Fred Phelps, the controversial and vehemently anti-gay founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, died yesterday evening in hospice care. He was 84 years old. His daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, provided no details into the cause of his death or why he entered hospice care last month. However, comments from the church last year confirmed that a funeral will not be held for Phelps because they don’t “worship the dead,” disappointing many people who relished the chance to picket his funeral.
Reports surfaced earlier this week that he was excommunicated from the church last year for advocating a “kinder approach” among members. Church spokesman Steve Drain declined to comment on the rumors, declaring that “we don’t owe any talk to you about that. We don’t discuss our internal church dealings with anybody. It’s only because of his notoriety that you are asking.” He confirmed over the weekend that Phelps was in hospice care, stating that “he’s an old man and old people have health problems.”
Phelps started the Westboro Baptist Church in 1955, but his hateful attacks against gays didn’t begin until the early 1990s. The church first attracted international attention while protesting the 1998 funeral of Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in Wyoming simply because he’s gay, by carrying signs including “AIDS Kills F*gs.” They have also claimed that the death of American soldiers and tragedies such as 9/11 are punishment for the country’s tolerance of homosexuality and regularly picket the funerals of these men.
Sadly, the church has given no indication that Phelps’ death will stop of any of their picketing in the future.