By Jon Michael Bell
The False Prophet
Sometime around 1975, Phelps began to find his option to beat his family restricted. By then, Mark and Kathy had already rebelled and left, and the other children were fast becoming adults of not inconsiderable size. About a year before Nate left, he remembers an incident which must have put the abusive pastor on notice to find new outlets for his hate. "One day he was beating mom upstairs," Nate recalls. "He'd been doing it for some time. Shirley and Margie and I were in the dining room downstairs, and Margie and I were getting madder and madder. Shirl wouldn't get mad-she'd always start crying and pacing around whenever anyone was getting beaten. "Margie finally went and got a butcher knife from the kitchen. The three of us went to the bottom of the stairs. But our voices stuck in our throats. We couldn't call out. None of us. We were so scared."
When the raging reverend chased his wife out onto the landing, he saw them. Fred stared down at them: "Get the hell outta here." Margie held the knife up where he could see it. "You've got to stop this," she told him.
The pastor slowly descended the steps. His children backed up but didn't leave. For a long moment he glared at them. Then he said quietly: "Fine, you SOBs." And he turned and went back to his bedroom. For three weeks after that, Fred Phelps had no contact with his family except at church. He stayed in his room until it was time to give his sermon. After Nate departed the fold in 1976, apparently the pastor began to worry about the success of his methods. He'd raised a congregation from his loins, and now they were bailing out at the first opportunity. Fred Jr., Mark, Nate, Kathy, Dorotha, Margie, Rebekah, and Jonathon would all leave home at some point. It was at this point that his wife and daughters apparently convinced Phelps that, if he wanted his family, he'd have to stay his hand. From then on, it was the outside community which more and more would become the outlet for the pastor's rage. Nate was coaxed back to the family compound three years later by his sisters' assurances 'the old man' had changed, that things were better now, and he wasn't beating anymore. But, as Nate quickly found out, the pastor still sought total control over his children's private and emotional lives. He left for good. Nate's younger brother, Jonathon, met Paulette when he was still in law school. She joined the Westboro church and was highly cooperative, though the pastor frowned on her for not following his path (Paulette has no law degree.). Later, when it was discovered they were fornicating, Paulette was driven from The Place. Jon was allowed to stay. Though by this time he was a practicing lawyer, all of Jon's adult privileges were taken away by his father. Members of the church were assigned to accompany him 24 hours a day to guard against his backsliding with Paulette. As a hedge against his leaving, each day he was given only enough money from the common family finances to buy his lunch. But the damage had already been done. Paulette had conceived. Living with her parents, abandoned by Jonathan, an object of contempt to his family, Paulette turned in desperation to the Phelps boys who'd moved to California. Mark and Luava say they had many a late-night counseling session over the phone with Paulette while she carried her baby to term. After their child was born, apparently Jon's girl wanted nothing more to do with him. But Jon was having second thoughts. Six months after he'd become a father, he petitioned the court for joint custody and visitation rights.
According to court records, Jon claimed Paulette would not accept payments of support, that she had refused him visitation rights, and that she would not allow him to take their child from her parents' home. When the couple actually confronted each other before a judge, however, Paulette saw only Jon, and he only had eyes for the woman he loved and their tiny daughter. And Fred Phelps with his threats of hell and hatred of Christmas must suddenly have seemed so very far from the god who had given them their little girl. Jonathon deserted the Westboro church and moved in with Paulette's family. They were married soon after. By now, it was apparent to the pastor that Mark and Nate's move to California in 1981 was going to be permanent.
"So, when Jonathon left, my father had lost three sons," says Marks. "At that point," he adds, referring to his and Luava's long conversations with Paulette at the time, "my dad decided it might be better to relax his rules and keep his family than end with an empty church." Jonathon and Paulette were allowed to return to the congregation with their illegitimate child in 1988.
Unable since then to either beat and browbeat his family, the Pastor Phelps seems to have focused instead on his therapeutically malicious law practice. This is the period, 1983-1989, when he is reprimanded for this unchecked spate of extortional demand letters, when he eventually federally disbarred for his wild and vitriolic attacks on three judges, and when he sues Ronald Reagan over appointing an ambassador to the Vatican.
