Note: Fred Phelps is virulently, unabashedly and loudly anti-gay. In describing Fred and his agenda, it is virtually impossible to not use what are commonly deemed offensive terms for gays. While the terms may be used rather frequently in the ensuing article, my guess is that one decent sized paragraph from Fred's site uses these offensive terms twice as often as this entire article does. The use of these terms in this article does not imply that I condone them— as a gay woman, Fred's casual use of the term sickens and saddens me. I apologize if you, the reader, are offended. I included the words for the same reason I include Fred in this section of Exposed! To show the extreme to which the RRR is, in my humble opinion, headed.
As I begin this page, I must do so by wishing Fred a happy birthday. Born November 13, 1929 in Meridian, Mississippi, Fred Phelps proved to be a very intelligent and industrious young man. Graduating high school with highest honors at the age of 16, Fred was also an Eagle Scout who won an appointment to West Point. But that summer after graduation proved to be not the beginning of an illustrious military career but the start of an infamous preaching career. [Author note: I'm not sure which is scarier to me: Fred with a gun leading a bunch of soldiers or Fred behind a pulpit, leading a "congregation."]
Fred had a "profound religious experience" (quoted from the official biography on the godhatesfags website, but I refuse to post a working link to that hate-filled site)— described as a tent revival. Forced to wait a year before entering West Point because of his age, Fred instead enrolled in Bob Jones College, which later became Bob Jones University. Fred was ordained a Southern Baptist minister in 1947 and in 1955, founded the now famous (or perhaps infamous would be more appropriate) Westboro Baptist Church.
I put Fred in this group not so much because he is a "leader" of the radical religious right— indeed, his church is made up mostly of his own family members (he has 13 children and 52 grandchildren according to his website.) While he may be one of the most well-known, he is also one of the most reviled ministers even among people who admire Robertson and Falwell. I put Fred here as a warning of what is to come if we allow the radical religious right to continue fulfilling their agenda. Yes, Fred is an extremist among extremists. Now. But everyone once thought Hitler was harmless too. While I don't believe Fred has the charisma or intelligence of Hitler, I also don't believe that Fred is as "reviled" among the leaders of the radical religious right as they would have us believe.
I'm of the opinion that while they may publicly come out and condemn Fred's vitriolic diatribes and repugnant protests at gay funerals and the like, inside they're silently agreeing with him. Surely, Falwell's rant against gays and lesbians (among others) days after 9/11 gave us a glimpse into his thinking and ideas that shows he's not all that far distant from Fred in some ways. Robertson's agreement with Falwell during that broadcast demonstrates that he too is not all that distant from Fred's teachings. I'm also of the opinion that the only thing that keeps some of the leaders of the radical religious right from roundly endorsing Phelps is that if they do, they're going to not make as much money since most people are repulsed by such blatant and mindless hatred. But I digress— my opinions will appear on later pages. This is meant to be a history of the man, Fred Phelps.
Fred has been preaching his gospel of hatred— yes, in Fred's world, God is a God of hate, not love— for decades, but his rise to fame was meteoric after he protested the funeral of Matthew Shepard, the young gay man from Wyoming who was brutally beaten, tied to a fence post and left overnight in sub-freezing temperatures. Matthew died five days later. Fred and his church picketed Matthew's funeral carrying signs that read "God Hates Fags" and "Matthew Shepard is in Hell". Even today, Phelps' site maintains a counter of the number of days it claims Matthew Shepard has been in hell. I was privileged to hear Judy Shepard, Matthew's mother, speak at a local university this past summer (2004). Mrs. Shepard spoke briefly about Fred Phelps when questioned about his latest plans: to put a monument to Matthew in the city park in Casper, WY (I think it was Casper) that read something like "Matthew Shepard entered hell on October 12, 1998." But her comments, it seemed to me, spoke mostly of sadness because it was the kind of hatred that Phelps preaches that killed her son.
It seems safe to say that Phelps is obsessed with homosexuality. To him, it is the reason that America is in decline. The media is a "fag media" because it praises messages of tolerance and vilifies messages of hatred. Churches are fag churches if they allow gay members, ordain gay ministers, bless gay marriages or even preach the message that God loves everyone. The US government is led by fag enablers: those who support equal rights for gays. Phelps even calls Billy Graham a heretic for preaching the message of God's Love. His comments about President Bush are equally unflattering. Indeed, in reading Fred's writings, it is difficult to find one person that Fred praises— everyone, it seems, is a "fag enabler" except Fred and his followers.
