Fred Phelps Sr., leader of Westboro Baptist Church, dies at 84

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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
continue to source article at washingtonpost.com

74 COMMENTS

  1. Regarding this: ‘His daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper confirmed his death to the Topeka Capital-Journal. The cause was not reported.’ -

    His passing inadvertently led to the discovery of a new kind of tumor. He passed from an Assholoma of the prefontal cortex of the frontal lobe. This accounts for much of his questionable decision making capability.

    • Just saw the picture – he looks like he died about 10 years ago.

      In reply to #2 by Steven007:

      Regarding this: ‘His daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper confirmed his death to the Topeka Capital-Journal. The cause was not reported.’ -

      His passing inadvertently led to the discovery of a new kind of tumor. He passed from an Assholoma of the prefontal cortex of the frontal lobe. This accounts for much…

      • In reply to #3 by Steven007:

        Just saw the picture – he looks like he died about 10 years ago.

        In reply to #2 by Steven007:

        Regarding this: ‘His daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper confirmed his death to the Topeka Capital-Journal. The cause was not reported.’ -

        His passing inadvertently led to the discovery of a new kind of tumor….

        I think he died on the inside a long, long time ago, at least as early as in the 1950s when he got his first children and started beating them regularly.

        I sometimes hope there was a five-second moment of clarity after death during which religious people would have the time to realize that they were wrong. I understand this wish of mine is pure spite, but it just annoys me to see a man like Fred believe until the final moment of his life that everything he did during his life was good, without a second of regret. I would like to know that after his death a small voice in his head went “Oh shit, I was wrong. There’s nothing here!”

  2. If I live to be a hundred, I will never figure out how this “church” (which has less than 50 members, most of whom are related to each other in some way or another) has managed to generate so much attention over the last couple of decades. Usually, (at least here in Los Angeles, where I live), when a group of holy rollers decides to gather someplace (often a pier or an outdoor shopping mall) carrying signs and wearing sandwich boards of the “Repent Ye Sinners” and “The Rapture Is Nigh” variety, they are completely ignored by both the media as well as passers by.

    • In reply to #5 by IDLERACER:

      If I live to be a hundred, I will never figure out how this “church” (which has less than 50 members, most of whom are related to each other in some way or another) has managed to generate so much attention over the last couple of decades. Usually, (at least here in Los Angeles, where I live), when…

      Go picket a soldier’s funeral and you’ll find out pretty quick. But, never mind these idiots, what about 98% of the people in showbiz; they are famous for being famous. How the hell do you get fame from being famous? It’s amazing we haven’t all decided to sit in a corner and ponder the cracks in the wall; it’s actually quite relaxing.

  3. “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.”… This quote made my day.

  4. Some people might think I’m being parsimonious but I don’t like celebrating or taking joy in the death of another human being no matter how odious they were.
    I don’t think people have true free will and we don’t know the forces that shaped Nathan Phelps which were beyond his control.
    As Sam Harris says you can protect yourself and society from such people but you don’t need to dance on their graves.

    • In reply to #7 by mr_DNA:

      Some people might think I’m being parsimonious but I don’t like celebrating or taking joy in the death of another human being no matter how odious they were.
      I don’t think people have true free will and we don’t know the forces that shaped Nathan Phelps which were beyond his control.
      As Sam Harris s…

      It’s so much taking joy in his death, but it’s his only redeeming quality.

    • In reply to #7 by mr_DNA:

      Some people might think I’m being parsimonious but I don’t like celebrating or taking joy in the death of another human being no matter how odious they were.
      I don’t think people have true free will and we don’t know the forces that shaped Nathan Phelps which were beyond his control.
      As Sam Harris s…

      I couldn’t disagree with you more.
      With that kind of attitude, everyone would get a proverbial “you never know what happened to him while he was growing up” card. Every person who inflicts abuse on others have explanations of why they have. NOT being glad people like F. Phelps are dead is to me, an over simplification, if not an exaggeration of sympathy.
      I an VERY happy he’s dead and would gladly dance on his grave, if I had the chance.
      Regardless of any reasons of his behavior, he still heaped tons of mental pain and suffering on many people.

      Christopher Hitchens said he hated his enemies (as opposed to Jesus’s plea to love your enemies).
      I’m with Hitchens on this one.

      • “Christopher Hitchens said he hated his enemies (as opposed to Jesus’s plea to love your enemies). I’m with Hitchens on this one.”

        Hating my enemies does me no good and does them no harm. The sensible plan is to figure out what caused Phelps to be so mean-spirited, avoid that thing, and then move on.

