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Posted by on Mar 18, 2014 in featured, Religion, secularism | 5 comments

The Strange Life of Fred Phelps

Fred Phelps at his pulpit: August 4, 2002 All ...

Fred Phelps at his pulpit: August 4, 2002

 

The news is abuzz at the thought that the head of Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps, is near death. There has been talk about picketing his funeral and everything. For starters, Fred Phelps was excommunicated from his own church last year and even if that were not the case, WBC members don’t believe in having funerals.

Some people might not be aware of this, but Fred Phelps was once a civil right attorney and even fought for the separation of church and state when Ronald Reagan appointed an ambassador to the Vatican. Believe it or not, Phelps was also a Democrat and ran for public office as a Democrat.

At some point in his life, things must have changed pretty dramatically. I don’t know how he turned from liberal civil rights crusader to anti-gay advocate and professional funeral protester, but I sure wish I did. If I had to guess, I would say that this is probably an example of the incredibly destructive power that is religion. While it is unclear why he was excommunicated from his church last year, some have speculated that he started to advocate for a less aggressive stance on gay issues. If this is true, then perhaps it is worth noting mortalities influence on morality.

There is no greater equalizer than death. We all die and that thought makes it easy to empathize with others. Empathy leads to compassion and that is where real morality begins. Maybe Phelps started to reflect on his life and realized that he has much fewer days ahead of him than he has behind him.

Fred Phelps is being hidden away from the media and some of his family so we may never know if he indeed feels remorse for the actions and attitudes of the members of the church he founded. When he dies, we may never know if he had a deathbed de-conversion. But one thing is clear. Fred Phelps is a complicated person and he has lived a strange and interesting life – sometimes on the correct side of history and other times being the head of the Westboro Baptist Church.

 

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  • Vandy Beth Glenn

    There probably won’t be an autopsy, which is a shame. I’d be interested to know if some sort of traumatic brain event like an aneurysm or stroke preceded Phelps’s apparently radical shift in views, a la the popular (exaggerated) story of Phineas Gage:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phineas_Gage

  • ncovington89

    I once read that Phelps had been on a heavy diet of barbituates and amphetamines to treat a condition he had. This may be one of the reasons he became as he did. As Vandy said, it’s likely enough that somewhere along the lines he suffered a traumatic brain injury (why else would someone behave as he did); either that, or the medications he was on fried his brain.

    • Vandy Beth Glenn

      I’ve since done some more reading up on Mr. Phelps’s career, and he has given interviews in which he asserted that there’s no disconnect between his views on racial discrimination and his homophobia.

      Indeed, there are many other Christians (a few African-American clergymen among them) who are able to thread that needle with their readings of Scripture, so maybe I was too hasty to see it as an inconsistency in his behavior.

      And in any case, the rest of his church has been behind him throughout, and it’s unlikely they’ve all suffered the same TBI.

      • ncovington89

        Well, the other members of the church are his family, and I always figured they developed their intense hatred because it had been taught to them.

  • George Vreeland Hill

    The only good thing Fred ever did was die.

    George Vreeland Hill