Westboro Baptist Church founder near death
Fred Phelps, the founder of Westboro Baptist Church, has been a controversial figure in American Christianity.
March 17th, 2014
10:05 AM ET

Westboro Baptist Church founder near death

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
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(CNN) - Westboro Baptist Church, the Kansas congregation known for picketing funerals with anti-gay signs, called reports that its founder, Fred Phelps, is near death "speculative."

"Fred Phelps has health issues," the church said in a statement Sunday, "but the idea that someone would suggest that he is near death, is not only highly speculative, but foolish considering that all such matters are the sole prerogative of God."

Nathan Phelps, the estranged son of Fred Phelps, posted a Facebook message Sunday saying his father was "at the edge of death" at a hospice in Topeka, Kansas, where Westboro Baptist Church has long been a controversial presence.

Nathan Phelps also said his father had been excommunicated from the church. "I'm not sure how I feel about this," he added. "Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made."

Westboro declined to say whether or not its patriarch has been excommunicated. The church's statement said that "membership issues are private" and that eight unnamed "elders" lead the Westboro congregation.

A church spokesman declined to respond to follow-up questions.

Fred Phelps founded Westboro Baptist Church in 1955 and molded it in his fire-and-brimstone image. Most of the small congregation are members of Phelps' extended family. Nathan Phelps is one of several relatives who left the church in recent decades. He lives in Canada, according to his Facebook page.

MORE ON CNN: 'Most-hated,' anti-gay preacher once fought for civil rights

Despite its "Baptist" name, Westboro is not affiliated with any larger church denomination. Most Christians criticize the congregation's harsh anti-gay rhetoric and penchant for pursuing the limelight at inappropriate moments.

According to the church's website, it has picketed more than 53,000 events, ranging from Lady Gaga concerts to funerals for slain U.S. soldiers. Typically,  a dozen or so family members - including small children - brandish signs that say "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."

Westboro's website keeps a running tally of "people whom God has cast into hell since you loaded this page."

By the church's idiosyncratic logic, God's damnation, including the death of U.S. soldiers, is the price to pay for the country's acceptance of "sins" such as homosexuality.

Despite the protests' unpopularity, the Supreme Court upheld Westboro's right to picket military funerals on free speech grounds in 2011. Several states, though, have passed laws aimed at keeping the controversial church at a distance from funerals.

"I feel sad for all the hurt he's caused so many," Nathan Phelps said of his father on Sunday.

"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."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Pastors

soundoff (485 Responses)
  1. samuel1956

    Mr. Burke, you need to pay more attention to decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court did NOT unanimously uphold Westboro's right to protest at military funerals. Justice Samuel Alito wrote a dissenting opinion, which means that the Supreme Court upheld Westboro by an 8-1 decision.

    March 17, 2014 at 12:12 pm |
  2. RichardSRussell

    At least he lived to see the triumph of his anti-gay philosophy.

    Oh, wait ....

    Never mind.

    March 17, 2014 at 12:03 pm |
  3. Vic

    I have a message for the Westboro Baptist Church: YOU ARE NOT GOD, GOD IS.

    ♰ ♰ ♰ Jesus Christ Is Lord ♰ ♰ ♰


    March 17, 2014 at 12:00 pm |
    • Doris

      Well, that's your opinion, Vic. Can you prove your particular God? If you can't, then that, of course, doesn't mean that there isn't some god, perhaps some Creator that is no longer with us; or perhaps some deity that tries his best to clean up here, but is like a fickle child of another God that has no interest in this child-god's playthings....

      March 17, 2014 at 12:06 pm |
    • forwhatsright


      March 17, 2014 at 12:14 pm |
    • readerpan

      Go tell that to the Amalekites.

      March 17, 2014 at 12:52 pm |
  4. magicpanties

    he looks so gay

    March 17, 2014 at 11:51 am |
    • smokey07981big5perm

      He does... I mean he did dedicate his life to them...

      March 17, 2014 at 11:55 am |
  5. smokey07981big5perm

    I can only hope people protest this POSs Funeral. Give his family no peace like they did to so many soldiers who died bravely.

    March 17, 2014 at 11:47 am |
    • Doris

      Hmm. Since he was excommunicated, I wonder if they will refuse a spot in the family site for burial...

      March 17, 2014 at 11:52 am |
      • smokey07981big5perm

        One can hope!

        March 17, 2014 at 11:53 am |
  6. bostontola

    What did you think of Cosmos Episode 2?

    It made me wish there was a whole series on evolution. It was a nice overview, but there wasn't time for NGT to lay out the vast amount of interconnected evidence in one hour.