        In reply to #23 by KRKBAB:

        In reply to #7 by mrDNA:_

        Some people might think I’m being parsimonious but I don’t like celebrating or taking joy in the death of another human being no matter how odious they were.
        I don’t think people have true free will and we don’t know the forces that shaped Nathan Phelps which were beyond h…

        • In reply to #36 by zonotrichia:

          “Christopher Hitchens said he hated his enemies (as opposed to Jesus’s plea to love your enemies). I’m with Hitchens on this one.”

          Hating my enemies does me no good and does them no harm. The sensible plan is to figure out what caused Phelps to be so mean-spirited, avoid that thing, and then move…

          Although it does no harm to him, I disagree that it doesn’t do me any good.
          I feel good about hating someone I feel is a strong voice for abuse and irrationality.
          I’m also vocal about it, so I believe it could have a positive effect by having it be heard (and witnessed) by others. That could embolden others to be vocal (which is a good thing to me), and it could deter others who might have latent abusive irrational behavior on tap.

        • In reply to #36 by zonotrichia:

          “Christopher Hitchens said he hated his enemies (as opposed to Jesus’s plea to love your enemies). I’m with Hitchens on this one.”

          Hating my enemies does me no good and does them no harm. The sensible plan is to figure out what caused Phelps to be so mean-spirited, avoid that thing, and then move…

          However, rejoicing in the demise of an enemy of life doesn’t preclude “…to figure out what caused Phelps to be so mean-spirited…” also.

  5. A word of warning to dear old Fred from his so-called boss: “On that day many will come to me and say “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and do many mighty works in you name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers” (Mathew 7:22-23)…………….Welcome to Hell, Fred!!!

  6. I do not find pleasure in someone’s death. As an atheist, I truly think that this life is all we get. As such, we need to live. We need to make the most of everything and moment we can enjoy. I do not derive pleasure from daydreaming that Fred is in hell (or heaven for that matter). I (as during his life) feel sad about his clear hate of the life he was lucky enough to have.

    He squandered his time here focused on hate and derision. Now he is dead, and while there is no celebration inside my head, at least he cannot hurt anyone else directly. If only his followers would disband and look to enjoy this one life and allow others to do the same. It’s funny, isn;t that sentiment replete through their holy scripture????

    • In reply to #12 by crookedshoes:

      I do not find pleasure in someone’s death. As an atheist, I truly think that this life is all we get. As such, we need to live. We need to make the most of everything and moment we can enjoy. I do not derive pleasure from daydreaming that Fred is in hell (or heaven for that matter). I (as durin…

      I share your sentiment entirely.

      And I think something disastrous must have happened to him in his early life.

      S G

    • I would love to take the moral high ground with you but in Mr. Phelps case I’m relieved that he has past. Now he can no longer hurt those around him. This life is all we have and not having his hateful words and deeds seems like an improvement. Maybe those in his family can now start moving away from the hate. In reply to #12 by crookedshoes:

      I do not find pleasure in someone’s death. As an atheist, I truly think that this life is all we get. As such, we need to live. We need to make the most of everything and moment we can enjoy. I do not derive pleasure from daydreaming that Fred is in hell (or heaven for that matter). I (as durin…

      • I absolutely respect your stance on this. I agree with every statement in your post. I do not see myself as taking any moral high ground. My stance is just my rationale. And, even though I am on the side of the moral high ground, it is not for terribly moral reasons.

        Here’s the deal, a long time ago I decided not to hate anyone for any reason. Hate destroys ONLY the one who hates. If I strongly dislike a person, I simply choose to not have anything to do with them. Fred Phelps is a piece of shit. I wouldn’t care is he were actively on fire. I didn’t give a shit about him in life and I certainly do not give a sht about him in death. There will be no tears shed here. I do, however, puzzle over what generates such venom.

        No tears, but, conversely,no dancing either……

        In reply to #64 by Docbrew:

        I would love to take the moral high ground with you but in Mr. Phelps case I’m relieved that he has past. Now he can no longer hurt those around him. This life is all we have and not having his hateful words and deeds seems like an improvement. Maybe those in his family can now start moving away fro…

  7. The public outcry was particularly strong when Westboro followers picketed the 1998 funeral of Matthew Shepard, the college student who was tortured, tied to a fence and left to die near Laramie, Wyo., apparently because he was gay. Horrific in its violence, the killing sparked a national conversation about hate crimes.

    Nope, no condolences from me.This man was a brute without an iota of fellow feeling.Good riddance.

  8. I wonder how stable the WBC will be following his death. Already a number of people have left it. My suspicion is this will accelerate in the near future. How much longer it will exist I’m not sure.