Regardless of what other "sin" or "fault" Phelps believes a group has, he always manages to somehow bring it back to being a "fag enabler". His diatribes against Jews, for example, suggest that in America today, just as in Nazi Germany, Jews and gays are in control of the government and "energize the militant sodomite agenda". [WBC "News Release," December 26, 1996. All press releases are kept on the WBC site and all the pages on the site have a statement that any material on their site can be used free of charge for any reason.] When he speaks about blacks, again, he manages to bring it back to the issue of homosexuality. "Anybody babbling about 'multicultural affairs' and 'celebrating diversity' is a propagandist for the militant sodomite agenda..." [WBC "News Release," November 13, 1996] Even other Christian organizations, including the Southern Baptists who ordained him, don't escape Fred's wrath. "Churches...like the Southern Baptists and Assembly of God churches are as much to blame as the out of the closet fag churches...Why? Because they have created an atmosphere in this world where people believe the lie that God loves everybody." [From the godhatesfags.com website, under "Fag Churches"]
Phelps himself is a walking contradiction. At age 63, Phelps was still competing in triathlons and would both run and bike every day. According to those who have known him, his warm, Southern hospitality could change into a condemning diatribe almost instantly. While the children who still remain in the church give glowing reports of their childhood, at least three of Phelps' children who have left the church have come forth with verifiable and confirmed reports of child abuse that turn the stomach. Fred knows he's hated all over the country and he loves it. According to Fred, you're not preaching the word of God unless you're hated.
In addition to being a preacher who relies on the old-fashioned fire and brimstone sermons, Fred is also an attorney— although he is disbarred. In fact, most of Fred's family are attorneys and they have been tying up the courts in Kansas and Topeka for more than four decades now with lawsuit after lawsuit. These lawsuits are often filed against anyone who crosses or opposes Phelps. Petty litigation that taxes resources and nerves and on many occasions, has intimidated people into simply remaining silent, not daring to raise the wrath of Fred.
Another of Fred's favorite tactics of intimidation is picketing. Westboro Baptist Church's first public protest was at a park in Topeka where it claimed gay men were having sex. Since then, according to their records, there have been more than 22,000 protests all over the US and in foreign countries. No one, it seems, is safe from Fred's wrath. A public school that permitted a gay couple to attend the prom was picketed. Offices of elected officials who Phelps declares are "fag enablers" are picketed. Churches that perform gay marriages or ordain gay clergy are picketed. After 9/11, Fred created a new website called godhatesamerica.com, claiming that America is doomed unless it stops supporting gays.
Nowadays, a protest from WBC is liable to draw counter-protesters that outnumber protesters by as much as 20 to 1. Oftentimes, no one from the Phelps clan even shows up. In an ironic twist sure to curl Fred's toes, he has become one of the major sources of fundraising for gay and lesbian groups who get pledges of so many cents/dollars a minute for every minute that Fred (or one of his group) speaks. One bar in Michigan, over the course of a two day protest by WBC, raised over $6,000 through pledges and the sale of "Phredom from Phelps" martinis. [Source]
The final irony is this: Fred may also become one of the tools by which to stop the agenda of the radical religious right. His crassness, rudeness, tyrannical behavior and threats to those who disagree with him, all in the name of Christianity, have made people take notice of exactly how much damage the doctrines of hate can cause. When people like Jerry Falwell forget to be PC and go on rants about gays, people see the shades of Fred Phelps and quite often don't like what they see. Not liking what one sees is the first necessary step to changing what one doesn't like and hopefully, that means working towards a more tolerant and inclusive society in America. Yet there are still those who support Phelps. Why? What do they lack in their own life that they can find in supporting the hatred and bigotry of Fred Phelps? For an aswer to that, please read my thoughts on the matter.
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|Click on any of the links below to read more articles about Fred Phelps. Please note that many of these sites may contain offensive terminology for not only gays, but blacks, Jews and anyone else who raises the ire of Phelps. |
||In Depth Story on Fred Phelps|
|Synopsis: This is a really a series of stories done over the years by the Topeka Capital-Journal. The stories are at the same time fascinating and troubling. That one man, one small church (only 51 members) can have such a huge influence on an entire nation can be hard to understand.|
||The Fred Phelps Exposé|
|Synopsis: The Capital-Journal once hired a reporter to do a series of stories on Fred Phelps. There was soon enough information that the reporter brought up the possibility of the stories becoming a book and alleges that the paper said they would publish the book. When the alleged promise to publish was not followed through, the reporter/author, Jon Bell, began looking for other avenues to publish. He was soon served with a letter requiring him to stop on the grounds that the paper owned the copyright to the material. Mr. Bell sued, seeking clarification of who actually owned the copyright. As part of the evidence, the manuscript he'd written was submitted as evidence, thereby (intentionally) making it a public document and as such, not subject to copyright laws. This site contains that full manuscript.|
||The Man Who Loves to Hate|
|Synopsis: An article in Mother Jones magazine about Fred's gospel of hatred and the man who preaches it.|
||A City Held Hostage|
|Synopsis: From the Southern Poverty Law Center's files, this details the story of Phelps' tactics of intimidation in Topeka and includes a detailed timeline for his rise to fame.|
All text ©2004-13 Shelly Strauss except where quotes with references are provided.|
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