    March 17, 2014 at 11:43 am |
    • smokey07981big5perm

      wrong comments section?

      March 17, 2014 at 11:44 am |
    • Doris

      I still have to watch it, but am looking forward to it. Recorded it OTA to the mac – let's see 6.76GB.

      March 17, 2014 at 11:50 am |
    • MidwestKen

      Agreed. I wish there was more detail, but it was decent. I did like the take on some being "uncomfortable" with relation to other apes... 'how about our relationship to trees?' Awesome!

      March 17, 2014 at 11:56 am |
      • bostontola

        I liked the discussion of eye evolution, and how optimal it is for underwater sight and how sub-optimal it is for terrestrial sight.

        Hypothesis 1. Eyes evolved in aquatic animals, and when animals moved onto land, they inherited eyes optimized for underwater use.
        Hypothesis 2. God designed eyes and got lazy after doing aquatic animals.
        Hypothesis 3. God likes aquatic animals more than terrestrial animals.

        March 17, 2014 at 12:24 pm |
        • lngtrmthnkr

          option 4 , we are still evolving.

          March 17, 2014 at 1:06 pm |
        • bostontola

          Not really a separate option, evolution is extremely slow.

          March 17, 2014 at 1:26 pm |
  7. smokey07981big5perm

    I wonder how hell is going to treat him.

    March 17, 2014 at 11:40 am |
    • lngtrmthnkr

      Smokey, he won't be a favorite son.

      March 17, 2014 at 1:09 pm |
  8. smokey07981big5perm


    March 17, 2014 at 11:39 am |
  9. Alias

    If he was excommunicated, doesn't that mean the church took judgement away from their god and sent him to hell themselves?

    March 17, 2014 at 11:26 am |
    • Doris

      lol. Somewhere, someone will find a way to use a snippet of Gullible's Travels, Part1 and a snippet of something chatty cathy Paul said and show that everything you just said is prophesy and therefore is sensible and just.

      March 17, 2014 at 11:46 am |
  10. magicpanties

    How could god let him die?
    Oh wait, he must be gay.

    March 17, 2014 at 11:23 am |
  11. taxedmore

    God finally decide to tell him to Shut Up.

    March 17, 2014 at 11:21 am |
  12. abartig2014

    I can only hope that at his funeral that no one, no news crews, no protesters, the curious etc... that no one at all shows up. Let him just fade away.

    March 17, 2014 at 11:16 am |
  13. myweightinwords

    I hold no love for this man, and I strain to even find compassion for his pain. His hatred is a disease that he spread to countless others, and a weapon he used to injure innocent lives.

    May his passing be without further pain, and may his family and church find the peace that can only come through love.

    March 17, 2014 at 11:16 am |
    • seedenbetter

      I hope he rots in hell.

      March 17, 2014 at 11:35 am |
      • myweightinwords

        Yet another sign that his hatred has infected others.

        What good does hating him do you?

        Don't get me wrong, I have struggled with it too. Let his hate die with him. Don't carry it inside of you.

        March 17, 2014 at 11:37 am |
        • smokey07981big5perm

          Makes me feel better to hate him, so that is my process. You do you and I will do me.

          March 17, 2014 at 11:42 am |
        • myweightinwords

          Then you perpetuate that which you claim to hate, and infect others with the disease.

          I have been infected with this hatred. Hell, at one time I was not unlike this man. Hate burns hot inside and it feels good at the time, but like all flames it destroys.

          March 17, 2014 at 11:45 am |
        • smokey07981big5perm

          Like I said you do you and I will do me.

          March 17, 2014 at 11:46 am |
      • radar8


        March 17, 2014 at 2:43 pm |
  14. Rynomite

    Just saying... Fred Phelps was good for Atheism.

    The Enemy of my Enemy.....

    March 17, 2014 at 11:05 am |
  15. Dyslexic doG

    the inevitability of death.

    No amount of fairy tales can stop it. No amount of wishful thinking about magical happy lands in the sky can prevent its finality.

    Goodbye to a hateful man who used religion to justify his hatred. He's definitely not the first.

    March 17, 2014 at 11:01 am |
  16. Doris

    "Nathan Phelps also said his father had been excommunicated from the church."

    Is any of this a surprise? I'm sure the schisms in that little group will continue. And they are bound to continue with the rest of the over 41,000 sects of insanity. They can't help it – that's the way of the Christian. The motor-mouthed Saul of Tarsus layed out the blurry canvas for conflict and judgment – and with no decent evidence for his claims. His words, that if cleverly used, can back any side of any argument winning popularity through fear – believe or you will burn.

