A Pastor of Hate: What You Can Learn From the Life of Fred Phelps

Dear Malin Reese,

Fred Phelps died today. At 84, he lived a long life and presumably accomplished most of what he set out to do on this Earth. He spent his days faithfully devoted to his God running a little 40-member church in Topeka, Kansas called the Westboro Baptist Church. If his God does exist, then right now he’s floating towards Eden, dodging all the gay people and dead soldiers as they fall past him on their way to hell. If his God or any God for that matter doesn’t exist, then he’s quite literally dead weight. If, however, God does exist on some level but it’s not the God that he worshipped in his life(part of me hopes this is true because the God he worshipped is a total dick)then God is busy preparing a special place in Hell for Mr. Phelps. You’re probably wondering at this point who Fred Phelps is and why he’s worth being the subject of one of these letters. The truth is that I’d prefer not to give his death the time of day but I think it’s important to showcase how destructive a force one person can be. Here’s a brief history of Fred Phelps and his polarizing little hate church in Kansas.

Fred Phelps founded the Westboro Baptist Church in 1955. It wasn’t until the early 90’s that his church became well-known for their picketing activities. They picketed at a local park because they perceived it was a hotbed for homosexual activity. They even circulated a charming flyer titled “Gage Park: Sodomite Rats Nest”. National prominence followed in 1998 when they picketed Mathew Shepard’s funeral. Mathew Shepard was a guy from Larramie, Wyoming who was beaten to death by two other men. The reason they beat him to death? Because he was gay. At the funeral, Phelps and his cronies held up signs that said “God Hates Fags”(coincidentally, this is literally the name of their website) and “No Fags in Heaven”. Since that time they have picketed the funerals of soldiers because “God Loves Dead Soldiers”, they’ve stood outside the Illinois Holocaust Museum with signs that said “The Jews Killed Jesus” and more recently picketed the vigil held for the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting. A spokesman for the church said at the time that they were going to picket “to sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment.” So their version of God sent the shooter to execute 20 innocent children because he was angry at the idea that two men or two women could love each other romantically. These pickets have brought pain and misery to the families who’ve had to endure seeing these pathetic human beings disparage their dead loved ones.

To recap, Fred Phelps was a sad, pathetic, hateful little weasel. What can you learn from the life he lived? First, don’t be a sad, pathetic, hateful little weasel. Second, you can have an enormous impact on people’s lives. What you say and what you do matters and is going to affect a countless number of people throughout your life. Third, let Fred Phelps be a reminder that there are really good people in this world. The pickets have created a wave of people who have stood up as human barriers to the hatred, most notably at Mathew Shepard’s funeral where the barrier was people dressed up in white robes as Angels. The powerful image will forever diminish Westboro’s role at the funeral. I’ll leave you with this: If you love as passionately as Fred Phelps hated, then you will have lived a rich, beautiful life.




    1. Darian,

      Thanks for reading and I have to say you wrote a great piece as well. While I don’t share your Faith, I do believe that we share the belief that Love can cure a lot of ills in this world.



  1. Christian, I will try to find the link but the Shepard murder may have been more about drugs and money than strictly a hate crime.

    Pointing this out does not diminish the point of your letter – and another example of Westboro’s misguided notions was picketing the funerals of American soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. They claimed that the soldiers died because God disapproved of the changes permitting openly gay soldiers to serve in the military.

    Easier than rewriting my first sentence: awkwardly dumping a link here –http://goo.gl/doKYsr

    Keep sharing, we love reading your letters!

  2. Andy,

    Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. You make a good point and I should have qualified that there were other elements surrounding Shepard’s death but I think in the end, the fact that he was gay was the driving force behind the murder. I appreciate your kind words.



  3. Awesome post! There is only one place, for people like Fred Phelps. I can assure you, it’s not heaven or any place like heaven (depending on what your beliefs are). I have friends and family members who are gay and I have friends and family members who have served our country (past & present). Whenever I would see Phelps and his ignorant followers on the news, picketing funerals, my blood would boil. Thanks for the great read!

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