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article imageOp-Ed: Legacy of Hate: Can Westboro Baptist survive Fred Phelps' death?

By Angela Atkinson     Mar 21, 2014 in Odd News
Since 84-year-old Fred Phelps, founder and former leader of the twisted organization that calls itself the Westboro Baptist Church, passed away late Wednesday evening, many people are breathing a sigh of relief.
While the cause of Phelps’ death wasn’t reported, one can only hope that karma did her job for a man who led protests at military funerals and who blatantly spewed hate-filled rants against anyone who was different than he — including everyone from gay people to those of other races, not to mention those of other religions, nationalities and more.
Now, the world is watching, wondering what’ll happen to this cult. Will it continue now that its founder and leader is (finally) dead? Even before his death was announced, the social media world was abuzz with talk about it.
The church was launched by Phelps in 1955 in Topeka, Kansas, when it launched its first anti-gay campaigns at the funerals of gay men and lesbians. That’s when they debuted their hateful mantra, “God Hates F**s.”
Though his anti-gay campaigns have drawn increasing negative attention over the years, he might be most hated for something else: his protests at the funerals of fallen U.S. military members.
He preached that the deaths of these brave men and women were “God’s way of punishing” the country — for enabling same-sex relationships.
"It was a special brand of offensiveness," Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, told USA Today. "People were shocked by it and horrified by it."
She went on to say that the church might just fizzle out now, and she hopes that her members will find “true religion.”
Currently, the church just has a few dozen followers, most of whom are related to Phelps.
Westboro’s Official Statement
In part, Westboro’s official statement on Phelps’ death reads as follows.
“So – the death of Fred Phelps’ body, a man who preached a plain faithful doctrine to an ever darkening world, is nothing but a vain, empty, hypocritical hope for you.
It’s like every journalist in the world simultaneously set aside what little journalistic integrity they have, so that they could wait breathlessly for a rumor to publish: in-fighting, succession plans, and power struggles, oh my! How shameful! You’re like a bunch of little girls on the playground waiting for some gossip!
Listen carefully; there are no power struggles in the Westboro Baptist Church, and there is no human intercessor – we serve no man, and no hierarchy, only the Lord Jesus Christ. No red shoes, no goofy hat, and no white smoke for us; thank you very much.
No board, no separate decision making body, just humble servants of God – qualified according to the scriptures, and chosen by the church – privileged to feed the sheep for a time. 2500 years ago, the Prophet Jeremiah described this tabloid journalism quite well.
Remember that the Lord Jesus Christ warned us that a man’s foes will be they of his own household: So again, there is nothing surprising about these shenanigans, spurred on by faithless, ax-grinding, God-hating deserters of the cross, and it amounts to nothing but vain, empty, hope.
God forbid, if every little soul at the Westboro Baptist Church were to die at this instant, or to turn from serving the true and living God, it would not change one thing about the judgments of God that await this deeply corrupted nation and world. That is the pinnacle of your hopes, and by far the most vain. Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, or the power of God.”
Phelps on Death
In 2010, a Huffington Post reporter who interviewed Phelps actually asked him about his own death.
“Have you thought about what will happen when you die?” Joshua Kors asked.
Phelps laughed and said he wasn’t planning on dying.
“Well, everybody’s going to die at some point,” Kors said. “I’m wondering about your thoughts on going to heaven.”
“The Lord himself should descend for me with the angels. I'm not looking for an undertaker — I'm looking for an uppertaker,” Phelps said.
Kors asked Phelps to describe heaven, and he said, “When the time comes, I will leave my old body. My new body will be a part of God. That's our inheritance. God says, ‘They shall hunger no more. They shall thirst no more.’ What's the matter with you? Don't you know the Bible? You are about the most ignorant person I've ever seen.”
Family Support or Lack Thereof?
Not all of his family members supported Phelps and his so-called mission, though. While the group’s official statement on its website chastises the media and society for “gleefully anticipating” his death, some who were related to Phelps spoke out against his message after he died.
While his granddaughter Megan Phelps-Roper tweeted a message that initially seemed supportive, she got a lot of backlash from the Twitterverse when she posted her initial tweet.
“One way or another, he's at peace. There's only Heaven or peaceful nothingness. That's what I think.,” Phelps-Roper tweeted. “RIP, Gramps. I love you forever.”
Later, she apologized for his behavior, but still defended him.
“I'm so sorry for the harm he caused. That we all caused. But he could be so kind and wonderful. I wish you all could have seen that, too,” she tweeted, adding that she understands “ those who don't mourn his loss, but I'm thankful for those who see that ‘An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.’"
LGBT Activist Nathan Phelps: Let His Death Mean Something
Nathan Phelps, Fred Phelps’ son and an activist in the LGBT community, reportedly fled the church to become an advocate for the people his father opposed. Following the elder Phelps' death, he released a statement through a group called Recovering From Religion, which reads, in part, as follows.
“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.”
Nathan Phelps when on to say that he mourns the ongoing justices in the LGBT community, which was the “unfortunate target of his 23 year campaign of hate.”
“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.”
Rise Above It
During a phone interview with the Los Angeles Times on Thursday, Thomas Witt, a well-known LGBT advocate in Kansas, asked the public not to protest Phelps' funeral if the opportunity arose.
“We are asking that the LGBT community rise above all the anger we feel toward the Westboro Baptist Church and do what we’ve been asking the Phelps family do for 20 years, which is let us grieve in peace," Witt said, adding that "The gay-rights movement is moving forward … and will continue to move forward now that he’s gone. [Phelps] leaves nothing more than an obscene footnote in history. His life will have been meaningless."
Conservative Discord
Even conservative Christians spoke out against Phelps’ message after his death. For example, the LA Times reported that Bryan Fischer, a member of the American Family
Foundation, said that Phelps was “wrong when he said that God hates homosexuals,” despite his belief that the practice is “wrong.”
Fischer added that now that Phelps is gone, he fears that the media will choose him as the new “punching bag.”
What was your reaction when you heard about the death of Fred Phelps? Share your thoughts in the comments section, below.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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