Press Release: Thoughts on Death of Fred Phelps of Westboro Church

on March 21, 2014

Contact:  Jeff Walton office: 202-682-4131, cell: 202-413-5639, e-mail: [email protected]


“Phelps’ sordid contribution to history is that he amplified the Kulturkampf against Christian faith and ethics in public life by helping to portray Evangelicals as intrinsically hateful.”
-Mark Tooley, IRD President


Washington, DC—An incendiary Kansas cleric who infamously picketed the funerals of military service members and declared a message of God’s wrath on the United States has died. Fred Phelps, leader of the small Westboro Baptist Church, was 84.

IRD President Mark Tooley commented:

“Fred Phelps of the Westboro Church was a huckster who gained notoriety because his over 20 years of ‘hate’ vigils fulfilled a desired stereotype of conservative Evangelicals. His sordid contribution to history is that he amplified the Kulturkampf against Christian faith and ethics in public life by helping to portray them as intrinsically hateful.

“So good riddance to Phelps and hopefully also eventually to the small family cult that forms his Westboro Church. But Christians and other traditionalists today are more embattled than ever in a postmodern, drifting culture that seeks to deconstruct marriage, gender and countless other ethical norms. Any resistance to the latest fads is now quickly demonized as intolerant and hateful.

“Christian teachings and Christian social witness must now even more deeply, thoughtfully and boldly proclaim a Christian and natural law based anthropology that explains God’s gifts of marriage, family, the two genders, and each person as God’s image bearer. There are many political, cultural and spiritual battles ahead. Fighting them may be a little easier in the absence of Fred Phelps.”

  1. Comment by Chuck Anziulewicz on March 21, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    How does your “Christian and natural law based anthropology” address the issue of sexual orientation?

    I’m reminded of a commentator on a Southern Baptist website who wrote, “I can’t reconcile how someone could feel he or she was born with strong homosexual feelings, love Christ and yet take on the limitations of what seem to me to be straightforward biblical teachings. That’s agonizing, and I don’t really understand it.”

    And this is the weird thing: “Straightforward biblical teachings” should at least be understandable to the average person. So often I hear it said, “OUR ways are not GOD’s ways,” as if God was some sort of inscrutable alien being.

    Consider The Golden Rule: We do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Put all the religious dogma and ritual aside, and this is what our laws boil down to. We don’t lie or bear false witness because we won’t want people to lie to us. We don’t steal from other people because we do not want people stealing from us. We don’t betray the trust of our spouses because we wouldn’t want them doing the same to us. Same goes for killing and a variety of other “bad” behaviors.

    And yet somehow there seems to be this sheepish adherence to a double standard for Gay and Straight people. If you’re Straight, it’s all so wonderful to be able to find a compatible person of the opposite sex, court and get engaged and marry and live happily ever after. But if you’re Gay, all of that is completely out of the question. Don’t even bother trying to find a compatible person. Lesbians and Gay men are precluded from any hope for romance or commitment. Gay people are simply told: “Gosh, sorry about that. You make us uncomfortable; acknowledging your existence means we might have to revise what we’ve been teaching all these years – meaning, Whoops! No infallible Magisterium or “literal” Bible… so you’ll just have to sacrifice your life and any hope of finding somebody to love. Tough luck, kid. God said it, I don’t necessarily understand it, but there it is.” How could this be considered a good value judgment?

    Fortunately, the reason increasing numbers of Americans support marriage equality is because they have learned to make better value judgments. The reason couples choose to marry is to make a solemn declaration before friends and family members that they wish to make a commitment to one another’s happiness, health, and well-being, to the exclusion of all others. Those friends and family members will subsequently act as a force of encouragement for that couple to hold fast to their vows. THAT’S what makes marriage a good thing, whether the couple in question is Straight OR Gay.

  2. Comment by Marco Bell on March 22, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    Thank you Chuck Anziulewicz, for stating very accurately the point of the whole subject…Religious edict for all, and no acceptance for other view points!

    I’m reminded of the friends of mine of the Mennonite Church faith, who coexist with the rest of our community with noticeable contrast of clothing style, hair-cuts, etc.. Surely, a strain is felt among them when there are scantily clad teenagers before them at the beach.
    The faithful of any religion must learn to accept that they may look, think and behave differently, so this resistance from the Christian Orthodoxy is just another group of modest people feeling uncomfortable with the ever evolving world (which by letter, they are not to be a part of)!
    I get that! And I think we can all learn to live together with mutual respect.

  3. Comment by clay on March 21, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    1) make that “over 30 years” of hate.

    2) he gained notoriety for trying to blackmail his fellow state legislators, and then trying to write off a backyard swimming pool as a baptismal font, and then his legal frauds, and then the stories of beatings and forced runs for his kids, and THEN his (very short) hate “vigils”.

