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. unsername1

    ...and what was his life time achievement? Add grief to grieving families by picketing funerals of victims for his personal popularity. The world is not going to miss him.

    March 17, 2014 at 7:44 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      He is more than the sum of his parts. If you can’t like the man, at least say a few nice words about his future decomposition.

      March 17, 2014 at 8:13 pm |
      • fintronics

        He may produce some great topsoil...... sorry, thats the best I can come up with..

        March 19, 2014 at 9:27 am |
  2. karenascofield

    Right before Fred Phelps was excommunicated, church members of his church that he founded confronted him about the possibly of him being gay...per Lauren Drain. An article in Pink News mentions this. Lauren no longer belongs to the church.

    March 17, 2014 at 7:41 pm |
    • Akira

      I was unable to find Lauren's statement that he was gay, just some innuendo.
      I would be most unsurprised if he turns out to be gay.
      You know, he doth protest too much, and all.

      March 17, 2014 at 8:17 pm |
      • The Central Scrutinizer

        He is an extreme case. I don't think there is any doubt.

        March 17, 2014 at 8:26 pm |
  3. headlessthompsongunner

    I suppose that Fred will soon find out who God hates.

    March 17, 2014 at 7:27 pm |
  4. kudlak

    This is an example of our greatest source of hope, that the old folks who still cling to great prejudice are a dying breed, due to be replaced by their more enlightened grandchildren.

    March 17, 2014 at 7:10 pm |
    • kenmargo

      Enlightened? Are you sure about that?

      March 17, 2014 at 7:12 pm |
  5. H.C.

    I hope you die PAINFULLY Phelps! Give us all something to laugh about!

    March 17, 2014 at 7:07 pm |
  6. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Fred Phelps is a reprehensible fellow. He'll be no more or less dead than Jesus or Hitler.

    March 17, 2014 at 7:06 pm |
  7. bejee45

    Please don't let him die just yet, let him live several more days in pain and suffering before he dies.

    March 17, 2014 at 6:45 pm |
    • kenmargo

      They should let gays picket his hospital room.

      March 17, 2014 at 6:59 pm |
      • kudlak

        Two wrongs do not make a right, correct?

        March 17, 2014 at 7:11 pm |
        • kenmargo

          This isn't about right or wrong. It's about sending him off the same way he has sent others off.

          March 17, 2014 at 7:13 pm |
        • hoeech

          How would picketing Phelps' death bed be wrong?

          March 17, 2014 at 8:34 pm |
  8. kenmargo

    Now soldiers can picket his funeral.

    March 17, 2014 at 6:33 pm |
    • bostontola

      They might have a fleeting fantasy about that, but most have too much class to actually do it.

      March 17, 2014 at 6:59 pm |
      • kenmargo


        March 17, 2014 at 7:01 pm |
  9. dotofoz

    Please do not picket this creeps funeral. It's exactly what his family and church seek, publicity. I live in Kansas and we have put up with this family for years. They crave attention. If you don't give it to them, they are disappointed. Please, disappoint them.

    March 17, 2014 at 6:32 pm |
  10. rm115


    He has aids...everyone knows..

    March 17, 2014 at 6:32 pm |
  11. kenmargo

    Wouldn't it be great if his god is gay?

    March 17, 2014 at 6:32 pm |
  12. rm115

    Hw has aids....

    March 17, 2014 at 6:31 pm |
  13. djangoboy

    This almost makes me wish I believed in an afterlife so that i could fell this hateful nasty b a s t a r d could finally get the eternal punishment he deserves.

    March 17, 2014 at 6:09 pm |
  14. basehitter

    Any chance he will raise from the dead ?

    March 17, 2014 at 6:03 pm |
    • kenmargo

      I'm more than willing to see if he can.

      March 17, 2014 at 6:43 pm |
    • fintronics

      Don't hold your breath.... of course his followers believe so strongly in mythology, stories of resurection may surface...

      ....... he has risen to haunt gays!!

      March 19, 2014 at 4:27 pm |
  15. jonathanlk

    I may be an atheist but even I know which way he is going.

    March 17, 2014 at 5:55 pm |
    • kenmargo

      He's going to Disney World. 🙂

      March 17, 2014 at 6:43 pm |
    • kudlak

      As far as I can tell he's going to rot, to match his personality.

      March 17, 2014 at 7:13 pm |
      • kenmargo

        He has already rotted out. What you see is the fecal matter he's made of.

        March 17, 2014 at 7:15 pm |
  16. diktater

    I met Mr Phelps a while back when he operated a glory hole at the Topeka Greyhound bus station men's room. Wasn't very talkative, as I recall.

    March 17, 2014 at 5:49 pm |
    • MidwestKen

      Sometimes I really miss the 'report abuse' button.

      March 17, 2014 at 6:21 pm |
    • walbur

      Had a really good laugh on your post. very funny,thanks

      March 17, 2014 at 6:34 pm |
    • mm1stmb

      LMAO.. thats awesome..

      March 17, 2014 at 6:47 pm |
    • mm1stmb

      Classic.. That might be one of the best comments ive ever read..

      March 17, 2014 at 6:54 pm |
    • kenmargo

      Did he provide service with a smile?

      March 17, 2014 at 6:57 pm |
  17. NoSacredCow

    "Westboro Baptist Church founder near death?"

    I don't say this lightly but GOOD! What a hateful person. If only there was a hell that this individual could spend an eternity on a spit, it would only be just reward for what he and his ilk forced others to suffer.

    Newton's third law of physics gives credence to karma. What comes around goes around.

    March 17, 2014 at 5:47 pm |
  18. Peter (NT)

    Fred – such living parody. Good riddance and rot forever in wherever he belongs . . . this pariah of Kansas and shame to his son Nathan.

    He who preaches hate during his entire lifetime deserves pure, unadulterated, eternal hate.

    March 17, 2014 at 5:44 pm |
    • djangoboy

      Make that shame to the human race.

      March 17, 2014 at 6:10 pm |
  19. mimedicalmj

    For the love of god please die and take your place in hell. And may his funeral be protested by 1000 drag queens.

    March 17, 2014 at 5:44 pm |
    • NoSacredCow

      Nice (and I mean that, no sarcasm involved)

      March 17, 2014 at 5:48 pm |
  20. hearthetruthonline2014



    March 17, 2014 at 5:39 pm |
    • observer

      LYING again about agreeing to the Terms of Service.

      Just another Christian HYPOCRITE.

      March 17, 2014 at 5:46 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.