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Fred Phelps: Evangelical Leader or Cultic Pariah?

John on November 1, 2007 at 10:02 pm

The scuzzy Phelps family is in the news again. They just lost an $11 million lawsuit filed by the father of one of the soldiers whose grave they picketed. Sweetness and Light has some details on the lawsuit and also notes that the media continually refer to these cultists as “Baptists” and “Fundamentalist”, albeit in part because Phelps’ church is called “Westboro Baptist.” While he may be a fundamentalist by some loose definition of the word, he has no association with any Baptist denomination. In fact he picketed the Southern Baptist Convention after they condemned him.

Others go farther still in insinuating that Phelps is somehow a part of the evangelical mainstream. For instance, this Daily Kos diarist refered to Phelps as an “evangelical leader.” Don’t leaders usually have, you know, followers? Phelps church consists of about 70 people, 60 of them his relatives by blood, the rest related to him by marriage.

As for Phelps being an evangelical, local pastors had begun organizing against Phelps as far back as 1993. Phelps gets much the same treatment wherever he goes. Here’s an article that appeared in 2005 asking Phelps and his roadshow of hate to “stay home.”

And as Phelps came on the national scene he was denounced by higher profile Christian leaders. Back in 1999, Jerry Falwell called him a “first class nut” and in 2000 referred to him as an “idiot” in an interview with the Roanoke Times. When Falwell died, Phelps picketed his funeral, claiming that his beliefs were “watered down.”

Dobson also got on Phelps’ bad side because of some negative comments, though I’m unable to find a record of them (they were more than 7 years ago before web news was all it is today).

Phelps theological bent is Calvinist. And when he preaches Calvin, he makes the guys at Pyromanicas look like Arminian sympathizers. That said, there is some genuine question about whether Phelps’ theology is real or just a cover for his publicity seeking activity. Phelps has 13 kids, 4 of whom have turned against him. Here’s how these former insider’s describe Phelps’ faith:

[T]he four Phelps children…asserted that their father’s religious beliefs were either nonexistent to begin with or have dwindled down to nearly nothing. They insist that Westboro actually serves to enable a paraphilia of Phelps, wherein he is literally addicted to hatred.

Two of his sons, Mark and Nate, insist that the church is actually a carefully planned cult that allows Phelps to see himself as a demigod, wielding absolute control over the lives of his family and congregants, essentially turning them into slaves that he can use for the sole purpose of gratifying his every whim and acting as the structure for his delusion that he is the only righteous man on Earth.

In 1995, Mark Phelps wrote a letter to the people of Topeka to this effect; it was run in the Topeka Capital-Journal. The children’s claim is partially backed up by B.H. McAllister, the Baptist minister who ordained Phelps. McAllister said in a 1993 interview that Phelps developed a delusion wherein he was one of the few people on Earth worthy of God’s grace and that everyone else in the world was going to Hell, and that salvation or damnation could be directly obtained by either aligning with or opposing Phelps. As of 2006, Phelps maintains this belief.

So is Fred Phelps and “evangelical leader?” No. He’s been repudiated by Christians left, right and center. Even his own children have turned against him. In fact, the only organization that has publicly gone to bat for Fred Phelps is…wait for it…the ACLU.

Jeff Jacoby, writing in the Boston Globe said it well. In a country that boasts as many as 80 million Christians “It is a shining mark in America’s favor that the Westboro Baptist Church is so small.”

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Category: Religion & Faith |

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