Besides being a heretical hate-monger who pushed the envelope of the definition of constitutionally protected speech, Fred Phelps, the late leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, had a number of perhaps surprising facets to his life. Here are ten of them, all culled from the Wikipedia article dedicated to him.
1. In the ’60s and ’70s, Phelps was a notable civil rights lawyer in Kansas, defending African-Americans against the “Jim Crow establishment” in the police and school system, as well as in public utilities and universities. He once said of his efforts, “I systematically brought down the Jim Crow laws of this town.”
2. In the 1980s, he won awards for his civil rights defense work from the Greater Kansas City Chapter of Blacks in Government and the Bonner Springs branch of the NAACP.
3. He once sued Ronald Reagan for appointing an ambassador to the Vatican, arguing that such an appointment violated the separation of church and state.
4. He was a Democrat, running for office in four different primaries (all lost), garnering as much as 30% of the vote in the Democratic primary for senator from Kansas.
5. He strongly believed in Five Point Calvinism, calling the Arminian doctrine opposed to it within Protestantism “worse blasphemy and heresy than that heard in all filthy Saturday night f*g bars in the aggregate in the world.”
6. He worked on Billy Graham crusades, though later denounced Graham as the “greatest false prophet since Balaam.”
7. In 1993, Phelps had a big blow-up on the Ricki Lake Show.
8. In 1997, Saddam Hussein gave Phelps’ church permission to come and preach in Baghdad. After Hussein’s execution in 2006, Phelps announced that Hussein was in Hell along with Gerald Ford.
9. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed multiple lawsuits defending Fred Phelps and his church for their picketing activities.
10. He may have been excommunicated from his own church in August of last year. No one seems to be saying why.
Given some of his earlier and more charitable history, is it possible that the excommunication was because Fred Phelps repented before the end? We may never know. One thing I believe, though, and that is that God loves Fred Phelps. Because He loves everyone, no exceptions.
Also: People are complicated, even people who present themselves as caricatures. We all have both evil and good within us. May God forgive and heal us of the evil and magnify the good.