Fred Phelps Sr., a fire-and-brimstone preacher whose anti-gay picketing at military funerals inflamed the nation and drew international scorn but was protected by the U.S. Supreme Court as an exercise in free speech, died March 19 at a hospice in Topeka, Kan. He was 84.
His daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper confirmed his death to the Topeka Capital-Journal. The cause was not reported.
Rev. Phelps was an ordained Baptist minister, a disbarred Kansas lawyer and, according to a BBC documentary, the patriarch of the “most hated family in America.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a prominent civil rights group, described his Westboro congregation as a “family-based cult” and “arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America.”
The expression of Rev. Phelps’s bigotry managed to offend the conscience of the Ku Klux Klan, which staged protests to counter Westboro’s demonstrations at military funerals.
The church’s following consisted mainly of the extended Phelps family and assorted outsiders who shared the founder’s view of an unforgiving, vengeful God poised to destroy a nation of sinners. Rev. Phelps dispatched followers to parks and street corners with anti-gay and anti-Semitic placards, some wielded by his grandchildren as young as 7.
His wrath knew few bounds, attacking in profane terms gay people, Jews, minorities, immigrants, politicians, celebrities and church leaders whose more tolerant theology he considered an abomination.
“You’re not going to get nowhere with that slop that ‘God loves you,’ ” he told the Religion News Service. “That’s a diabolical lie from hell without biblical warrant.”
Written By: Adam Bernstein
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