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. newdouglitas

    I join most of humanity who knows about this man in saying "Good riddance; hope it happens soon."

    March 17, 2014 at 3:55 pm |
  2. observer

    MILLIONS of Americans are anxiously awaiting good news. Quite a tribute for one man's achievements in life.

    March 17, 2014 at 3:53 pm |
  3. shawbrooke

    Please do not expect that your bitterness will arouse a sympathy for what ever you represent now. I have sympathy for you as a person if your family relationships are broken. Not for your present positions on anything.

    March 17, 2014 at 3:50 pm |
  4. ausphor

    R.I.H.-Reside In Hell

    March 17, 2014 at 3:39 pm |
  5. yellownumber6

    Sometimes this atheist wishes there really were a hell, just for jerks like Fred.

    March 17, 2014 at 3:34 pm |
  6. Bootyfunk

    isn't Fred Phelps just being a better christian than most by closely following the bible?
    lev. 2013 is very clear when is says h.omos.exuality is abomination and g.ays are to be put to death.
    there are several other disgusting h.omophobic passages in the bible as well.
    so isn't Fred Phelps just doing what the bible says to do?
    and really, he's stopping short of doing what the bible says - putting g.ays to death.
    aren't most christians NOT following the bible by accepting g.ays?

    March 17, 2014 at 3:28 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      even though the bible is the glorious and undeniable word of god, aren't you supposed to be able to ignore god when you want to and listen to him when you want to like 99% of the world's Christians do?

      March 17, 2014 at 3:37 pm |
    • Mr. Miller

      Bootyfunk – First off, the Bible is flawed (from translation issues to missing texts to the canonization process, interpretation differences, etc.). It's a good book, don't get me wrong, but it's not perfect.

      Secondly, if you want to go upon the notion that the Bible is NOT flawed, that same Leviticus (19:28) says that tatoos and piercings are bad. Which puts 90% of all women in hell and a lot of guys.

      There is very little "Christian" to be said about Westboro and its founder.

      March 17, 2014 at 4:02 pm |
      • midwest rail

        Given that Leviticus is what 99 % of Christians quote to oppose same s.ex marriage, isn't it true that there is very little Christian about them as well ?

        March 17, 2014 at 4:05 pm |
  7. michael808

    The best thing to do to the Westboro Baptist Church is to ignore them. The organization (or clan of a few family members) knows that no matter where they go the news will cover them and there will be counter protests and they will gain attention. It is what they expect and what they want to happen. The so called church is evil and ridiculous, so arguing or fighting them only gives them credibility in their own minds. I would challenge all news organizations to not report on their actions but know this is impossible because the new likes to stir the pot for ratings.

    March 17, 2014 at 3:24 pm |
  8. rettamichaels

    May he be cremated and his ashes spread into the urinals of gay bars.

    March 17, 2014 at 3:22 pm |
    • Bootyfunk


      March 17, 2014 at 3:29 pm |
      • Lucifer's Evil Twin

        LOL ... I concur 10+

        March 17, 2014 at 3:50 pm |
  9. georgevreelandhill2010

    I will picket his funeral.
    Can't wait.

    George Vreeland Hill

    March 17, 2014 at 3:16 pm |
  10. bostontola

    You know your church suc.ks when it is denounced by almost every other church, and even Jerry Falwell and Bill O'Reilly.

    We bend over backwards for freedom in the US, these people are banned in Canada and the UK and aren't allowed to protest there.

    March 17, 2014 at 3:14 pm |
  11. bpuharic

    Wonder if they'll protest at his funeral....

    March 17, 2014 at 3:14 pm |
  12. unsername1

    CNN couldn't wait to put his obituary out until the guy is dead!!! Who cares if he live or dies, the guy isn't important to me or never will be..

    March 17, 2014 at 3:13 pm |
    • Akira

      CNN isn't the only one carrying this story.

      March 17, 2014 at 3:37 pm |
    • observer


      You haven't been paying attention. Look at the comments. A LOT of people care if he lives or dies.

      March 17, 2014 at 3:57 pm |
  13. jonusb

    Pretty fitting he already looks like a rotting corpse; and acts like one too for that matter. With any luck he'll be reincarnated as a Jewish African American lesbian.

    March 17, 2014 at 3:12 pm |
    • bpuharic

      The whole group is composed...or decomposed...of rotting corpses

      March 17, 2014 at 3:14 pm |
    • midwest rail

      The theory of reincarnation that I like is that each time you return, it is as something less than what you were. If this theory is true, this is Mr. Phelps' last trip.

