Fred Phelps, founder of the notorious anti-gay (“God Hates Fags”) Westboro Baptist Church, is reportedly in hospice care and “on the edge of death” in Kansas.
Nate Phelps, the estranged son of Fred Phelps, reports the news in a Facebook post. The younger Phelps, who left the church and his family’s compound in 1976 when he was 18-years-old, writes:
I’ve learned that my father, Fred Phelps, Sr., pastor of the “God Hates Fags” Westboro Baptist Church, was ex-communicated from the “church” back in August of 2013. He is now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas.
I’m not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.
I feel sad for all the hurt he’s caused so many. I feel sad for those who will lose the grandfather and father they loved. And I’m bitterly angry that my family is blocking the family members who left from seeing him, and saying their good-byes.
The claim that the elder Phelps was ex-communicated by his own church last year is curious. LGBTQ Nation reports Nathan Phelps is “not clear” as to why his father was ex-communicated. “I only have hearsay on the reason, and two different versions, so I won’t comment at this point other than to say he was moved into another house and watched over so he wouldn’t harm himself.”
Yet before Fred Phelps became the face of Christian bigotry and hate as the pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church, he was a respected civil rights attorney. Wikipedia reports Phelps earned a law degree from Washburn University in 1964, and founded the Phelps Chartered law firm. The first notable cases were related to civil rights:
“I systematically brought down the Jim Crow laws of this town,” he (Phelps) claims. Phelps’ daughter was quoted as saying, “We took on the Jim Crow establishment, and Kansas did not take that sitting down. They used to shoot our car windows out, screaming we were nigger lovers,” and that the Phelps law firm made up one-third of the state’s federal docket of civil rights cases.
Phelps took cases on behalf of African-American clients alleging racial discrimination by school systems, and a predominantly black American Legion post which had been raided by police, alleging racially based police abuse. Phelps’ law firm obtained settlements for some clients. Phelps also sued President Ronald Reagan over Reagan’s appointment of a U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, alleging this violated separation of church and state. The case was dismissed by the U.S. district court. Phelps’ law firm, staffed by himself and family members also represented non-white Kansans in discrimination actions against Kansas City Power and Light, Southwestern Bell, and the Topeka City Attorney, and represented two female professors alleging discrimination in Kansas universities.
In the 1980s, Phelps received awards from the Greater Kansas City Chapter of Blacks in Government and the Bonner Springs branch of the NAACP, for his work on behalf of black clients.
Yet while Phelps may have done some good work in the realm of civil rights, he will always be remembered as a preacher of a vicious and mean spirited anti-gay Christian bigotry that offended and shocked the nation.