Born November 13, 1929 in Meridian, Mississippi, Fred Phelps has been pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas since November 1955. He graduated from Meridian High School at age sixteen, and that summer he had what he calls a profound religious experience that caused him to cancel his plans to attend West Point; he enrolled instead for Bible/ministerial training at Bob Jones University. He was ordained by the Southern Baptists on September 8, 1947, and was wed in May 1952. His ministry today is best known for its anti-homosexual theme. Phelps professes a unique form of Calvinism that insists on God’s “perfect hatred” for the unrighteous, among whom homosexuals are chief.
Once married, Phelps and his wife moved to Topeka to pastor a Baptist congregation, where Phelps’ violent behavior ended his pastorate. At that point, he founded Westboro Baptist Church. But that congregation quickly melted away, and Phelps resorted to door-to-door sales work. Today Phelps’ ostensibly Baptist church is “unaffiliated” and is comprised of only his family members.After fathering his 13 children (he also has more than 50 grandchildren), Phelps became a lawyer and specialized in nuisance lawsuits. The Kansas Supreme Court eventually disbarred him because of his “little regard for the ethics of his profession.” But in the 1980s Phelps won several civil rights-related cases, earning him three awards from civil rights organizations, including a local chapter of the NAACP. He also supported the 1988 presidential bid of Al Gore, whose campaign used Phelps’ family office space.
In 1990, 1994, and 1998 Phelps ran for the Democratic nomination for governor of Kansas, getting 15 percent of the primary vote in his last try. In 1992 he ran for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, receiving nearly 31 percent of the primary vote. He also ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Topeka in 1997. In the early 1990s the Phelps clan began picketing at the funerals of AIDS victims. Their protests at the 1998 funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young homosexual murder victim, earned Phelps his first international notoriety, as did the creation of his website, www.GodHatesFags.com. For reasons somehow relating to homosexuality, Phelps also demonstrated at the funerals of Frank Sinatra, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, William Rehnquist, children’s program host Fred Rogers, and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Whenever he demonstrates at funerals, Phelps openly claims that his targets are now justly in hell.
In 1998 Phelps, who opposed U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq, wrote to Saddam Hussein and offered to visit Baghdad. Saddam welcomed him, but Phelps and his entourage surprised the Iraqi dictator by marching in the streets of Baghdad with placards denouncing anal sex. Phelps has also commended the anti-homosexual policies of Fidel Castro, who declined Phelps’ offer to come to Havana. After the 9/11 attacks, Phelps celebrated that God was rightly punishing America for not having hated homosexuals sufficiently. The subway attacks in London persuaded Phelps that Great Britain was similarly under a curse of divine damnation. And Sweden, which Phelps perceives to be especially permissive vis a vis homosexuality, has likewise become a target of Phelps’ wrath. When the 2004 tsunami killed hundreds of Swedish tourists, Phelps interpreted it as an act of divine retribution. Soon thereafter he created the website www.GodHatesSweden.com, which disparaged Sweden’s monarch Carl XVI Gustaf as the “King of Sodomite Whores,” and stated: “WARNING!!! To God’s Elect: Leave Sweden NOW!!!”
Nowadays Phelps demonstrates at the funerals of U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq, to celebrate the deaths of those who died while defending what he calls a “fag” nation. Phelps also demonstrated at Coretta Scott King’s funeral, not for reasons relating to race, but because she had agitated on behalf of “queers.”
Fred Phelps died on March 19, 2014.
This profile is adapted from the article “The ‘God Hates Fags’ Left,” written by Mark Tooley and published by FrontPageMagazine.com on February 9, 2006.