      March 17, 2014 at 3:15 pm |
      • dashvader

        What you reincarnate as depends on what you did in your previous life. This guy will probably reincarnate as a rhinovirus.

        March 17, 2014 at 3:19 pm |
  14. msb321

    I hope that he and his family and supporters take this with Christian love; It is my sincere hope that he gets his just rewards and that the afterlife treats him the same way he treated others in this life.

    March 17, 2014 at 3:06 pm |
  15. Bootyfunk

    goodbye, hateful h.omophobe. you won't be missed, except by your brainwashed cult followers.

    sad thing is, this guy follows the bible closer than most christians. the bible is very clear in it's disgusting anti-g.ay messages. thankfully, many modern christians cherry-pick the bible and skip over these kinds of hateful messages, but i'm curious how any christians come down on Fred Phelps as he is just following what the bible really says. it seems your ethics and human sensibilities overcome the belief in an inerrant book of myth...?

    March 17, 2014 at 3:00 pm |
  16. puddinpop521

    Well, well... I know that two wrongs don't make a right, but I think in this case there should be an exception... Calling on all of those grieving family members and friends of all those that this group decided to picket their funerals... Now is the time to come together and give this lowlife and his followers a dose of reality. Give them the same treatment they gave those that died and they picketed. For a man of God... "doing unto others as you would have done unto you..." guess what !!

    March 17, 2014 at 2:51 pm |
    • WhatsamattaU

      That would be sinking to their level, I'd advise against it. I prefer to think of the greeting this clown will get at the Pearly Gates. "Excuse, Mr. Phelps, we don't seem to have your reservation on file, but we can offer you some rooms that are nice and toasty way way down in the ummm....'basement', yeah, the 'basement.'"

      March 17, 2014 at 3:04 pm |
      • stephen48739

        Jesus Christ said, "I go to prepare a place for you". If Fred gets to heaven, I hope Jesus has prepared a mansion for Fred that is painted in rainbow colors.

        March 17, 2014 at 3:39 pm |
      • fabulouslystubbornoldgoat

        Actually you are right. We should not protest. We should go to his town and have a huge party on the day of his funeral. We should dance and sing and no person there should even mention his name.

        March 17, 2014 at 4:30 pm |
        • fintronics

          That's a great idea! a huge party, outdoor festival with live music,,, and the band can play that Curtis Mayfield song "Freddie's dead..."

          March 19, 2014 at 1:16 pm |
  17. Dyslexic doG

    not so many Christians posting today.

    The WBC seems to be one of the less popular of the 41,000 different interpretations of the mythology.

    Hey, pick another! There is a Christian story to fit, whatever you believe in. There's nothing ambiguous about the word of that god! LOL

    March 17, 2014 at 2:50 pm |
  18. truth1914

    Jesus was also neutral in all matters of the politics of his time. He did not support war for any reason " those who live by the sword shall die by the sword ". Matthew 5:44 However, I say to you: Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you,

    So if you are a follower of Chist should you participate in war?

    March 17, 2014 at 2:48 pm |
    • In Santa We Trust

      What if that war were waged with the intent of eradicating christians?

      March 17, 2014 at 2:55 pm |
    • Doris

      I had to look this one up:

      Urban Dictionary: Chist
      A chist is a conditon caused by fatness. It's when one's chin extends down into the chest and becomes a single entity, a jiggling indistinguishable sloping mass of lard.

      I guess on the up side in hand-to-hand, you might fair better absorbing blows just below the head, but on the down side, you probably won't be able to react as fast as someone without a chist.

      March 17, 2014 at 3:02 pm |
      • truth1914

        Guess I need to put my glasses on. Funny stuff though

        March 17, 2014 at 3:17 pm |
  19. neverbeenhappieratheist

    I love that the photo looks like he had to take a selfie inside his house with the curtains pulled and blinds down...

    March 17, 2014 at 2:40 pm |
  20. Doris

    "near death"

    Hmm. Have to be ready for this. Let me see if I can find Stephen King's number in my rolodex.
    come to think of it, has someone gone to make sure the Phelps family cemetery is not built atop one for pets? Gosh, if it is, he might have already croaked once before; it might explain some things.....

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

      He looks pretty....ripe in that photo. I wonder if anyone has felt fir a pulse lately?

      March 17, 2014 at 2:46 pm |
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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.