Fred's swan song in the federal courts in February, 1989 left him unable to express his most persistent of urges: to hurt and humiliate other human beings. Already prevented from punching up his grandchildren, and now banned from the barrister's ring, the old pugilist took stock and realized he still had his fists and his faithful urge to abuse.
Buffalo Fred took his wild ego show out of his house, out of the courtroom, and into the streets. Within months, he was running for governor, tramping importantly about the state and churning out position papers on the general corruption of the Adamic race. The spotlight, so comforting and necessary to prankster pastor, had returned.
He only garnered six percent of the vote. No matter. Nine months after losing the election, Fred Phelps unveiled his next therapeutic crusade: his left hooks rained on same comparatively helpless and unsuspecting heads when he opened the "Great Gage Park Decency Drive"-which quickly escalated into his current death-to-fags campaign.
To hear the pastor describe his new venture, one feels in the presence of a Napoleon crossing the river Neiman to invade Russia-two great empires, the one good, the other evil, about to clash, finally, and to the death. To read his crusading literature, however, leaves a different impression: The "Great Gage Park Decency Drive" hovers between vaudeville and the bizarre. One campaign fax churned out during November of 1993 would seem to cover both choices.
For vaudeville, the pastor poses a question: "Can God-fearing Christian families picnic or play touch football there (Gage Park) without fear of contractng AIDS? HELL,NO!" He then describes the enemy activity in suspicious detail: "Open fag rectal intercourse in public restrooms, in the rose garden, in the rock garden, in the theatre, in the rainforest, in the swimming pool, on the softball fields, on the swing sets, or the train-it's everywhere..." And for the bizarre: In the same fact epistle, Fred to the Sodomites, the pastor reviews his son-in- law's opus of investigative endeavor, The Conspiracy within a Conspiracy. For those arriving late, Conspiracy is the privately published book by Brent Roper, who made the "it will be harder now, but I will destroy them" attribution to Judge Rogers in Chapter Six. In the fax, Fred defends Roper's thesis that Truman Capote passed AIDS simultaneously to both Jack Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe during a touch football game in the Rose Garden "when a gang tackle went awry". According to the fax, the CIA later killed both the president and Marilyn to keep them from infecting the country-Capote's own longevity notwithstanding. In any case, touch football seems to be the one thing consistently on Fred's mind here. In the midst of his anti-gay campaign, the pastor also ran for the U.S. Senate in 1992 for Topeka mayor in 1993. He lost both races. Of the two, his Senate bid will likely be the better-remembered: Phelps, in a great plains parody of the late senator from Wisconsin, warned the voters darkly that homosexuals were taking over America, and accused Gloria O'Dell, his opponent for the Democratic, of being a lesbian. Unelected after three races, the angry pastor maneuvered to advance his hate-gays crusade from local TV spots and neighborhood pickets to the national media. The Westboro congregation traveled to Washington, D.C. to taunt the Gay Pride March in the spring of 1993. It was red meat for a sensation-hungry press. Fred and found his rhythm. Even before then, however, the nine children still loyal to him had campaigned enthusiastically alongside, picketing in rain, snow, or sun. Why?
Says Nate: "You known that Lite beer commercial where the guy goes up to the two other guys and gets them to fight over his comparison of two incomparable issues ('Tastes great!/Nope, less Filling!)? My dad does that. "Deep down, my brothers and sisters know they've been denied the right to be themselves-free adults-and that combines with all of his abuse and anger toward them until their rage is uncontrollable inside. He helps them find a focus to vent that out. And then he steps aside." Mark agrees: "Everyone is very angry there. That's why they overeat. It's a very charged atmosphere. All that frustrated energy needs to be discharged in some form of conflict." Though this latter observation is almost 13 years old, it still provides an accurate summation of one reporter's experience who spent six weeks in daily contact with the family Phelps in the fall of 1993. Fred has a captive family congregation: their fear of hell and fear of him still control them, like the elephant's rope. His loyal children have fulfilled his ambitions rather than their own. They live at his side and do his work. And since his rage has become their outrage, a wrath they dare not turn back on him, Fred's kids have eagerly joined in whenever he has sallied forth from Westboro to smite the Adamic race. Margie Phelps admits many in her family have become emotionally dependent on the death-to- gays crusade: "A lot of us have been able to work through emotional problems because of the picketing," she says. She explains the bonding and the sense of goals have brought them closer and taken each person's focus off their own personal difficulties. "It would be very hard for them to give up the picketing now," she observes, and quotes with some apparent relief the circumstances outlined by her father for an end to his grim campaign: the return of Jesus; the capitulation of all homosexuals; "or they kill us. Otherwise it will go on."
