Fred Phelps: A Minister Who Sowed the Seeds of Hatred

WestboroChurchPicketersBY ELAINE MAGLIARO

I’m sure readers of this blog are aware of the death of Fred Phelps, founder of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. Phelps, who was an ordained Baptist minister and a disbarred Kansas lawyer, was said to have passed away just before midnight last Wednesday. NPR’s Nathan Rott reported, “Phelps made a name for himself by protesting military and high-profile funerals. He’d wave hateful signs with members of his Westboro Baptist Church and proclaim that the U.S. was being punished for its tolerance of homosexuality.”

After reading Tom Junod’s article A Tale of Two Freds: Happy Birthday and Go to Hell at Esquire’s Politics Blog last week, I began to think about the worst thing that Phelps had done during his lifetime. As terrible as his hate-filled protests at the funerals of veterans were, I think there is something he did that was even more malicious and evil. And that would be sowing the seeds of hatred in the young children of his small congregation.

In his article, Junod told the story of how he met Phelps when Phelps and his group picketed at the funeral of Fred Rogers. Rogers—the beloved star of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood—passed away in 2003 at the age of eighty-six. I won’t go into more detail about Junod’s meeting with Phelps and the other picketers —I suggest you read the short piece for yourselves. I will, however, post an excerpt from Junod’s story. This excerpt is what struck me most deeply:

I don’t remember anything they said. What I do remember was how their children looked, and the keen and nearly overwhelming sense of loss the appearance of their children elicited. There were so many of them, for one thing; the Westboro congregation turned out to be a young one, and even some of the lank-haired women holding signs and spitting epithets turned out be, on closer inspection, teenagers. And they were all so poor. I’m not speaking simply of their clothes, and their teeth, and their grammar, or any of the other markers of class in America. I’m speaking of their poverty of spirit. Whether they were sixteen or six, they looked to be already exhausted, already depleted, with greasy hair, dirty faces, and circles under their eyes that had already hardened into purplish dents. They looked as if they were far from home, and didn’t know where they were going next. They looked, in truth, not just poorly taken care of, but abused, if not physically then by a belief inimical to childhood—the belief that to be alive is to hate and be hated.

It was the condition of those children that was the true profanation of the funeral of Fred McFeely Rogers, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 2003, and it is eerie symmetry that the day of Fred Phelps died is also the day Fred Rogers would have turned 86…

Sorrow filled my heart when I read those words. Children should be raised with love and kindness and shown what compassion is. They should not taught how to hate. I can only begin to imagine what kind of lives the young children of the Westboro Baptist Church live. In my opinion, the children are victims of child abuse. Phelps may be dead—but the hatred he sowed will probably live on.

Fred Phelps Dead: Westboro Baptist Church Founder Dies At 84

Westboro Baptist Church Founder Fred Phelps Sr. Dies (NPR)

Tale of Two Freds: Happy Birthday and Go To Hell: Fred Phelps, the hatemonger who picketed Mr. Rogers’ funeral, died on Mr. Rogers’ birthday. (Esquire)

Can You Say…Hero?: Fred Rogers has been doing the same small good thing for a very long time… (Esquire)

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15 Responses to Fred Phelps: A Minister Who Sowed the Seeds of Hatred

  1. Mike Spindell says:


    I think your point is well taken. Phelps lives on in the damaged he caused to the children raised in this cult, which was the materialization of of the man’s sick, hate-filled mind. It was fitting that in the end he was excommunicated by the congregation he founded. Rumor is, however, that they did this in anticipation of his death since he had promised Armageddon in his lifetime and his death would give lie to it.

  2. There is little about Fred Phelps and his cult that isn’t just profoundly sad.

  3. michaelbeaton says:

    I like the way R.Maddow dealt with this issue and this man… Including being unwilling to even give him the honor of speaking his name.
    That was my instinct as well….
    May he rest in the peace of the nature that he sowed….

  4. Tony C. says:

    Perhaps it is a reflection of the hardship I’ve witnessed in my life, but hate is a valid emotion for those that make their gains by harming other people. I hate Phelps. Good riddance to bad rubbish, in his ugly life he did society far more harm than good, for his own egotistical and financial gains.

