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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

(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. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    My goal in life is that upon my death... no one says the world is a better place without me

    March 17, 2014 at 2:37 pm |
    • believerfred

      Promoting godlessness will not accomplish that goal for those who need the comfort and assurance that Jesus provides.
      You have removed the best possible solution. If there is no God awareness of that is of no help. However, if there is God then you have at best succeeded in dragging someone away from the eternal love offered by God.
      You need a new coach if you really wish to accomplish your goal

      March 17, 2014 at 3:24 pm |
      • Lucifer's Evil Twin

        Shut up Meg

        March 17, 2014 at 3:26 pm |
        • believerfred

          Perhaps you wish to rephrase your goal to helping the godless become more godless in all their thought and ways. That goal can be accomplished without a coach. It is like buying stocks long in a bull market where high tide raises all boats.
          So, tell me how a word that excels in godlessness is better than a world where everyone loves God and loves their neighbor more than self. The bonus is it does not matter if God is real or imagined the effect in this lifetime will be the same.

          March 17, 2014 at 3:36 pm |
        • Lucifer's Evil Twin

          This will be my last response to you pogue... most of us do not require your belief in superstitious nonsense to be good people. You should seek psychiatric help for your religious delusions.

          March 17, 2014 at 3:43 pm |
        • believerfred

          Yes, and as Yoda said this is why you fail

          March 17, 2014 at 4:49 pm |
        • fintronics

          "So, tell me how a word that excels in godlessness is better than a world where everyone loves God and loves their neighbor more than self. "

          Only if your neighbor is a christian, and your paticular brand of christian, otherwise, not so much..

          March 19, 2014 at 12:34 pm |
  2. Apollo to Zeus

    That's so sad.

    Not!

    March 17, 2014 at 2:35 pm |
  3. observer

    Where are all the Christians on here praying for their fellow Christian?

    March 17, 2014 at 2:32 pm |
    • Russ

      @ observer: Jesus died for sinners. Does Fred Phelps admit he is one?

      March 17, 2014 at 2:56 pm |
      • observer

        Russ,

        Was a lowlife like Fred Phelps worth dying for?

        March 17, 2014 at 3:40 pm |
        • Russ

          @ observer: if Jesus thought a lowlife like me was worth dying for...
          then yes, the possibility exists for Phelps as well.

          but a man who never extends grace probably has never experienced it himself.
          it certainly isn't present in any of the WBC's talk about "sinners."

          March 17, 2014 at 3:45 pm |
        • observer

          Russ,

          So a lowlife like Phelps can decide on his deathbed to repent for being a heartless monster and go to heaven, but the nicest, kindest person who never heard of Jesus is immediately sent to hell. Sound fair, but only to believers.

          March 17, 2014 at 3:50 pm |
        • new-man

          ...."but the nicest, kindest person who never heard of Jesus is immediately sent to hell. Sound fair, but only to believers."

          This is not true and is only a reflection of how you see Jesus. What about God being a lot different than you think He is.

          March 17, 2014 at 4:16 pm |
        • Russ

          @ observer:
          1) that's exactly what happened with the thief on the cross next to Jesus.

          2) Jesus' preaching makes it clear that our chief problem is *thinking* we're good when we're not. we count our so-called "goodness" against God – and so push him away with it.

          as Flannery O'Connor put it in Wiseblood: "there was a deep, black, wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sinning."

          to be clear, using "goodness" to push away ultimate Goodness is not being "good." it's just a more sophisticated evil – which is why Jesus was so much angrier with the Pharisees for their "goodness."

          for example, read Luke 15. the famous "Prodigal Son" parable is not nearly as much about the "bad son" who runs away as it is the "good son" who stays home, but in the end says functionally the same thing to his dad: "Dad, I wish you were dead. I just want your stuff." two sons lived with their dad – a good one & a bad one – and NEITHER of them had a real relationship with Him. that's the point.

          Christianity is not about YOU being good. (that's virtually every other religion/philosophy).
          It's about Jesus dying for BAD people.

          March 17, 2014 at 9:33 pm |
        • fintronics

          the concept of "Jesus dying for BAD people" is completely ridiculous and pure mythology. In othetr words, a big load of crap.

          March 19, 2014 at 12:38 pm |
        • Russ

          @ fintronics:
          see my response here (to similar comments you made there):
          https://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/03/19/why-vermont-is-not-godless/comment-page-1/

          March 19, 2014 at 11:25 pm |
        • observer

          Russ,

          "Christianity is not about YOU being good. (that's virtually every other religion/philosophy). It's about Jesus dying for BAD people."

          So being a "good person" is not rewarded, but Jesus died so that "bad people" don't have to be punished.

          Not much of an endorsement for Christianity being intelligent or fair, is it?

