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Thank God for Fred Phelps’ Death

His son and congregation on the passing of a notorious hatemonger

Political by Stephen Lock (From GayCalgary® Magazine, April 2014, page 18)

That scream and wailing you may have read about a few weeks ago, in around March 19th, was the sound of Fred Phelps, the former pastor of Westboro Baptist Church, coming face-to-face with his maker after years of preaching God Hates Fags, and being cast into the deepest pit of hell for it.

Phelps made quite a name for himself as the leader of America’s perhaps most notorious hate cult, showing up at funerals where he and his family and a few other members of Westboro Baptist would hold up placards stating[insert name] Is Burning In Hell and God Hates Fags.  He and his followers erupted into popular consciousness when they showed up at Matthew Shepard’s funeral.

Matthew Shepard, some of you may recall, was the young gay man who was murdered, left to die alone, tied to a rural fence by two young misfits who posed as gay (or at least interested) men. They picked Shepard up, drove him to an isolated area out in the country, and tortured and beat him literally half to death, then left him to die alone out there. The case became a rally point for highlighting bashing and other anti-gay violence.

When Phelps et al. showed up at Matthew’s funeral and attempted to disrupt it, they were blocked by several individuals dressed as angels with large folding wings. As these angels stood in front of the Westboro bunch they spread their wings so that the television cameras could not see the hatemongers or their vile placards and thereby redirected the focus back onto Matthew and the show of respect others had come to pay.

In later years, Phelps and his crew took to showing up at the funerals of American veterans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the funerals of children killed in a spate of school shootings, picketing those with placards stating the deceased were burning in hell; that God celebrated their deaths, and other sick and twisted statements of unmitigated hate and loathing.

Despite Phelps leading his followers in an ongoing campaign of hatred, and his name being synonymous with the church he led, for some reason the congregation turned on him in August, 2013 and not only removed him as pastor but excommunicated him. He spent his last few weeks in a hospice in Topeka, Kansas suffering from a form of dementia and slipping in and out of lucidity before dying on March 19th.

His estranged son, Nathan, who fled his father and the Westboro cult 36 years ago when he was 18 years old, now lives in Calgary where he heads up the Centre for Inquiry, a secular humanist organization dedicated to science and reason: a sharp departure from the sort of environment his father created.

Reflecting on the years of abuse he suffered at the hands of his father, and the hate the man spewed publicly, the younger Phelps has mixed feelings about the death of the man who was, after all, his father.

"I don’t know if I forgive him," he recently told a Calgary Sun reporter.  "This whole question of forgiveness baffles me. For my own self, I am in a good place, but from that place I still see my father as an unapproachable person, and I don’t trust him."

Nathan Phelps went on to define forgiveness as an "emotional or mental position that is no longer destructive", and said that he believes he has reached that point in response to his father, but at the same time he didn’t want anything to do with the man prior to his death and conceded he may not have forgiven him after all.

To his credit, he has also spoken out regarding those who might seek payback by disrupting the man’s own funeral as he had disrupted so many others.

Having spoken out on how wrong it was for the Westboro Baptists to demonstrate at funerals, the younger Phelps is clear he had no choice but to say the same in regards to his father’s own funeral. He, of course, understands – probably better than anyone – those who would want to take the opportunity to express their loathing of a man who caused so much pain and preached such virulent hatred. But, he says, the best way to show how wrong Fred Phelps was, and how misguided his church is, is to allow the funeral, if in fact one takes place, to occur without disruption.

This is an admirable position to take and, honestly, I don’t know if I could take a similar position.  Fred Phelps was an evil, twisted, hateful, and bigoted SOB who caused much pain for the families of those whose funerals he chose to show up at with his band of equally deluded and rigid followers. No amount of reason ever got through to any of them. Any attempt at reasonable discussion or debate was cut off, with screams of how God hates fags, or anyone else the Phelps clan took issue with. They are a bunch of whackos but, unfortunately, a bunch of whackos who managed to gain wide-spread media attention for the last 16 years, primarily due to the level of virulence their protests had.

If nothing else, the zealots of Westboro do stay on message. They apparently do not mourn the death of Fred Phelps. On their website ( they have this to say about his death:

"The world-wide media has been in a frenzy during the last few days, gleefully anticipating the death of Fred Waldron Phelps Sr. It has been an unprecedented, hypocritical, vitriolic explosion of words.

Do they vainly hope for the death of his body? People die – that is the way of all flesh....

The death of Fred Phelps’ body, a man who preached a plain faithful doctrine to an ever darkening world, is nothing but a vain, empty, hypocritical hope for you.

It’s like every journalist in the world simultaneously set aside what little journalistic integrity they have, so that they could wait breathlessly for a rumor to publish:  in-fighting, succession plans, and power struggles, oh my!  How shameful!  You’re like a bunch of little girls on the playground waiting for some gossip!

Listen carefully; there are no power struggles in the Westboro Baptist Church, and there is no human intercessor – we serve no man, and no hierarchy, only the Lord Jesus Christ. No red shoes, no goofy hat, and no white smoke for us; thank you very much.

No board, no separate decision making body, just humble servants of God – qualified according to the scriptures, and chosen by the church – privileged to feed the sheep for a time....

Remember that the Lord Jesus Christ warned us that a man’s foes will be they of his own household: So again, there is nothing surprising about these shenanigans, spurred on by faithless, ax-grinding, God-hating deserters of the cross, and it amounts to nothing but vain, empty, hope.

God forbid, if every little soul at the Westboro Baptist Church were to die at this instant, or to turn from serving the true and living God, it would not change one thing about the judgments of God that await this deeply corrupted nation and world. That is the pinnacle of your hopes, and by far the most vain. Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, or the power of God.

There is only one hope for any human – inside or outside of this little church – that God gives you repentance unto salvation. We pray that the Lord will do just that for any of our enemies whom he has predestined to eternal life. And for those who are truly the enemies of God – ordained of old to such a condemnation – we pray his righteous wrath and vengeance, wherein we rejoice.

Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!"

This is interspersed with a variety of quotations from various Scriptures highlighting how God has the final say in who lives and who dies and when we die. We all die, this is true, and according to the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) the soul is eternal and our bodies, the vessels in which the eternal soul is temporarily housed, are nothing. The death of the body, in the view of Westboro’s congregation, is devoid of anything noteworthy and to hold a funeral, or a celebration of life, or any other sort of memorial to the deceased is little more than a form of idolatry, in their view.

The media release says nothing directly about the removal of Phelps as pastor, nor his excommunication, except to deny any sort of power struggle within the little church.  That’s fine, and certainly their prerogative. Leave them to their own devices in that regard.

Of course, they did no such thing in relation to others, making it a point to interfere during a time of mourning, with no regard for the very human characteristic of wanting to remember the person who died and honour their life.

It has often been said that funerals are not for the dead, but the living. Funerals, as well as memorials and celebrations of life, are rituals for those still on this mortal coil to try and cope and process the loss of a loved one. Westboro and Phelps chose to utterly disrespect that because, they always claimed, God decides and whatever He decides is to be what is celebrated. In their view – a perverted view in my opinion –  that is what was behind placards such as Thank God for Dead Soldiers and so they now say Thank God for Fred Phelps’ Death.

I couldn’t say it better myself.


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