Documentarian Louis Theroux published a short piece about his time with the Westboro Baptist Church and its pastor, Fred Phelps. Theroux spent a long time with the Phelps family while making the documentaries The Most Hated Family in America and The Most Hated Family in Crisis. I’m probably as sick of hearing about Phelps as anyone at this point, but I think Theroux has some good points to make. Consider this these the final words on the matter, barring Phelps’s return from the dead (excluding his role as Henry Kane in Poltergeist II)
It has been reported that Pastor Phelps had been “excommunicated” from his own church before he died (probably this doesn’t mean much more than being prevented from preaching; I doubt he was out wandering the streets). In 2010 I heard a similar rumour. Then, the word was that Gramps was panicking about a multi-million dollar lawsuit brought against the church by the family of a dead soldier whose funeral they had picketed. (The WBC ended up winning the case on appeal.) The rest of the church viewed Gramps’ failure of nerve as evidence of lack of faith in God’s plan and they put him on the naughty pew for a time-out.
The truth is, despite being its founder and main preacher, Gramps has been a marginal figure within the WBC for some years. When I made my documentaries the dominant force was Fred’s daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, a gifted organizer who could sling religious obloquy while holding four separate placards and wearing a bandana with a message of religious hate – in a different context it would have been impressive. In fact, underneath her programming, and despite all the pain she inflicted in the name of her religion, Shirley is basically a kind person.