There are so many things in this world that could be considered controversial. One of the biggest things that constantly has people fighting, and will continue to, is the topic of religion. It is a topic that is better left secret, and something that is not talked about in public with other people. Sometimes, things are so controversial that they can’t not be talked about, and one of those things is the Westboro Baptist Church.
The Westboro Baptist church is a Kansas-based independent fundamentalist ministry that was founded by Fred Phelps in 1955. It has been called a lot of things over the years, but the one that stands out the most is “the most obnoxious religious group in America.” That’s right, forget all the other race-based controversial groups, because they have nothing on this religious group.
Fred Phelps was a man that was not well-liked by the general public, and we can all understand why. He expressed strong dislike for anyone of certain orientations and organized protests at funerals for military members. Phelps was born in Meridian, Mississippi on November 13th, 1929. He married, had children and founded a church that would go on to be extremely disliked. He passed away on March 19th, 2014 at age 84, but some things can never be buried.
There continues to be discussion about Fred Phelps, as well as his family, and it can lead to some pretty interesting discussion. We have found 15 of the most interesting and shocking facts about the Phelps family, and they seem to just get worse as the list goes on.
15 Odd Beliefs That Other Baptists Don't Like
Religion can be very subjective; every different sector and congregation has their own set of beliefs. Most Christian religions follow the teachings of the Bible, but even within that each individual congregation may have small differences in how they preach the word of the Lord. Generally, they are all very similar. The Westboro Baptist Church and Fred Phelps had very different beliefs and views, and the church was run as such. The church itself described itself as “an Old School Baptist Church.”
What is interesting to know is that the Baptist World Alliance and the Southern Baptist Convention have both denounced the Westboro Baptist church. They do not even recognize the institution as being part of the Baptist family.
Church sizes will vary on area and city, some churches have a large and very active congregation, while others have smaller more tight-knit communities. The Westboro Baptist Church reached a peak of about 40 members. Most of these members were related to Fred Phelps by either blood or marriage. Fred had 13 children and about 45 grandchildren. It seems the church was a family ordeal and that was the reason it was growing. Which is not surprising, because their recruitment techniques are pretty extreme.
14 Call To Ministry
We should mention before we get too deep into this article, that the Westboro Baptist Church was a cult and not a religion, and there are many reasons this is so and they will be covered in this article. So, how did this all start? How did Phelps go from being a normal, God-fearing man, to a leader of a cult? During his young life, Phelps was an Eagle Scout who was all set to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. When he was 17 though, he attended a Methodist revival meeting and it was at this point that he stated he “felt the call” to ministry.
In 1947, he was baptized and ordained by First Baptist Church in Utah. He quickly worked his way up the ranks within the church and in 1954 he was hired as an associate pastor for the East Side Baptist Church.
It wasn’t long after that when Phelps was hired as the new pastor for a new church they were starting, Westboro Baptist which was slated to open in 1955.
When Westboro was established, Phelps cut all ties with his old churches and this was a red flag that nothing good was going to come of this role he had been given.
13 Educated And Rejected
Phelps was an educated man, he had a university degree in law from Washburn University and he even founded his own law firm; Phelps Chartered Law Firm to be exact. He would go on to work as a civil rights lawyer and he was incredibly proud of his work. In what can only be described as a sign of things to come, Phelps was disbarred by the state of Kansas.
He was no longer allowed to practice law because he was “too [aggressive] with the witnesses.”
This shows his aggression that was to come and would create the Phelps that most of the world knew. We will get into more detail on these events further on, but Phelps has always shown aggressive behaviour and he led his family and his church members into the same behaviour. The church was known for protesting the funerals of soldiers and disaster victims. He believed that their passing was the result of God punishing the US for their poor values. They picketed a lot of other events too in an effort to help fix the problems they thought America had. They would picket pride gatherings, political events and even university commencement ceremonies. Most of these pickets were run by him and his immediate family.
12 Picketing Is Their Thing
The one thing that the church is known for is their picketing. If you ask someone what they know about the Westboro Baptist Church, they will say that they know that they picket funerals and other events and they are not really sure why. They can not wrap their head around any form of logic behind this. If you asked Fred about why they do this, he would say it was because Jesus himself invented picketing.
The church began protesting in 1991 and they would picket about six different locations every single day. One of the followers even went as far as to say that the church spends a quarter of a million dollars every single year on pickets.
Picketing and protesting is something that the church is very proud of, they are very boastful when they state that they have picketed more than 52,000 times in every single state as well as in three foreign countries.
In a shocking turn of events, in 1997, Saddam Hussein allowed Phelps and his followers to come to Iraq. The group went and even led a protest against the USA. This seems like pretty extreme behaviour to many, and they really wish for a further explanation on how Jesus invented picketing.
