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
[twitter-follow screen_name='BurkeCNN']

(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. whohonestlycares

    Wow, is this really a topic of discussion? These people protest at fallen warrior funerals for goodness sake. Oftentimes, they have to be chased off by Patriot Riders who are carrying weapons. How dare anyone mourn this moron's death. As many have said, protest at the hospital, but make it a celebratory one. Thank the LORD this guy is dying, because he is a waste of a human being.

    March 17, 2014 at 5:31 pm |
  2. msrva

    May your near death be painful and long lasting. Just like the pain and sorrow you and your cretin clan cause the American Military families

    March 17, 2014 at 5:29 pm |
  3. bizmarks12

    Early "Rest in pieces" for you sir.

    March 17, 2014 at 5:21 pm |
  4. meatheist

    Amazingly, this church's website is godhatesf*gs dot com. By a quick scan of the site, there is little else that god does not hate. Phelps is proof that religion is a poison.

    March 17, 2014 at 5:21 pm |
  5. thedragonsegg

    Dear Reverend Phelps;
    It is my fondest hope, wish, and desire that when you die, you will go and sit at the right hand of God. There you will be enfolded in the sublime and loving ecstasy of the boundless love of God.
    But in that brief shattering moment of total unconditional and infinite love you will see your life's work spread out before you. You will see and know the corruption of your family for generations uncounted. You will see the purity of God's true love spoiled by the bilious hatred you spouted in life. You will feel that to the depths of your soul.
    Though you sit at the right hand of God soaked in the purist of light and love you will feel it naught so great will be the sorrow in your heart for your wasted life and the vile hatred you spread. The words that cannot be unsaid. The actions that cannot be undone.
    You will remember that one brief incredible and indescribable moment of rapturous bliss. And your sorrow will be unending as you watch others pass you by.
    There you will stay for as long as it takes for the words you howled from God's pulpit to be dimmed forever in the minds of men, and the hearts you broke forgive and forget, and the lives you corrupted with hatred are atoned for.
    Yes sir, Reverend Phelps, that is my fondest hope for you. That God will grant you the welcome, the joy, and the peace that you believe you so richly deserve, and that you will be unable to accept.
    Because that, sir, is what Hell really is.
    On this Saint Patrick's Day during your final days, hours, or minutes, this is my Irish Blessing for you and yours.
    CJ Robinson

    March 17, 2014 at 5:13 pm |
  6. viper1j

    Cool! Now we get to go protest his funeral!

    March 17, 2014 at 5:01 pm |
  7. sm5574

    "it has picketed more than 53,000 events" ... And what good has come of it?

    March 17, 2014 at 4:45 pm |
    • yellownumber6

      Well, WBC has brought together atheists, Christians, Muslims, Jews and those of just about every other faith into near unanimous agreement that the Phelps/Roper clan are insufferable jerkwads.

      March 17, 2014 at 4:50 pm |
  8. bostontola

    I wonder how this wasn't included in Genesis:

    First direct evidence of cosmic inflation
    Date: March 17, 2014
    Source: Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
    Almost 14 billion years ago, the universe we inhabit burst into existence in an extraordinary event that initiated the Big Bang. In the first fleeting fraction of a second, the universe expanded exponentially, stretching far beyond the view of our best telescopes. All this, of course, was just theory. Researchers now announce the first direct evidence for this cosmic inflation. Their data also represent the first images of gravitational waves, or ripples in space-time. These waves have been described as the "first tremors of the Big Bang." Finally, the data confirm a deep connection between quantum mechanics and general relativity.

    March 17, 2014 at 4:26 pm |
    • lngtrmthnkr

      Boston, why wasn't it in genesis, they wouldn't have had a clue about what inflation or big bang is. They didnt' even know what stars were. Besides , it would spoil the fun of discovery for us.

      March 17, 2014 at 4:59 pm |
      • bostontola

        True, but if there were a few nuggets that were beyond the contemporary knowledge, that would have been objective evidence of God. All other religions would have faded away, few atheists would remain.

        March 17, 2014 at 5:23 pm |
  9. fabulouslystubbornoldgoat

    While I absolutely despise what this man did I feel for his family for their coming loss.

    March 17, 2014 at 4:22 pm |
    • walbur

      what are you mentally ill?

      March 17, 2014 at 6:32 pm |
  10. rogerthat2014


    March 17, 2014 at 4:21 pm |
  11. dirksterdude

    It really seems unfortunate that the Church of Hate Founder will finally meet his God. By the way, that was sarcasm.

    March 17, 2014 at 4:18 pm |
  12. ghost2012

    I'm not a hateful individual but I'm glad this phuker is dying.

    March 17, 2014 at 4:13 pm |
    • bostontola

      This guy lived a life with a lot of hate. He will soon die. His one and only life will have been squandered on that hate. That is his reward.

      March 17, 2014 at 4:18 pm |
  13. Transcender

    Wouldn't it be ironic if there was a huge protest at his funeral with large banners saying he was going to Hell because he hates gays? It would only be complete with rainbow flags. But then again, I wouldn't be able to participate because it's an act of hate, and that's just not me.

    March 17, 2014 at 4:09 pm |
  14. bostontola

    I wouldn't be surprised if they keep his death quiet until after the funeral. After all, they value their privacy in such a delicate moment for them.

    March 17, 2014 at 4:05 pm |
    • Akira

      Because naturally they want for him what they denied other grieving families.

      March 17, 2014 at 4:33 pm |
      • bostontola

        It's funny how that works. Not exactly love thy neighbor as thyself.

        March 17, 2014 at 4:47 pm |
  15. Semper Cogitatus

    When he and his cousins/congregation would try to interrupt funerals there would usually be a bunch of bikers making a cordon around the funeral with their backs to the Westboro clowns. I went and did that once, it was very cool, completely non-confrontational. Perhaps a bunch of bikers should show up at his funeral and turn their backs to him one last time.

    March 17, 2014 at 4:02 pm |
    • astariscorn

      good idea, but they should all pull thier pants down and moon him.

      March 17, 2014 at 4:06 pm |
  16. astariscorn

    Id love to say thank you to him for making more people accept gay people than anyone else in this lifetime single handed. Thank you, may you rot where you belong but the actions of your hate only bring good things to good people.

    March 17, 2014 at 4:01 pm |
  17. Bootyfunk

    i remember one time Fred Phelps came to my house trying to convert us to the Westboro Baptist Church

    March 17, 2014 at 4:00 pm |
    • Doris


      March 17, 2014 at 4:18 pm |
  18. Semper Cogitatus

    Can't imagine too many people getting worked up about this guy's death. Was there anyone besides his congregation of 12 cousins that liked him?

    March 17, 2014 at 3:58 pm |
  19. akismet-26c5e6af3d417ad78c59de728e53cb1c

    Well, when he does kick the bucket, I say "Let's flash mob his funeral" He insisted on "protesting" at funerals, let's end the cycle by having one big peaceful flash mob at his funeral. See if those morons like it.

    March 17, 2014 at 3:55 pm |
    • otoh2

      - You want to act as hideously as he did?
      - Those people are so hardened and gonzo, it would roll right off them
      - They'll take it as **persecution** and will quote some miserable Bible verses about it
      - They'll eat up the publicity

      (They probably won't have a public funeral anyway; they'll do some ritual or the other in the church basement)

      March 17, 2014 at 4:04 pm |
  20. jiminauburn

    A group of people should protest at the hospital and when he dies, they should protest his funeral.

    March 17, 2014 at 3:55 pm |
    • ifhorseshadgods

      Protest – Party

      Tomato – Tomaato

      March 17, 2014 at 5:37 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
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.