  5. Phelps, strangely enough, started out as a civil rights lawyer. He was even given an award by the NAACP for his work. Somewhere along the way, he went off the rails. He was given an appointment to West Point. The details of why he left West Point are murky. Some suspect he had a homosexual experience which caused him to be terribly conflicted, possibly even to the point of mental illness. He eventually was disbarred for his courtroom behavior in both state and Federal courts.

  6. Julie says:

    According to Nate Phelps, who has been estranged from the family for 37 years, Fred was extremely abusive, physically and psychologically. There also might have been some drug usage by Fred to add fuel to the fire. Since people tend to parent the way their parents raised them, abuse is too often generational. I feel very sorry for those young people at WBC and hope, somehow someday, they can break free.

  7. Nate Phelps has issued a press release on the death of his father:

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 24 2014 – On behalf of Nathan Phelps, son of former Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps, Recovering From Religion issues the following official statement:

    “Fred Phelps is now the past. The present and the future are for the living. Unfortunately, Fred’s ideas have not died with him, but live on, not just among the members of Westboro Baptist Church, but among the many communities and small minds that refuse to recognize the equality and humanity of our brothers and sisters on this small planet we share. I will mourn his passing, not for the man he was, but for the man he could have been. I deeply mourn the grief and pain felt by my family members denied their right to visit him in his final days. They deserved the right to finally have closure to decades of rejection, and that was stolen from them.

    Even more, I mourn the ongoing injustices against the LGBT community, the unfortunate target of his 23 year campaign of hate. His life impacted many outside the walls of the WBC compound, uniting us across all spectrums of orientation and belief as we realized our strength lies in our commonalities, and not our differences. How many times have communities risen up together in a united wall against the harassment of my family? Differences have been set aside for that cause, tremendous and loving joint efforts mobilized within hours…and because of that, I ask this of everyone – let his death mean something. Let every mention of his name and of his church be a constant reminder of the tremendous good we are all capable of doing in our communities.

    The lessons of my father were not unique to him, nor will this be the last we hear of his words, which are echoed from pulpits as close as other churches in Topeka, Kansas, where WBC headquarters remain, and as far away as Uganda. Let’s end the support of hateful and divisive teachings describing the LGBT community as “less than,” “sinful,” or “abnormal.” Embrace the LGBT community as our equals, our true brothers and sisters, by promoting equal rights for everyone, without exception. My father was a man of action, and I implore us all to embrace that small portion of his faulty legacy by doing the same.”

  8. Elaine M. says:

    Thanks, Chuck. I had not seen that press release.

  9. pete9999 says:

    One thing I can say about the Fred Phelps’ of the world, they did help me to solidify my opinion about gay marriage. At one time my personal thought was that I’m not gay and I don’t want to be married so gay marriage does not effect me and I have no opinion of it.

    Seeing the raw hatred and fear from the F P’s of the country (and the world) with the “my book says you’re evil and you can’t have the same rights I do” signs (and laws) changed that. You don’t get to take away somebodys rights, or their life, because it makes you feel queasy.

    and I’ve never seen them out on a Maine pier picketing the incoming lobster boats. So it isn’t just about what their book says.

  10. Anonymouly Yours says:

    It’s all going to be a big mystery where he ends up….. Or what he will come back as….

  11. Pete,
    That little video should come with a spew warning. Don’t watch with your mouth full!!

  12. Tony C. says:

    Wow Pete, that was truly hilarious.

    “I’m sorry, but this is the best news ever!”

  13. Blouise says:


    Thanks. That was a great way to start the day

  14. Mike Spindell says:

    The video was hilarious. Beyond laughing though it also made me think of the contrast between what in America is viewed with a modicum of gravity, is seen in much of the world as ludicrous stupidity. That Phelps and his small congregation were given such national attention says much about how this country has allowed religious clowns to gain voice in the national debate. That this was a Russian news reader, in light of Putin’s stance on Gays, unable to keep a straight face while reading this news says much. While I don’t watch American TV news I’m sure the news of Phelp’s passing was delivered in more solemn tones befitting the celebrity that his disgusting views bestowed on him.

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