Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps dies
By Phyllis Stark. CREATED Mar 20, 2014
Kansas-based preacher Fred Phelps, who founded the controversial Westboro Baptist Church and later in life may have been excommunicated by it, has died at age 84.
The Kansas-based church, made up primarily of members of Phelps’ extended family, is best known for its members’ anti-gay picketing at military funerals with deliberately inflammatory signs such as “God hates fags.” The church has no ties to any official Baptist church body.
Phelps passed away March 19 in hospice care in Topeka, Kan. The cause of death was not disclosed.
“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,’” reports The Washington Post. “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 church members believe in “an unforgiving, vengeful God poised to destroy a nation of sinners,” according to the Post. “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.
“Rev. Phelps and his followers protested at hundreds, perhaps thousands, of funerals, including those of entertainer Frank Sinatra, Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), civil rights activist Coretta Scott King and the miners who died in the 2006 Sago Mine disaster in West Virginia,” the Post reports. “He also picketed the funeral of Fred Rogers, explaining that the children’s TV show host neglected to warn young viewers that sodomy is a sin.”
Phelps was ordained as a Baptist minister at age 17. He started Westboro in the 1950s and graduated from the Washburn University law school in Topeka in the early 1960s. But the Post reports, “His income until the mid-1970s came largely in the form of proceeds from door-to-door candy sales by his 13 children.
“After a series of complaints from his legal clients, the Kansas Supreme Court disbarred Rev. Phelps in 1979, citing his ‘little regard for the ethics of his profession,’” according to the Post. Later, he made unsuccessful political bids, running for Kansas governor and U.S. senator.
Phelps’ estranged son, Nathan, recently said his father had been expelled by the church last year, but a church spokesman declined to address the matter with the media.