She tells how she and her sister; how all of them; have been told that what they are doing is good. Bless their hearts. God bless them. I don’t know what’s going to happen for them. I pray for them.

But yes I’m telling you, Dan, you’re right, I read the Bible as an instrument of hate to be beat over the head with. I never understood the Lord Jesus Christ! I had NO IDEA of His love! I had NO IDEA of His heart! I just didn’t know. And now I know Him intimately! And I’m telling you, the heart and love of Christ is LIFE!

End of “Second Radio Interview – Part 2”

No comments:

Post a Comment