Reverend Fred Phelps, founder of the notoriously antigay Westboro Baptist Church, has died at 84 of unspecified causes in a Topeka, Kansas hospice.
Phelps’ long-estranged son Nathan, who split from the church in 1976 and eventually became an LGBT and child abuse advocate in Canada, first alerted media to the impending death of his father with a message posted to his Facebook page last weekend. Nathan also revealed that his father was excommunicated from the church last August for reasons that remain unclear.
Shirley Phelps-Roper confirmed news of her father’s death to the Topeka-Capital Journal, but when asked if family members had been present when Fred died and whether a funeral service would be conducted for her father, she told the reporter it was “none of your business.”
The Topeka-based Church was mostly comprised mostly of Phelps family members, who were infamous for protesting funerals of soldiers with signs containing messages such as “God killed your sons” and “Thank God for 9/11,” claiming the deaths are God’s punishment for America’s immorality and tolerance of abortion.
Yet Westboro’s chief mission seemed to be a war on the LGBT communities. Protests featuring members of the church holding signs that proclaimed “God hates fags” became a constant presence at pride festivals and concerts of pop stars.
To his eternal chagrin, Phelps’ “ministry” did more to rally Americans to support LGBT equality than he’ll ever know. The death of Phelps is not expected to have an impact on the future of Westboro.
Update: In an interview with CBC, Nathan Phelps said he was informed his father suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.