Just two days after the death of Fred Phelps, experts are predicting the end of the ‘God Hates Fags’ church.
A number of church members have already left the small group of around 30 in recent years, including prominent members, such as Phelps’ granddaughters Megan and Grace. Megan was the public face of the church through social media.
Reverend Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, told USA Today that she believed that without Phelps, the remaining members of the church, made up mostly of Phelps’ extended family, will leave to find “true religion.”
Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has closely studied the cult group for a number of years, said:
“When you build a group so much around the personality and politics of a single leader, it’s sometimes difficult to keep that group alive when that leader dies…It’s possible the church could fall apart in the next year or two.”
Potok cites examples of other extremist groups such as National Alliance and Aryan Nations, Neo-Nazi organizations which closed down soon after the death of their figurehead leaders.
However, things may not be as simple as an end of Phelps, equalling an end of the church.
Phelps is reported to have been excommunicated from the church in September 2013. According to the Topeka Capital Journal, Phelps was kicked out by a group of newly elected elders who had recently won a power struggle with the church’s longterm spokeswoman, Phelps’ daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper.
The reason stated was due to “advocating a kinder approach between church members.”
Was Phelps softening towards the end of his life? Little is known about the newly elected leaders, but the fact that they dismissed their former leader over calls for kindness, perhaps paints an even darker picture than before.
We can only hope that the internal conflicts will destroy the church from the inside out. After all, when your main message is hate, there’s only so far you can go before you destroy yourself.