Pastor and founder of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church has assumed room temperature. It’ll be interesting to see how the “church” proceeds from here. One of the biggest question will be who will take over pastoral duties. Fred’s daughter, attorney and church member Shirley Phelps-Roper ,has been one of the most prominent faces of the church over the last several years, but I doubt that the church, which describes itself as “Primitive Baptist,” will accept a woman as pastor.
According to the Topeka Capital-Journal media calls to the church are either going to voice mail or being hung up on by members. Guess they’re not as vocal when one of their own dies. I wonder if they’ll picket Fred’s funeral, Given rumors that he had been excommunicated from the church prior to his death.
As a personal aside, in December of last year, I had contacted the church to arrange an interview with Fred on behalf of a media colleague. Even then, there were rumors that Fred was in poor health and very close to death. Church spokesman Steve Drain had denied those rumors in an email, stating that Phelps was in good health for a man of his age and just didn’t want to do interviews anymore. Needless to say, there wasn’t any mention of the excommunication.
Drain has an interesting, if not incomprehensible story. He was a philosophy grad student when he first learned about the church. Initially he had set out to film a documentary about the church titled Hatemongers, but was drawn in and became a member. In an interview with VICE, Drain admitted that he’s actually a fan of some of the bands that the church protests, among them Radiohead. This kind of contradiciton doesn’t seem to bother Drain – at least not enough to leave the church. Neither was losing his daughter. I’m curious if Drain, or any other members of the church, will take Fred’s death as an opportunity to leave.
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.