March 16, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
Fred Phelps reportedly ‘on the edge of death’

Westboro Baptist Church, gay news, gay politics dc

The founder of the Westboro Baptist Church is reportedly near death. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Reports have emerged the founder of a Kansas church that stages anti-LGBT pickets across the country is close to death.

Nathan Phelps, the estranged son of Fred Phelps, Sr., who founded the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., late on Saturday wrote on his Facebook page that his father is “now on the edge of death” at a local hospice. The younger Phelps who left the church nearly four decades ago said it “ex-communicated” his father last August.

“I’m not sure how I feel about this,” wrote Nathan Phelps. “Terribly ironic that his devotion to his God ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.”

Fred Phelps became the pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church shortly after its founding in 1955.

The church gained national notoriety in 1998 after members picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard who was beaten to death outside Laramie, Wyo.

Westboro Baptist Church members protested gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson’s 2003 consecration. They also picketed outside the U.S. Supreme Court last March as the justices heard oral arguments in cases challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church last July also gathered outside the New Castle County offices in Wilmington, Del., before state Sen. Karen Peterson and her partner, Vikki Bandy, exchanged vows on the first day same-sex couples could legally marry in Delaware.

A Maryland man, Albert Snyder, in 2006 sued Fred Phelps and other Westboro Baptist Church members after they protested the funeral of his son, U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder, who died in a non-combat car accident in Iraq. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 cited the right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment in their ruling in favor of the church.

“I feel sad for all the hurt he’s caused so many,” wrote Nathan Phelps on his Facebook page. “I feel sad for those who will lose the grandfather and father they loved. And I’m bitterly angry that my family is blocking the family members who left from seeing him, and saying their good-byes.”

Steve Drain, a spokesperson for the Westboro Baptist Church, confirmed to the Topeka Capital-Journal that Fred Phelps is a patient at a local hospice.

Drain declined to comment on Fred Phelps’ reported ex-communication from the church. The spokesperson also dismissed Nathan Phelps’ claims his father is near death.

“The source that says he’s near death is not well informed,” Drain told the Topeka Capital-Journal.

The Washington Blade will provide more information on this story as it becomes available.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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