11 Family Forces Church Funding
It is not uncommon for churches to ask its congregation for money, it comes with the package. They normally pass around a collection bin as part of their weekly service and there is never any pressure on how much one family should give. It is called a “free-will” offering. You give what you can, if you can. It is how the church can afford to operated. What makes the Phelps family different is that they demand money from their members, it is not a choice.
It is also not a choice on how much you give the church. Every member must give 30% of their income to the church.
This is a common trait that you would find when you are looking at a cult, and not a religion. It is probably not a surprise that the Westboro Baptist Church gets sued a lot, and a lot of their members are lawyers which helps cut down the cost of legal fees. The sad thing is that they often win these lawsuits because of freedom of speech. This means that they do have a lot of money coming in on top of the money they demand from their members. What do they do with that money? Well, they plan more protests and pickets.
10 Brainwashed Family
Fred Phelps may be the mastermind behind all of this, but he has grown his following which is what gives the Westboro Baptist Church its power. One man could not have done all this, he needs a troop behind him cheering for him and preaching his beliefs. Most of the followers of the Westboro Baptist Church are members of the Phelps family, and there have been some serious allegations of brainwashing going on in the church.
Phelps had 13 children that he brought up in the church, and most of them have remained. Only two of them have left, and they have no communication with their family anymore.
His 13 children have given him 54 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, all of which carry on the legacy. Those who have left were very open in how the church operates and all the brainwashing that goes on. A number of Fred’s grandsons state that Fred was constantly attacking them and their mother. Another ex-member has stated that the church teaches you that everyone who is not within the church is a lost soul, and that after a while she was terrified of leaving. She finally did but has been forbidden to see her other family members.
9 Trying To Reach Political Standing
Phelps believed that so many of the awful things that were going on in the US was a direct result of the sinful life that people were living and the US for allowing it to happen. Since the only way to really create and make change in any country involves a political presence, it was only normal that Phelps would find himself involved in political life.
Even though he was disbarred from practicing the law, he remained very active in state and local politics. He worked for years as a major organizer for the state’s Democratic Party. It all became very personal to him when he housed campaign workers for Al Gore in 1988. He also was not shy, and he was willing to step in and run for a leader position.
He ran for governor of Kansas in the years 1990, 1994, and 1998. He even went as far as running for Senate in 1992.
Luckily, he did not win any of these races, but this gave him a certain political status. He was invited to two of Bill Clinton’s inaugurations. He did attend both, but when he went to the second one it was out of protest.
8 What’s Going On, Fred?
We mentioned earlier that Phelps had passed away in 2014, and there is a lot to say about people when they know the end is coming. As people get older, they start reflecting on their life and everything they have done wrong and how they wished they had lived their life different. It is a universal experience of old age. Even the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church is not immune to this realization. It has been reported that as he came to the end of his life, Phelps was starting to see the errors in his ways and he decided that he wanted to treat people with more kindness.
The problem was that he had created a church with the beliefs that he had carried almost his entire life. This mean that they did not take kindly to Phelps sudden change of heart.
A board of elders that was made up of his own sons and grandsons voted in favour to remove him as pastor because he changed his mind about his beliefs.
He has since passed away, but the church continues to go on with the same extreme attitude that Phelps had for his entire life, and while it may be sad, he only has himself to blame.
7 They Even Dislike The Swedish
Fred Phelps and his family, who really were his followers, are very specific when it comes to who they hate, and they have never been shy to voice their opinion. If we looked at an official list of all the people and groups that the Westboro Baptist Church hate, it would look something like this: They hate people of certain orientations, soldiers, those who think that Jesus loves everybody and Swedish people. I bet the last one there threw you, but it is true.
The hatred stared when a Pentecostal Christian Pastor was arrested in Sweden for hate speech against the gay community.
The pastor was arrested by Swedish police, given a month for his crime, but did not serve that whole time. This angered the church and they even went as far as to go to a store in Kansas who sold Swedish-made vacuum cleaners and berate the staff.
In 2004, there was a large tsunami in Asia that ended up taking the lives of thousands of Swedish people, and Fred Phelps and his church celebrated this tragedy. They felt their passing was caused because God was angry with them for their actions, that was the only reason.
6 Protected By The Courts And Freedom Of Speech
There has been a lot of confusion on what the family behind the Westboro Baptist Church states. Some can not look at their protest signs and see anything but hate speech. Words that should be a crime and that have no place being spoken in public.
People have tried to sue the church many times due to their actions, but unfortunately this can not be done. The church, and their controversial protests, are protected by the freedom of speech amendment.
