The Humanity of “The Most Hated Man in America”

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Fred Phelps was somewhat of an enigma both in life and even in death. To the world he was a divisive, hate-filled figure who preached hell and damnation, targeting homosexuals and U.S. military members specifically. However, while his granddaughters who are former members of the Westboro Baptist Church acknowledge that public persona, they write about seeing a very different side of the man behind the closed doors of the church compound.

Granddaughter, Megan Phelps-Roper, tweeted earlier today: “I’m so sorry for the harm he caused. That we all caused. But he could be so kind and wonderful. I wish you all could have seen that, too.” 

In the end, Phelps-Roper says she believes that her grandfather is at peace. While he preached about heaven and hell, Megan Phelps-Roper says she now believes there’s only heaven or peaceful nothingness. She ended that tweet with: “RIP, Gramps. I love you forever.”

Just days before his passing, her sister Grace wrote these words on her blog: “To the whole world you [Fred Phelps, Sr.] were only ever the face of an evil entity. But of course to me you were always my Gramps. My kind, sweet, adoring Gramps. I miss you so much. I wish the sisters & I could meet you & Granny for another [milk] shake party up in your room.”

Despite leaving the church, being excommunicated, and shunned by their family, Phelps’ granddaughters still clearly love their grandfather. Kansas First News political analyst and Washburn University professor Dr. Bob Beatty says that’s understandable, and the feelings extend to former members outside of Phelps’ own family.

“Because to many of them he was ‘Gramps’, he was grandfather,” Dr. Beatty explained. “And this is a church that’s largely based on family members with a patriarch which was Fred Phelps. They had a fence that surrounded many of their homes and then a compound where they all had picnics and gathered together with him as the centerpiece. So, even for people who left the church he was still ‘Gramps’. That is hard to reconcile for people outside of the church, but it’s certainly understandable.”

Despite what many widely consider to be the good that he did in the world concerning his legal work for civil rights decades ago, Dr. Beatty believes that will be largely overshadowed by the message that he preached.

“When you think about the impact of Fred Phelps you think of the negative impact on the state of Kansas and Topeka to be associated with that sort of intolerance,” Dr. Beatty said. “But on the individual level there is no way to quantify the impact that Fred Phelps had in the terms of causing pain for fathers and mothers who were going to bury a son or daughter who died in Afghanistan or Iraq and then had to deal with a picket. So we never will be able to quantify the impact that Fred Phelps has had.”

Megan Phelps-Roper addressed those who have publicly celebrated her grandfather’s passing with a Twitter plea for tolerance:

“Love and peace to all. The world needs more of both. That’s the part of Gramps I’ll keep and share with others. I understand those who don’t mourn his loss, but I’m thankful for those who see that “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” 

But while his granddaughters mourn his death, the church he once pastored is not. Earlier today they tweeted: “Westboro Baptist Church thanks God for Fred Phelps Sr.’s passing” and posted those words with a picture of a picket sign reading “Don’t Worship the Dead” and a verse from Psalm 116 that reads: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.”

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