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Fred Phelps Biography, Wife and Children: Controversial Westboro Baptist Church Founder Dies at 84

( [email protected] ) Mar 20, 2014 02:36 PM EDT
Fred Phelps Sr., founder of Westboro Baptist Church, known for their protests outside funerals of soldiers and celebrities with signs on homosexuality and abortion, has died, according to news reports. He was 84.
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Fred Phelps Sr., founder of Westboro Baptist Church, known for their protests outside funerals of soldiers and celebrities with signs on homosexuality and abortion, has died. He was 84.

His son, Timothy Phelps, tells WIBW-TV in Topeka, Kansas, that his father died just before midnight Wednesday. The cause of the death hasn't been reported yet.

Phelps' daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, also confirmed her father had died at Midland Care Hospice but offered few details of his death.

"There will not be a funeral," Margie Jean Phelps, the oldest daughter of Phelps Sr., said during an interview with WIBW 580 AM. "The funeral (in general) has become the No. 1 idol of Americans."

Fred Phelps was born Nov. 13, 1929, in Meridian, Mississippi. According to the Westboro Baptist Church's website- 'God Hates Fags', he graduated at Meridian High at 16 and was admitted to West Point Military Academy. But the summer following graduation, he had 'a profound religious experience' and thus gave up West Point and enrolled instead for Bible/ministerial training at Bob Jones College, Cleveland, Tennessee (later moving with them as they transitioned to Bob Jones University, Greenville, South Carolina).

Phelps was ordained by the Southern Baptists Sept. 8, 1947. He met his wife, Margie M. Phelps, in 1951 while preaching at the Arizona Bible Institute in Phoenix, Arizona. The two got married on May 15, 1952 and they have 13 children, 54 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren.

Phelps has served as Pastor of Westboro Baptist Church since 1955. WBC has engaged in daily picketing demonstrations across America and some foreign countries since 1991.

Phelps was reported in hospice care over the weekend, and it was also reported that the church had excommunicated Phelps in August of 2013. One son told AP that there had been "some kind of falling out." WIBW-TV says it was three of Phelps' children who had cut the church's ties with its founder in August of 2013.

Earlier today, Westboro Baptist Church posted a message on Twitter, which included a link to its statement regarding Phelp's death.

Nathan Phelps, Phelps' estranged son, predicted on facebook that his father's death would lead to the overall downfall of the church and reported that his father had been excommunicated by the church he founded.

"I'm not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made," Nathan Phelps, who has been estranged from the church for over 30 years wrote.

"I feel sad for all the hurt he's caused so many," he continued. "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."

The church first garnered national attention when they rallied near the 1998 funeral of Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming student tortured, dragged and killed in a terrible homophobic attack.

Groups like The Southern Poverty Law Center, a watchdog agency, have labeled Westboro Baptist as a hate group, and many reacted with happiness after reading Phelps' Facebook post.

In 2013, more than 367,000 petitioners called on the White House to legally recognize Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group. The White House called Westboro's protests "reprehensible" but said that "as a matter of practice, the federal government doesn't maintain a list of hate groups."

Fred and his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper both received notification from the United Kingdom's Home Office that they were barred from entering Britain in advance of their first U.K. picket.

Last Wednesday, a federal judge upheld a Missouri law requiring protesters to stay at least 300 feet away from funeral sites, because of actions by the church.

In 2011, Westboro Baptist Church reported that it had 40 members, according to wikipedia.