Fred Phelps, the founder of the ever controversial hate-based Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) based in Topeka, Kan., is “on the edge of death,” according to his estranged son, Nathan Phelps. The WBC has only said that the reports that he is near death are “ill informed, ” but the WBC does confirm that he is in hospice care.
One of Fred Phelps’ other estranged sons confirmed Nathan’s account. According to Nate, his father stopped eating and drinking and is unresponsive. Fred Phelps has served as head of the Westboro Baptist Church for nearly 60 years, and has cultivated a church (really just his extended family) based on the hatred of pretty much everything. They point to natural disasters, tragedies and killed soldiers as proof of God's disapproval of human society. The Westboro Baptist Church makes headlines, but what's really been going on behind the scenes of the WBC over the last 60 years?
Here are five things you may not have known about the Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church.
1. Founded: Fred Phelps founded the Westboro Baptist Church in 1955 after being given an appointment as a pastor from a local Baptist church. Westboro was to be a new branch of the church, but Phelps quickly cut all ties and founded what we now know as the WBC: extreme Calvinism and hate-based views.
2. Lawyering Runs In the Family: Fred supported his activities through a career as a lawyer, and 11 of his children have become lawyers themselves. The family’s law background helps them fight and win lawsuits that fund their activities.
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Fred Phelps was actually a civil rights lawyer that received accolades from two local groups, including the NAACP. But his son Nathan says Phelps was not in it for civil rights. Instead, he was in it for the money and regularly referred to blacks with slurs and told his children they were cursed. He was disbarred in 1979 by the Kansas Supreme Court for having "little regard for the ethics of his profession." In 1989, Phelps agreed to not practice law on the federal level so his children would be allowed to practice in federal courts.
3. KKK vs. WBC: Phelp's brand of hate vitriol is apparently even too much for the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK has more than once denounced the Westboro Baptist Church for picketing the funerals of U.S. soldiers killed overseas. In 2003, the KKK released a statement that said, “The Ku Klux Klan, LLC. has not or EVER will have ANY connection with The “Westboro Baptist Church.” We absolutely repudiate their tactics of protesting the funerals of U.S. soldiers, men and women who die serving our Nation.”
Even more bizarre was WBC’s response, which denounced the KKK’s race-based hatred. The WBC said the KKK “have no moral authority on anything. The Bible doesn’t say anywhere that it’s an abomination to be born of a certain gender or race.”
They do agree that homosexuality is an abomination, however, but neither apparently see how highly hypocritical nor ridiculous their disagreements are.
4. Was he excommunicated from the church he Founded? According to Nathan Phelps, Fred was excommunicated from the Westboro Baptist Church in August 2013. Apparently he’s aware of two reasons why this could have happened but refuses to speculate on them. NewNowNext reports that Fred Phelps was moved into a separate living space and watched for fear of self-harm.
5. While Phelps is solely responsible for founding the Westboro Baptist Church, he hasn’t been at the center of the WBC’s activities for years now. He’s mostly delegated responsibility and leadership to his extremely devout daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper. She’s now seen as the leader of the church and regularly leads their protests and appears on television.
That means when Phelps does pass, which appears to be imminent, WBC probably won’t die off. The small church of 40-100 followers (including many Phelps family members) doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. A WBC spokesman said, “For a very long time, we haven't been organized in the way you think,” meaning there are multiple “leaders” ready to carry on the WBC campaign.