  9. The Topeka-based organization Rev. Phelps founded, Westboro Baptist Church, announced the death on its Web site but did not provide the cause. The message said he had “Gone The Way of All Flesh.”

    Oh my goodness, does this mean they ate him?

    It’s said turkey is a dry meat, but…

    • In reply to #19 by Katy Cordeth:

      The Topeka-based organization Rev. Phelps founded, Westboro Baptist Church, announced the death on its Web site but did not provide the cause. The message said he had “Gone The Way of All Flesh.”

      Oh my goodness, does this mean they ate him?

      It’s said turkey is a dry meat, but…

      Isn’t the way of the flesh religious speak for Nature, which is attributed to Satan?
      Maybe Fred is now part of Satan’s Minion. Personally, I don’t think Satan would have him- he’d toss him over to the other guy who he was more in league with! Satan would be all for the things Phelps was condemning.

  10. This reminds me how the world would have looked if people could live forever. The development of our civilization would have been centuries behind. Death gives place to new life and wipes away the old bad ways of thinking. It is the ultimate way of getting rid of Psychopaths.

  11. An opinion piece writer put forth this question – “is it right to cheer Phelps death?”

    I remember there were celebratory / yay he’s gone feelings here, when Jerry Falwell died. Why not? How far did the man set us back, with his ‘Moral Majority’?

    Same with Fred – the way I see it, verbal pain he inflicted on folks is unforgivable. (missouri now has a strict law per WBC funeral protesters).

    They also picked high school plays, such as ‘Rent’. One school’s students formed a counter “love picket” – way to go!

    Moving along, watch out for daughter Shirley, ugly (on the inside) Topeka t***.

    • In reply to #22 by bluebird:

      Moving along, watch out for daughter Shirley, ugly (on the inside) Topeka t***.

      Do not be tempted to click on the link. I did, and it may have spoiled my whole day. It is a picture of daughter Shirley. Ugly on both sides, and not something to have to look at or think about on an empty stomach.

      Click at your peril.

  12. It will take some doing for an insignificant fart of a man to generate so much loathing and relief at his death. When you possess so much hatred for people that you did not know, but who did not share your ideals then I expect you can receive the same amount of bile back to you upon your own death. In this case it really is a case of good riddance to bad rubbish.

  13. Well you have to hand it to the man. He even managed to upset the KKK !

    The expression of Rev. Phelps’s bigotry even managed to offend the conscience of the Ku Klux Klan, which staged protests to counter Westboro’s demonstrations at military funerals.

    For all his Biblical literalism, I just wonder if he ever ate shellfish, wore cross fibres, or ever suffered “a witch to live” Exodus 22.18. Now he’s gone, and good riddance, I suspect more personal stuff will come out about what a diabolical man and father he was.

  14. What’s more scary is the fact he convinced people he was right in a modern,western society,and they went out to do his dirty work for him. How can this be true in a world with such access to information? God hates the internet! maybe…

  15. There is a part of me that wants to celebrate, to cheer and to dance at this news. There is also a part of me that whispers “You should be better than this.” I am determined to listen to that quiet voice, to be better tomorrow than I am today.

  16. I have thought for a long time, since watching the documentaries Louis Theroux made about these nutcases, that a man so obsessed with homosexuality is likely to have been a closet one himself and tormented by a life of yearnings for something he’d been taught was evil. Let’s just hope that now he’s dead and can no longer brainwash his gullible family they’ll abandon the madness he taught them. I’m delighted he’s dead and make no bones about it. I just wish it had come a lot sooner. In fact I’d be more than happy for the rest of them to pop their clogs. Sadly I expect his deranged daughter will carry on his vile work.

  17. It’s sad that this man’s legacy is one of inflicting pain on his fellow man especially his own family. I think though his antics may have shone a light on bigotry and intolerance setting a negative example … even the KKK were put off by him. I certainly won’t be dancing on his grave …mind you I ‘ll certainly miss his celebration of life.

  18. I think he inadvertantly did a lot of good. By personifying evil in the hatred of his prejudices, he advanced the causes he most opposed.
    I only wish he had come after atheists the way he did the gays.

  19. In reply to #29 by Mr DArcy:

    Well you have to hand it to the man. He even managed to upset the KKK !

    The expression of Rev. Phelps’s bigotry even managed to offend the conscience of the Ku Klux Klan, which staged protests to counter Westboro’s demonstrations at military funerals…

    That isn’t hard. The KKK burned a cross on my lawn. Now if the Westboro Baptist Church protests my funeral I figure that I will have lived well.