          March 19, 2014 at 11:37 pm |
        • Russ

          @ observer:
          you said: "So being a "good person" is not rewarded..."
          that's a misunderstanding of Christianity as well. the bible makes it clear that there is *no one* who is good (Rom.3:10-20). in that regard, much of Jesus' harsh remarks are toward people who were *sure* they were good (Pharisees). he pressed the fact that the reason they did good in the first place was evil – namely, to push God away by being their own savior. again, i'd point back to the Flannery O'Connor quote above.

          Christianity begins with the recognition that i deserve He.ll. i am a moral failure. every reason i ever did good in the first place were corrupted with selfishness and false attempts to be my own savior – all of which is giving God the finger.

          but *at no point* does the Bible celebrate that fact (that our goodness is not actually good). if anything, it says explicitly the opposite ("should we sin all the more so that grace may abound?" Rom.6:1). but the fact that you are asking that question DOES mean you are actually hearing the radical nature of grace in comparison with the self-salvation of religion.

          March 20, 2014 at 12:18 am |
        • observer

          Russ,

          Neither you nor new-man has really addressed this issue.

          So a lowlife like Phelps can decide on his deathbed to repent for being a heartless monster and go to heaven, but the nicest, kindest person who never heard of Jesus is immediately sent to hell.

          Does this seem intelligent and fair to YOU?

          March 20, 2014 at 12:24 am |
        • ssq41

          Sorry, Obs...but they have an answer for that:

          Romans 1:20

          March 20, 2014 at 12:32 am |
        • Russ

          @ Observer:
          you said: "Does this seem intelligent and fair to YOU?"

          fair? no. nothing about Christianity is fair. that's why we call it grace. i deserve He.ll. he took it for me & gave me what only he deserves. that's not fair, that's grace.

          intelligent? incredibly so. as Soren Kierkegaard put it, there is an "infinite, qualitative difference between God and humanity." this sort of thinking is radically different from ours – and it is beautifully so. as much as one might fear the possibility of something like Descartes' "Evil Genius", here is a Mind that bends all that infinite genius in an act of unthinkable benevolence that both upholds justice (there is payment for evil things done) while still extending mercy (bad people like me have hope not just for rescue, but to be transformed).

          March 21, 2014 at 1:31 am |
        • ssq41

          Russ says "I deserve hell!"

          I actually like you, Russ. Both you and Chad are the smartest Christians I've encountered.

          March 21, 2014 at 1:35 am |
        • observer

          Russ,

          "nothing about Christianity is fair. that's why we call it grace. i deserve He.ll."

          That's really SCARY. You claim God made you imperfect and now you are beating yourself up because you are imperfect.

          This whole thing seems VERY masochistic. Do you enjoy feeling bad about yourself?

          March 21, 2014 at 1:44 am |
        • Russ

          @ ssq41: thanks.

          @ Observer: at no point did i say "God made you imperfect." you said that.

          the Bible claims God made us *good* & we corrupted ourselves. we did this to ourselves. we are responsible for our actions.

          no, it's not masochism to be honest about one's condition. it's necessary for healing. thinking the doctor who informs you that you have cancer is somehow against you (or even the cause of that cancer) fails to understand there is a huge difference between the facts of your condition and the agenda of the Physician.

          March 21, 2014 at 11:40 pm |
        • observer

          Russ,

          It's surprising to hear a Christian who doesn't believe in free will and that man can be imperfect in his choices.

          March 21, 2014 at 11:43 pm |
        • Russ

          @ Observer: you have made a false dichotomy.

          i do believe in free will. we were created with such a freedom – but we corrupted it in the fall. Martin Luther has a classic essay on this called "On the Bondage of the Will." it's a relatively quick read, but it's the point you're misunderstanding here.

          in short: God's sovereignty does not alleviate humanity's responsibility.

          March 21, 2014 at 11:49 pm |
    • lngtrmthnkr

      Observer, You can tell them by their fruit, this one is too bitter.

      March 17, 2014 at 3:02 pm |
  4. beckerdt75

    Should we all protest and interrupt his funeral just as so many of his followers have done to others? I hope this guys suffers in hell worse than any other.

    March 17, 2014 at 2:17 pm |
    • igaftr

      And do the very thing he has gained infamy from, the very thing that you likely do not like about him for. Don't sink to his level. Hopefully his name and his "church" will be forgotten quickly.

      March 17, 2014 at 2:48 pm |
  5. ozwest

    And for his funeral, it would be most fitting if thousands of LGBT individuals and advocates would attend, carrying signs saying, "We are all One," and singing Kumbaya led by the Heartland Men's Chorus (Kansas City).

    March 17, 2014 at 2:05 pm |
    • n8dev

      That would be awesome if you guys all showed up and peacefully paid your respects. As a Christian, I have to say these so-called Christians need to learn a lesson, and your idea sounds like it might just do that.