    3) “natural law” is, by definition, only Christian theology.

    4) there are many more than two genders.

    5) your Bible says humanity, not each person, is in, not is, God’s image.

    6) so now it will be easier to show a FALSE face.

  4. Comment by Brian on March 21, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    Do you honestly think that if you commit yourself to denouncing my family as intrinsically disordered and therefore unworthy of all the protections you expect for your family that I will perceive you as less hateful than Phelps?

  5. Comment by cleareyedtruthmeister on March 22, 2014 at 12:13 am

    Fred Phelps, of course, gave plenty of ammunition to the media, Hollywood, and other non-Christian entities which typically stereotype traditional Christians as hatemongers. The fact that these entities have used Phelps to mount a smear campaign against Christians who would otherwise have nothing to do with Phelps–indeed, have condemned him–is never mentioned…but, sadly, truth is a casualty of modern culture.

    For Christians the teachings on this topic are pretty clear, but must be expressed in love and humility, contra Phelps.

    While the codes of Christian sexual conduct are rooted in Scripture, logic and natural law, even for non-Christians the consequences of sexuality obsession, sexual liberation and marriage redefinition must be seriously considered. Some questions must be answered: Is it reasonable or good for society to place its imprimatur on relationships, the large scale practice of which would end up in the extinction of society? Is this not a self-refuting course of action? Where does it end? Why not “marriage equality” for polygamists, bisexuals, or any number of consenting adults who wish to have their relationships called “marriage” in the ongoing effort to receive cultural and personal affirmation? Is it logical to believe that there are many good reasons–known and unknown–why thousands of years of human history have viewed marriage as exclusively an opposite-sex institution? Why are the same liberals who have heretofore shown little interest in marriage–indeed, have told us that it is an outdated social institution–now suddenly finding renewed importance for it?

  6. Comment by Brian on March 22, 2014 at 12:58 am

    Because even the most “loving” of anti-gay Christians will INSIST on getting in the way of my vein able to define, defend and provide for my family SAME AS EVERYONE ELSE. Because even the most “loving” of anti-gay Christians take it upon themselves to trample my gay heart as if it were nothing, as if MY family weren’t as sacred to me as YOURS is to YOU.
    Because even the most “loving” of anti-gay Christians seem to take a particular joy in denying THE REALITY that I live every day and feel compelled to PUNISH me for loving who I love.
    Because even the most “loving” of anti-gay Christians seem to NOT GIVE A DAMN about any of the lessons that I have learned in my life – and only show an interest in them as a means to TELL me once again what they want me to believe.
    Because when my husband and I enter old age neither one of us should be bankrupted and homeless when the other faces end-of-life issues as a result of “loving” Christians who think we deserve to die without safety nets for our loved ones.
    Ultimately, I DO NOT CARE what wretched thing you want to believe about me or how politely you care to word your disdain – BUT YOU DO NOT GET TO MAKE YOUR RELIGIOUS BIAS THE LAW OF THE LAND.

  7. Comment by Rainer Moeller on March 22, 2014 at 3:07 am


    I am an Anabaptist and my church doesn’t approve of military service.

    I can understand and sympathize with young persons who find military service attractive as a way to train and exert courage, energy and physical fitness. Notwithstanding I wouldn’t wish those persons to be part of my church and to corrupt its peculiar message pro peace. And I have misgivings about the government (i.e. me) acknowledging and financing them.

    That’s why I think it is legitime, too, to form churches around a peculiar message pro traditional families.

    Now, do I really break the Golden Rule?

  8. Comment by Brian on March 22, 2014 at 10:41 am

    Yes. My family is as sacred to me as yours is to you. I finance YOUR family – so you’ve got yours… and you are content to allow my family to be exposed to harms that you would not accept for your own.

    I don’t care what you believe about my family. YOU DO NOT get to interfere with my being able to provide for and protect mine that same as yours.

  9. Comment by Brian on March 22, 2014 at 10:43 am

    To clarify – I am talking about CIVIL marriage. I don’t give two figs what wretched thing your church chooses to say about me or my marriage so long as you DO NOT interfere with it.

  10. Comment by Philip Brooks on March 23, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    The people who Phelps hated in life are all saying “Rest in Peace” right now while those who claimed he mocked and misrepresented their faith are saying, “Good riddance.” And yet the later still claims to understand Christian teaching better than the former.

  11. Comment by gary on March 24, 2014 at 8:53 am

    Mark – I am a little shocked by your words “good riddance”. That doesn’t seem very Christian to say something like that. I normally agree with you on almost everything but I don’t see how a Christian can say something like this. Fred Phelps, just like every human being on this earth, was loved by God. Would Christ have said “good riddance” to anyone? I really didn’t follow Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church that much so I am ignorant of the details of the things he said and did but no matter what you believe about him, no person should say “good riddance” to any other human being.

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