Fred Phelps, the charismatic founder of the extremely controversial Westboro Baptist Church, is reportedly expected to die very soon. According to those close to the religious leader, he is living out his last days in a Topeka, Kansas hospice facility. The public report originated with a Facebook post by one of Phelps’ sons, Nate Phelps, late Saturday night, who claims to have gotten the news from other family members. It has not yet been confirmed by Westboro Baptist Church officials at this time.
Phelps and his followers are best known for their extreme anti-gay rhetoric which has stretched into the realm of protesting funerals around the country and has gained them both legions of fans and legions of enemies. The group has focused particularly on the funerals of both those killed during active military service and celebrities, and they are known for their stance that the United States is doomed as a nation because of advances toward a culture more tolerant of the LGBT community. The group’s protestations led to a number of both state and federal laws being enacted to prevent similar such protests at the funerals of military service members in the future.
Nate Phelps, the son who first reported the news that the death of his father and founder of the Westboro Baptist Church is expected soon, was himself excommunicated from the group when he voluntarily separated himself from it at the age of 18. He reportedly considers himself to be an atheist today. According to some reports, a number of Phelps 13 children and some additional relatives have also excommunicated themselves from the organization, labeled a “hate group” by some, in recent years.
Nate Phelps says that those family members who have remained close to his father are now blocking him and other estranged family members from seeing the dying patriarch. He reports that he feels “bitterly angry” about the fact that they are preventing some from saying their last goodbyes. He also reports feeling quite sad about “all the hurt, he’s caused so many.” Nate and several other church members who left the organization have become activists for the LGBT community, attempting to spread a message of acceptance in place of the message of hate endorsed by his father and so many with the Westboro Baptist Church.
Nate Phelps’ Facebook statement also revealed that he had learned that his father had been excommunicated from the Westboro Baptist Church that he founded in 1955 himself late last summer. He was unaware of the details of how that excommunication from his own Church allegedly came to be, and rumors seem to be swirling with none confirmed by the organization itself. Whether the 84-year-old leader had second thoughts as to his extreme beliefs at the end of his life remains purely speculation at this point. Ironically, prior to his founding the religious group, Phelps was an accomplished civil rights attorney.
As it has now been revealed that Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church is expected to die soon, and that he was excommunicated from the group prior to his death, the future of the organization is unknown. The leadership of the congregation has apparently been largely taken over by one of his daughters, Shirley Phelps-Roper in recent months.
By Michele Wessel