The Reverend Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. departed this life last week after a brief Hospice stay.
The Reverend Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. departed this life last week after a brief Hospice stay. The passing of a preacher of a small Baptist church whose members were mostly made up of the pastor's own immediate family would normally be of no great interest or significance to the general public. This however was no ordinary preacher, this was not your average congregation and this very small Baptist church was anything but your normal run of the mill cult. This man, this family and this church were/are perhaps the most hated group of people in America.
You see the Pastor Fred Phelps gained national notoriety for picketing the funerals of many soldiers killed in action while serving their country in the recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars. His followers would show up all over the country randomly selecting the funerals of fallen soldiers. The group would protest with bright neon printed signs proclaiming that "God loves dead soldiers", "Faggot soldiers", "God hates Faggot soldiers" and many other disturbing slogans. The Pastor's own children, grandchildren and a small group of other folks picketed the funerals. The church members would also protest at the soldier's burials at the cemeteries. His followers were regularly verbally attacked and very often physically attacked with trash, empty cans, sometimes full cans as passerby's witnessed their protests. Nothing deterred Reverend Fred Phelps nor his followers from what they claimed was their "Mission from God himself" to protest at these fallen soldier's funerals.
And why you might ask would God direct Fred Phelps to lead his followers in the attempt at disgracing the funerals of fallen soldiers serving their country? Well... it turns out that God personally told Fred Phelps that soldiers were dying by God's own hand as punishment for the military's policy of "Don't ask don't tell, and then the military's policy of gays being allowed to serve in the military openly." Fred Phelps once told an interviewer that he was doing a favor to these dead soldier's by protesting at their funerals.
To give you an idea of just how persuasive was the late Reverend Fred Phelps, a reporter sent to interview the Pastor resigned his position as a reporter soon after interviewing Fred and actually joined the congregation marrying one of his daughters. Fred Phelps was as mesmerizing a charlatan as any cult leader that has ever sold snake oil or craziness from behind a pulpit to a gullible group of sheep. This man epitomized everything wrong, evil and disturbing with the un acceptance by many of the world's religions of gays or the evolution of modern society.
The protests of Fred Phelps’ church prompted a federal law banning protests at funerals. Many states passed laws in direct response to the Westboro Baptist Church's protests of fallen soldiers restricting the distance from the funerals with which the protestors could picket. The Supreme Court even got into the fray, citing the first amendment they ruled that the Westborou Baptist church could not be sued for damages by the grieving families for disrupting the funerals of their loved ones.
Fred Phelps and his misguided flock should be remembered as an important footnote in our modern world. This is what happens when religious beliefs are taken to their extremes, when intolerance and hatred is preached under the guise of divine direction. Fred Phelps was able to use his own interpretations of the bible to spread fear, anger and loathing. I say that Fred Phelps was not a man of God but just another cult leader intelligent enough to use religion to justify his own bigotry and prejudice. What is most alarming is that he isn't the first religious cult leader and he certainly won't be the last cult leader to use religion for purposes it was never intended. I say that religion has its place and that place is to give comfort, peace, acceptance, hope to all who believe.