What's important here is the Phelps family has found something they can all enjoy doing together. And it's helping them to grow and realize more about themselves. All except one. Dorotha, on of the youngest Phelps children, left the compound in 1990.
She was 25 at the time and already an established attorney. "We were all supposed to get law degrees, stay home, and live happily every after," she says. "The problem was, I wasn't happy. "My father's operating mode is one of perpetual warfare. I thought once he'd been disbarred, it would die down, and he would stop-you know-being so aggressive. He wrote that book (still an unpublished manuscript) comparing the courts to the Corsican Mafia...but I guess it didn't go anywhere. "And then he started all these other things... "It's just not going to die down. It's not going to quit. He's such an egomaniac. He liked to keep things stirred up because he likes attention. He likes to be center stage. It just wore me out. The constant pressure there was just too much. "But," adds Dorotha, who goes by 'Dottie', "despite all his flaws, he's the leader of the church as well as a father. If they (her family back at the compound) believe, they also accept him." The pastor is enthusiastic about his new therapy: "The Bible approves only of sex within marriage," he insists. "But whoremongers and adulterers God will damn to hell! "No premarital sex! No extramarital sex! No divorces, no remarriages-and for God's sakes-NO ANAL COPULATING!" (In which case, come the Rapture, Westboro Baptist will still be holding services.)
Fred continues: "Anytime a famous fag dies of AIDS, we're going to picket his funeral, wherever it is." He adds he subscribes to the New York Times because it identifies gays who've died of AIDS. Phelps is literally giggling now, able to appear on shows like Jane Whitney, Ricki Lake, and 20/20 and talk dirty to gays. On top of the verbal abuse the pastor heaps from the television screen, he claims he's doing gays a favor by disrupting their funerals, outraging their mourners, and picketing the businesses that employ them. Raising this kind of ruckus is...well...a bit of necessary bad taste to get the "good word" out. Interviewed on KBRT radio in Los Angeles, Phelps was asked: "What about the Bible advice that Christians are to have the wisdom of serpents and the meekness of doves?"
To which he responded: "The next to last verse in Jude says we were to make to a sharp difference in how we are to approach people to win them. On some, have compassion, making a difference. Others you should save with fear. "That means using the authority of terrorizing people about the coming fires of God's judgement and wrath, as opposed to approaching them with compassion." Trouble is, Phelps may have yet to meet the sinner he deems worthy of the compassionate path. The pastor has generated most of his notoriety from public outrage at his desecration of funeral and burial rites. To this, he has a formulaic response, most recently offered to Chris Bull of the The Advocate in defense of emotionally brutalizing the mourners for Kevin Oldham, a native of Kansas City who had found success in New York as a composer: "Compared to hell and eternal punishment, their (the mourners) suffering is trivial. If Kevin could come back, he would ask me to please preach at his funeral, and he say, 'For God's sake, listen to Fred Phelps.' Dying time is truth time. These poor homosexual creatures live lives predicated on a fundamental lie, and they die engrossed in the lie. It seems to me to be the cruelest thing of all to stand over their dead, filthy bodies keeping the lies going." Yet Phelps doesn't believe homosexuals can be redeemed, an attitude which cast his actions, not as salvation-through-fear, but as pointless and abusive. Almost any day on the picket line in Topeka, he can be heard announcing to the occasional passerby who stops to talk: "Deep-dyed fags cannot be saved. God has given them up." The pastor seems uninterested when other Christian ministers attempt to show him differently. One the same KBRT talk show, Phelps intoned: "It's my position that they (gays) fit in that category of the most depraved and degenerate of Adam's race. And probably these guys are past hope for salvation.
"And it was a long time coming to that. I've never seen one such person converted in 46 years of preaching this Bible." "I've seen a number of homosexuals come to Christ," protests the announcer, up to now quite warn to Fred's message. "I'd like to meet one," says Fred.
