Westboro Baptist Church Founder Is Near Death, Excommunicated

By
Wesboro members protest the funeral of Staff Sgt. Christopher Piper, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2005. Photo: Darren McCollester/Getty Images

The Reverand Fred Phelps Sr., founder of the gay-bashing church known for protesting military funerals, is reportedly "on the edge of death." His estranged son Nathan Phelps, who left the Westboro Baptist Church 37 years ago, said in a Facebook post and email to the Topeka Capital-Journal on Sunday that his father is at the Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas and is "comfortable without the respiratory difficulty that he was having the day before and is unresponsive." He also revealed that members of the Westboro Baptist Church voted Fred Phelps out of the group last summer.

Fred Phelps Sr. and his wife, who lived in an upper floor of the church for many years, were moved to a house after his excommunication. Church members became concerned that he was suicidal and watched him to make sure he didn't harm himself, but he "basically stopped eating and drinking," according to Nathan Phelps.

Church spokesman Steve Drain confirmed on Sunday that Phelps "is having some health problems," but wouldn't comment on the nature of his illness, or whether he's been excommunicated. "We don't owe any talk to you about that," Drain told a Capital-Journal reporter. "We don't discuss our internal church dealings with anybody. It's only because of his notoriety that you are asking." Mark Phelps, another one of the church leader's estranged sons, confirmed his brother's account.

The Westboro Baptist Church is reviled across the political spectrum (as illustrated by this GIF from the White House) so it's no surprise that the internet is calling for a picket of Phelps's funeral and cracking jokes using the hashtag #FredPhelpsLastWords. Equality Kansas is taking the high road and urging supporters to refrain from demonstrations. "For over 20 years, Phelps and the members of his Topeka-based church have harassed the grieving families of LGBT Kansans and others," said Thomas Witt, the group's executive director, in a statement. "He and his followers showed utter disregard for the privacy and grief of others for many years. This is our moment as a community to rise above the sorrow, anger, and strife he sowed, and to show the world we are caring and compassionate people who respect the privacy and dignity of all."