  20. The Fred Phelps phenomenon cannot be profoundly understood if the man’s theology is made a sideline interest only. In taking the Bible to be infallible truth from God, he became a 5 point Calvinist who believed strongly in the concept of Total Depravity. The concept of free will is anathema to a supralapsarian like Phelps.

  21. I don’t really understand why we can’t celebrate/be happy about a death when the life was nothing more than a blight on this earth. Death is going to happen- we didn’t accelerate it or advocate for it. Why not enjoy the relief that this man can no longer spew his hate?

    • In reply to #53 by woefulb:

      I don’t really understand why we can’t celebrate/be happy about a death when the life was nothing more than a blight on this earth. Death is going to happen- we didn’t accelerate it or advocate for it. Why not enjoy the relief that this man can no longer spew his hate?

      Because gloating over anyone’s death is the way ignorant mean spirited people act. It’s the kind of thing that Phelps himself used to do all the time. And I for one don’t want to turn into the very kind of person I most despise. As Nietzsche said: “be careful when you fight monsters that you don’t turn into one”.

  22. 84 years and for much of it he lived in an fear driven, violent, hateful, raging bubble of insanity all of his own making. The truly sad thing is how many others he persuaded to live there also. His son Nate (a very thoughtful and quietly inspiring speaker) now an LGBTQ and atheist activist has spoken very openly about how it was to grow up with his father’s madness and the long shadow it has passed over his whole life. I would highly recommend listening to him if you haven’t already. He humanises the Westboro folks and we get to see them as people trapped in a nightmare rather than cartoon characters. They have done despicable things, but the great irony is that the people they have damaged the most are themselves. Nate has a lot of interesting things to say about the nature of cults and religion. I think one of the most starling things he said was that the ‘Calvinism’ of Fred Phelps was once mainstream, and it was.

    Fred Phelps is a reminder that how we live our lives matters. I hope that now he is gone so too will his madness start to fade away, and the next generation can live without the imposition of worthlessness and fear Fred poured onto his family and congregation.

    Here is an interview Nate Phelps gave a couple of days before his father died – http://www.thethinkingatheist.com/podcast/nathan-phelps-the-death-of-my-father
    I would highly recommend looking up other talks and interviews he has given.

  23. The Thinking Atheist just did a show on him talking to his son who left the church. Seems Fred was excommunicated by members of his own congregation who staged a take over and kicked him out of his home. He then apparently refused to eat or drink. So essentially looks like he effectively committed suicide. Worth a listen.

  24. I can’t imagine what his life must have been like to be so twisted, unhappy and judgmental. He cannot possibly have lived a happy life, and that is the sad aspect, where religion can take over and govern someone’s life.

    To live your life in the 21st century according to the irrational scribblings of Bronze Age shepherds and donkey nomads makes absolutely no sense to me at all.

    He was also like any Christian apologist, cherry-picking and honing in on “safe” areas, where he knew he was not committing an indictable crime. Easy targets, homosexuals. Did his church ever try stoning to death adulterers? Did his church keep slaves? Did they kill those of other religions or beliefs?

    No, of course not. He was a cowardly bully, he and his family in total. They risked nothing except ridicule from normal, decent human beings, and they can cope with ridicule, but they are not willing to risk execution or life imprisonment.

    Pathetic, all of them!

  25. in a psuedo-christian way, i’m always sad when someone dies having not “seen the light”. their memory is confined to historical hell by many, while they become a martyr to others. both unnecessary.

    even people like Nate Phelps will have unresolved issues right now.

    I also agree with the Westbro church for once, having put out a press release asking people not to picket his funeral out of respect. ironic as the request is, it’s perfectly valid.

    I guess it’s a new chapter for the church now. be interesting to see what happens, either his death will make him a messiah or his hateful overbearing personality no longer around might make the cult fall apart. Can never tell how the death of a prominent figure will pan out

  26. That man was anathema to everything that this site and civilisation stands for, and I mean everything. Reason, tolerance, respect for others, respect for evidence, respect for his children, you name it. If you had cancer and woke up to find it gone, why the hell shouldn’t you celebrate? To say that displaying our hatred for a perpetrator of such behaviour only puts us into the same camp as him is no more to the point than the fact that we both wore clothing. He was fucking poisonous. I feel the need to spit; where’s his grave?

  27. My opinion is that Fred Philps was in fact a true Christian, as any reasonable reading of the Bible confirms. According to the Bible God really does hate fags. Say what you like about him (and there is NO shortage of things I can say about him) but a cherry-picker of the bible he was NOT!

  28. Most people way too polite, nothing wrong in rejoicing the passing of that sort of a person or that sort of thinking.

    Imagine if he would have any sort of real power? Other than over his own deluded family?

    In a court of law? In education? Government?

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