One case that stands out is when the church decided to picket the funeral of a Marine named Matthew Snyder. His family sued them for defamation and invasion of privacy. They initially won their case and were to walk away with 10.9 million dollars in damages, but then the decision was overruled in appeals court. Sounds absolutely insane, but they stated that even though the church’s message was mean and hurtful, they had the right to say whatever they wanted under the freedom of speech. In the end, the family had to pay the court costs for the church. This would not be the first and only time that the courts would side with the Phelps crew.
5 Famous Family Creates New Law
While they may be semi-protected under the freedom of speech amendment, they are not completely untouchable. All the protesting that they were doing actually helped create a completely new law. In 2006, the U.S House and Senate passed a new act that was titled Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes. This was created because there was so much public outcry when the family was protesting at military funerals, something that was seen as the most offensive and disrespectful acts.
Under this new law, the family as well as anyone else is not allowed to protest within 300 feet of national cemeteries starting an hour before a funeral until the hour after it is finished.
There is also a pretty hefty penalty if anyone should break this law. If anyone does not follow the act they can receive a fine of one hundred thousand dollars as well as one full year in prison. This may have helped the families who are grieving lost ones, but it has not hindered the church much. They still continue to protest as close as they can to the event. There have actually been many petitions that have gone around to try and shut down the Westboro Baptist Church all together, but there is not much anyone can do in that regards.
The Phelps family as well as the church will not go away quietly, and no one thought they would take this new act sitting down, they had to fight it. They believe in their cause so much that they needed to fight this new law, and for their right to their freedom of speech. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of Fred Phelps that attempted to overturn the ban on picketing funerals. The case was called Snyder v. Phelps.
As a result, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favour of Phelps much to everyone’s shock.
The court stated that “any distress occasioned by Westboro’s picketing turned on the content and viewpoint of the messages conveyed, rather than any interference with the funeral itself” and therefore it could not be restricted. This has allowed the Phelps family and the church to continue to picket at the funerals for soldier. Their view is that the soldiers are fighting in war, war that God and Jesus would not agree with and do not want, and therefore they were committing a sin and their passing was “deserved.” It is one of the most offensive thoughts and acts that any American could have.
3 Weird Way Of Showing Love
The main problem with this organization is that they really don’t see what they are doing wrong. Fred Phelps and his family actually believe that they are helping mankind and the reason they are doing all of this is out of pure love for people and their country. It is a weird way of showing love.
They don’t see themselves as a disliked group, they see themselves as fulfilling their purpose.
They believe it is their job to alert everyone to their sins and let them know that they will be punished for them. They wave signs that have sayings on them like “God Hates You” and they believe these are helping people.
They believe in what they say so much, and they say that they have proof. They state that all the natural disasters and the security threats are all proof that we are sinning, and these are the forms of punishment we are facing. That it was all orchestrated by God as a way of punishing us for our sins. Any real and good Christian will tell you that is not how it works, and these are not ways of punishing us for any earthly sins we may commit.
2 Phelps Supports The Civil Rights Movement
Fred Phelps may have been a lot of things, but he has never been discriminatory based on the color of a person's skin. Fred Phelps was a supporter of the civil rights movement in America and has never shown any disdain towards people of different colours, backgrounds or culture.
His own law firm that we discussed earlier was centered around battling such discrimination. Throughout the 1980s, Phelps won a lot of awards for his work with African-American clients.
The church has always maintained that their “scripture doesn’t support physical violence" or such discrimination.
They have never shown any hate towards anyone of a different colour, and they do not support physical altercations. They seem to really only show judgement on the communities for certain orientations and soldiers, and someone needs to tell them that words can hurt a lot more than a whack to the nose. The only time Phelps and the church was accused of hate based on race was when they led a huge protest at the funeral of Michael Jackson. They saw him as one who was confused when it came to his nationality and that was no allowed. They praised and honoured his passing and celebrated in it.
1 Even Other Controversial Groups Dislike Them
Here is the sad reality of what the US looks like today, they are filled with hate groups. There have been hate groups going on for centuries, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any bigger. When you think of all the hate groups that are running rampant in the US right now, the most hated group is the Westboro Baptist Church. I know you are saying that is not possible, when we think of groups like the clan and others, but the reason the church is the most hated is because even the hate groups hate them! The clan has stated many times that they are disgusted by the actions of Fred Phelps and his family. This could be due to the high number of veterans within the clan.
In a weird turn of events, it is not uncommon to see members of the clan show up at soldier’s funerals to counter-protest the church as well as protect the family. The leader of the clan has personally shown up at multiple events to try and shut down the actions of the church. No hate group is good, or can be tolerated, but when you are hated by a large hate group it should send a pretty big warning sign to you that something is not right.