On the Death of Fred Phelps

The opening words of the sermon preached at Westboro Baptist Church on March 23rd, 2014, the first Sunday after the death of founder Fred Phelps:

“Good afternoon, everyone! I have to say, after reading the 18 billion articles Fred sent over the last few days, I’m really quite surprised to see you all here! To hear the media tell it, by this point the building should have been demolished to its foundation, the websites all offline, the tweets silenced, the vines disappeared, the faxes stopped ringing, the signs shredded, our social security numbers zero’d out, and, depending on which version of the story you read, every last man jack of us either moving to varied and separate parts of the world while all sucking our thumbs in the fetal position, all of us buried in a mass grave by our own hands, we should all be sitting on the front lawn drinking spiked Kool-Aid eating laced apple sauce waiting for a UFO to come get us, or probably worst of all, we should all have joined a Catholic church and applied to be priests, to find “true religion”. Yikes. The good old media. Gotta love ‘em. Or not. Thank God though that every article said God Hates Fags! They can say whatever they want as long as they say that!”

I’ve heard people call Fred Phelps a racist. He was a civil rights attorney.

I’ve heard people say they’ll protest his funeral. The WBC doesn’t believe in funerals. That’s why they picket them.

I’ve heard people suggest the sermon I heard on love when I visited the WBC must have been some sort of show put on because I was an outsider. Westboro has no interest in looking good to outsiders.

I’ve heard people say he was only “ex-communicated” so the church wouldn’t have to pay his medical bills. That’s not even how debt works.

He changed his mind.

He beat his children.

His daughter’s been ousted.

The rumors abound.

I’ve learned not to trust much of what I hear about the WBC because they are the unwitting masters of false advertising. They are single-minded in their goal to have as many people hear their “God hates fags” message as possible, and they are unconcerned with whatever messages might get tacked onto it in the process. The sermon I heard last summer certainly fits with the suggestion that Phelps had begun preaching a message of love, at least among church members. However the other sermons posted on the WBC website don’t tell the same story. It may be years before we know the truth, if the truth can ever be known. The death of founder Fred Phelps is equal parts fact and nonsense. Perhaps the saddest, truest thing that can be said about it is this:

At the time of his death, the world had no idea what Fred Phelps believed.