    Also in the news – Franklin Graham supports Putin's crackdown on gays.

    Also in the news – Pope postpones trip to Uganda for canonization of Uganda Martyrs. Yeah – I bet the pope doesn't want to make a fool of himself this year like Benedict did a couple of years ago – accepting a Christmas gift from one of Uganda's top ministers of a promise to push the "kill all the gays" bill through their legislature.

    Also in the news, pastor James David Manning: "Jesus Would Stone Homos". This coming from the vitriolic pastor of the ATLAH World Missionary Church in Harlem who rants constantly about Obama, even making derogatory comments about Michelle's physical characteristics.


    "Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth." –Thomas Jefferson

    "I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved – the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced! With the rational respect that is due to it, knavish priests have added prostitutions of it, that fill or might fill the blackest and bloodiest pages of human history." -John Adams, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson

    "During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution." -James Madison, chief architect of the U.S. Constitution and eleven of the Amendments including the Bill of Rights

    March 17, 2014 at 11:00 am |
    • Richard Bergstrom

      Doesn't a group have to have more than just ten people or so to have a schism?

      March 17, 2014 at 11:44 am |
      • Doris

        Probably. But I think one in a small group can have a lot of similarity to the way that's usually thought of.

        March 17, 2014 at 11:54 am |
    • Akira

      James David Manning needs to revisit what Jesus actually had to say directly about homosexuals.

      Also, he appears insane.

      March 17, 2014 at 2:25 pm |
      • midwest rail

        Manning is hardly alone. Linda Harvey, Pete LaBarbera, Michael Bresciani, John Stemberger, Kevin Swanson, Steve Vaughan, etc etc

        March 17, 2014 at 2:29 pm |
      • djangoboy

        Yes, that would be ... nothing.

        March 17, 2014 at 4:45 pm |
  17. Doc Vestibule

    St. Peter: So Pastor Phelps, I see here that you're a Christian, Baptized and everything.
    Phelps: Yes, sir.
    St. Peter: And you endeavored to spread God's word, bringing sinners to His love and forgiveness?
    Phelps: If by "love and forgiveness" you mean "unrelenting guilt, shame and eternal damnation", then you betcher booty!
    St. Peter: I see. Did you love your neighbours as yourself?
    Phelps: I sure did! Except for the f/ags. And the blacks. And the Jews. And Muslims. And Atheists. And soldiers. And anybody not part of my incestuous congregation.
    St. Peter: Uhm... did you actually read the New Testament? What with the forgiveness and such?
    Phelps: Look, I condemned just about everyone from my pulpit. I pointed a fiery finger at all them fa/gs and fa/g lovers, tellin' 'em to prepare for God's wrath here on Earth followed by a nice brimstone bath down below. What more do you want?
    St. Peter: Humility, compassion, charity, forgiveness....
    Phelps: Wait a minute -- don't tell me you're a fan of figure skating!? YOU'RE the reason God keeps killing soldiers!
    St. Peter: Actually, that's all on your humans. He abhors the bloodshed.
    Phelps: I bet you play Village People songs on that harp.
    St. Peter: If you'll kindly step onto the "down" escalator over to your left, we'll find you some suitable lodgings.
    Phelps: Is your halo projecting a rainbow, Nancy?

    March 17, 2014 at 10:39 am |
    • Rynomite

      But Doc, Fred is only interpreting the bible as originally intended! He can't help that all the rest of Christianity has redefined the books to help eliminate the inconsistencies!

      March 17, 2014 at 10:52 am |
    • Doris

      lol – excellent. Although, if Satan were real, I'm thinking he might have a hand in the design of figure-skating outfits....

      March 17, 2014 at 11:39 am |
    • Akira

      This made me laugh so hard....well done, Doc!

      March 17, 2014 at 1:19 pm |
    • ladysunami

      And don't forget the part where he beat and abused his wife and children. I bet that'll go over real well.

      March 18, 2014 at 2:00 pm |
  18. Copiosis

    Well his story is coming to an end. I have sympathy for him as he will meet what he has sown in the afterlife. Peace will not be his. Thus, he will return as tormented and unrepentant as he left. Someday, I suspect many lifetimes from now, he will get it.

    March 17, 2014 at 10:39 am |
    • igaftr

      He is certain he is doing "god's" work. This belief in that which there is no evidence for has been used to justify some of the worst atrocities ever commited.
      It is such a shame that these beliefs are so easily twisted.