      March 17, 2014 at 2:10 pm |
      • RichardSRussell

        Respects? Plural? I don't have even 1 respect for this hateful, hurtful bigot.

        March 17, 2014 at 3:44 pm |
    • ddimaria78

      Honestly, this is what should happen. People should show up and peacefully, respectfully show up for the funeral. They should do what all Christians SHOULD do, mourn the dead with respect and love.

      March 17, 2014 at 2:28 pm |
      • fintronics

        respect must be earned... this clown doesn't deserve any.

        March 19, 2014 at 1:06 pm |
  6. ifhorseshadgods

    There's a golden opportunity here for his "church" to make some serious cash. $10 or even $100 per shovel load of dirt would get a lot of takers at his burial.

    March 17, 2014 at 2:05 pm |
    • doobzz

      Hell, they could get $10 just for the chance to spit on the grave.

      March 17, 2014 at 2:16 pm |
  7. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    It is unfortunate that his evil cult will not die with him...

    March 17, 2014 at 2:01 pm |
  8. observer

    Phelps may even be getting non-believers to pray about this.

    March 17, 2014 at 1:58 pm |
    • ifhorseshadgods

      I'll flip a coin in a well, wish upon a star, blow out candles and yes, pray if that in anyway insured his departure from the living.

      March 17, 2014 at 2:02 pm |
  9. Dyslexic doG

    buh bye!

    March 17, 2014 at 1:56 pm |
  10. ifhorseshadgods

    Plenty crazy enough to stage a resurrection just in time for Easter.

    March 17, 2014 at 1:55 pm |
  11. jaydavid666

    As an atheist I am deprived of an opportunity to live a life of hatred that so tipifies the life of a follower of Jesus Christ.
    Still, I almost wish that Hell really existed...so when I went there I could see the founder of Westboro Baptist when God's crucifies and burns him for all eternity.
    But I just cannot bring myself to embrace the hatred that is Jesus Christ for more than a second.
    Ironically my none-existent God is most loving than any existing God.

    March 17, 2014 at 1:55 pm |
    • ifhorseshadgods

      There is no truer freedom than the freedom from the psychological conditioning called religious belief.

      March 17, 2014 at 1:58 pm |
  12. msrva

    May he rot in hell for all the pain and sorrow he and his group of cretins caused the families of Americas fallen Military soldiers .
    Good ridden to bad rubbish

    March 17, 2014 at 1:52 pm |
  13. yellowtoadinaz

    Based on that picture.....it looks as if he died a few years ago.

    March 17, 2014 at 1:52 pm |
  14. marisa242

    The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you! Ahh what the hell! That demon isn't leaving! Good Luck! LOL!

    March 17, 2014 at 1:42 pm |
  15. markinfla

    "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."

    Oh yeah, any second now.

    March 17, 2014 at 1:42 pm |
  16. markinfla

    midwest rail,
    I agree with your point partially. But Phelps takes it WAY beyond your typical anti-gay fundy.

    March 17, 2014 at 1:41 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Indeed he does. Those willing to lean on Leviticus to oppose same s.ex marriage, though, are either in favor of the whole book or they are not. Twisted as he was, Phelps at least bought the whole package.

      March 17, 2014 at 1:44 pm |
      • ifhorseshadgods

        Yes, a full delusional rather than partially delusional.

        March 17, 2014 at 1:52 pm |
  17. immeuru7

    GOODBYE!

    March 17, 2014 at 1:40 pm |
  18. bronyaurs1

    This horrible and hateful man and his family are not worth the time or print space they receive. That being said, as a psychologist I must say that the WBC is efficient at their simple task of projecting their negative archetypal imago of gay people ( and of just about everyone except themselves and their cult) in a hateful and disgusting way and in return receive back upon them the projected archetypal imago of hate towards their cult as a bigot hate group. This is an ancient practice and hopefully man and woman will grasp the psychology behind this. We see it everywhere in our society since time immemorial. It is hard not to resist but taking the higher road is the best way to reject this infant minded regressed hate group. Of course it is a nice thought that Hitler, Himmler, Streicher, Goebbels, Goering, Frank, Kaltenbrunner, Von Ribbontrop and Syess-nquart will have to step aside when Phelps arrives at the fiery gates as SATAN'S number one favorite.

    March 17, 2014 at 1:36 pm |
    • Akira

      You're a Brony?

      March 17, 2014 at 2:10 pm |
  19. midwest rail

    If you claim to be a Christian and support the use of Leviticus to oppose same s.ex marriage, why would you oppose Phelps ?

    March 17, 2014 at 1:34 pm |
  20. hatenapa

    Some people brighten rooms by leaving them.

    March 17, 2014 at 1:32 pm |
    • otoh2

      Yep.

      Btw, do you hate National Auto Parts Association or Napa, California?

      March 17, 2014 at 2:06 pm |
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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.