      March 17, 2014 at 11:05 am |
      • Copiosis

        Yep. There's no real understanding the state of the universe, it's purpose, or what the "work" is. Unfortunately, people will continue to claim they know and from that knowledge do things that cause others to suffer.

        March 17, 2014 at 12:18 pm |
      • lngtrmthnkr

        anything can be perverted by people who are perverted.

        March 17, 2014 at 1:15 pm |
        • igaftr

          Over 40,000 versions of christianity. Apparently they all pervert what is written in the bible, so they all are perverts?

          March 17, 2014 at 1:20 pm |
  19. igaftr

    Unfortunately, there will always be someone that will take up his mantle of hatred

    March 17, 2014 at 10:18 am |
    • midwest rail

      Phelps is only the most infamous because of their funeral picketing. There are hundreds, if not thousands, that think just like him.

      March 17, 2014 at 10:21 am |
    • TruthPrevails1

      The tables are starting to turn. As much as there will always be someone like Phelps, their voices do start to die after awhile. What Phelps and his ilk have done almost falls in line with other things christians have attempted to voice an opinion on...eventually something comes out that contradicts them with actual data and people stop listening. An education is a wonderful thing.

      March 17, 2014 at 10:26 am |
      • Copiosis

        Completely agree, the world is rapidly losing folks like this. What's more, more people are being born who are far more comprehensive in their thinking about humanity. One way evolution works: the death of those who hold steadfast to narrow beliefs. It's a good thing.

        March 17, 2014 at 10:40 am |
        • MidwestKen

          Not sure that evolution applies to beliefs quite the same way, that's awfully close to Social Darwinism.

          March 17, 2014 at 11:11 am |
        • Copiosis

          Agreed. I'm using evolution with a small "e". My belief contends we are all connected even in the afterlife, meaning what we do today impacts what happens when we come back. As a result, more young people are coming into the world with different ideas about humanity, ideas which are inclusive, not exclusive. So while evolution applies specifically to living organisms, it can also apply to perspectives/worldviews such organisms bring into the world from the beyond.

          My beliefs aren't the truth of course. For me, they accord with what I see. I'm not expecting you to agree, merely elaborating 🙂

          March 17, 2014 at 11:21 am |
        • wanalawn

          That would only apply if the trait is genetic, and the person died prior to procreation

          March 17, 2014 at 11:35 am |
        • MidwestKen

          If it "works" that way then wouldn't all the dead of narrow minded folks be "coming back" as ... narrow minded folk?

          March 17, 2014 at 11:49 am |
        • Copiosis

          Not necessarily but maybe. It depends on the actions, thoughts, and intention of the one "coming back".

          March 17, 2014 at 12:21 pm |
        • Woody

          "My belief contends we are all connected even in the afterlife, meaning what we do today impacts what happens when we come back." – Copiosis

          The afterlife is nothing but wishful thinking. You're not coming back because you're not going anywhere. Your life is what your brain perceives it to be from various sensory input. When you exhale your final breath and your brain dies, it's all lost like a formatted hard drive on your computer. You'll simply be non-existent, as you were for many billions of years before you were conceived. The afterlife is another fantasy created by human beings in an attempt to cope with the fear of death.

          March 17, 2014 at 11:57 am |
        • Copiosis

          Woody, I understand that is your belief. It is not mine. I respect yours. I will not ask you to respect mine. But you can choose to. Thanks for expressing what you believe.

          March 17, 2014 at 12:10 pm |
        • radar8

          Copiosis said"
          "Woody, I understand that is your belief. It is not mine. I respect yours. I will not ask you to respect mine. But you can choose to. Thanks for expressing what you believe."

          That's where you are completely wrong, Copiosis. Yours is a belief since you accept what you are told without any proof whatsoever. Woody, otoh, has verifiable and repeatable prrof of what happens to humans (and all living things) when they die.

          That's the problem with religion. You believe what you are told by your leaders/priests/imams, etc. If your religious leader tells you to kill the infidels because god wants it tat way, you just do it. Christians and Muslims are similar that way.

          March 17, 2014 at 2:58 pm |
  20. Troy

    Don't all mortal beings die one day?

    March 17, 2014 at 10:09 am |
    • Troy

      Yes and Phelps will give an account to God for every word spoken like all other mortals.

      Matthew 12:36 -But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.

      Selfie note-Be careful what you say.

      March 17, 2014 at 10:16 am |
      • Dyslexic doG

        cult speak.

        March 17, 2014 at 10:52 am |
    • wanalawn

      Only in theory....

      March 17, 2014 at 11:34 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.