The announcer mentions a young man, a reformed homosexual, who, after 'coming to Christ', has established an AIDS ministry that is now nationwide. "Herb Hall," says the how's host, "is one of the most solid soul winners I've seen in decades." They reach Hall by phone at his home in Garden Grove, New Jersey. He invites Fred to come and see, that there's plenty of gays who turned to Christ and ceased their sodomy. "I think it's a put-on," says Fred. He resists the suggestion that Phelps and Hall confer on what they've learned during their separate campaigns against homosexuality. "I'd love to sit down and talk with you, and meet with you," begins Hall.
"We'll have to do that," responds Phelps, "because your story so far is not convincing, and it sounds very canned and put on to me." When the announcer again vouches for Hall, Phelps says reluctantly: "I gotta talk to him first, and I gotta know more..." Then to Hall: "Are you gonna call me?"
Announcer: "Oh! We've just hung up on him. But we have his number, and we'll give that to you, OK?" Phelps: "OK. Thank you. I'm very interested." But Preacher Phelps never called. So Hall called him. He remembers their conversation below:
"Pastor Phelps, when Jesus approached the prostitute, all the people who had surrounded her, He wrote their sins in the dirt. That's why they left her alone. Unless we show them (homosexuals), love and compassion, and really comfort them, we'll never be able to reach them." Hall says Phelps told him he'd never seen a homosexual that had ever changed, and he doubted that Hall had.
"Pastor, I am a homosexual. I've changed. And I will be in heaven someday." According to Hall, Phelps doubted that also. "So you think it (homosexuality) is the one unforgivable sin?" Yes, said Phelps.
In an interview with Jim Doblin, a television reporter for WIBW-TV, Channel 13 in Topeka, Phelps shared a bit more. If everyone was predestined from the womb, regardless of what they did in life, asked Doblin, wouldn't there be a homosexual or two among the Elect?
No, Phelps insisted. "Three times within eight verses in Romans, Chapter 1, it says God has given these people up. If the only power in the universe that can call you to Jesus Christ has given you up, how you gonna get there?" In fact, Phelps has shown little interest in getting the "good word" out at all. His record in this new campaign shows his focus is on ego dominance, insult, and therapeutic lashing out.
Offers Phelps from the same interview with Doblin: "My ol' dad used to say, 'you're gettin' people mad at you, bubba! An' if you're determined to get 'em mad at you, I recommend you just walk up and kick 'em in the shins-it won't take so long!' "I believe I finally took my ol' dad's advice: just walk up and kick 'em in the shins!" The pastor breaks into a big grin: "God hates fags!"
He's obviously enjoying himself. But why kick them in the shins if they can't be saved? Fred can't answer that. Because she knows he's not trying to save anyone. For his own secret reasons, he needs to hurt people, and he's chosen homosexuals. Reacting to a joint statement condemning his anti-gay activities that was signed by 47 Topeka area religious leaders, Phelps, in a letter to The Advocate wrote: "I love it. I'm a Baptist preacher, and that means I'm a hate preacher." When it comes to any serious attempt to explore a religious issue via considered argument and fair rebuttal, however, Pastor Phelps has proved a no-show, On August 23, 1993, Dick Snider, a columnist for the Capital- Journal, printed part of the letter from an English professor at Spoon River College in Canton, Illinois. Farrell Till was a Bible debater, and he wanted a chance to debate Fred on God's hatred of homosexuals. By midmorning, the faxes came rolling in at the newsroom and offices all over the capital: a photo of the pastor, looking pensive and studious at his desk, and the words emblazoned:
Followed by the missive: "Not since two of my heroes (Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan) slugged it out at the famous Scopes Monkey Trial at Dayton, Tennessee in July, 1925, has the issue of the inerrancy of the Bible been properly debated. If Farrell Till is for real, let's get it on. "Your newspaper can work out the details and send circulation off the charts. And your own involvement to date in this historic event will more than justify your otherwise pitiful existence on this earth as a wayward son of Adam. Kindest regards. Fred Phelps." Farrell Till was notified his challenge had been accepted. He immediately sent the pastor a courteous letter, via the Capital-Journal, outlining his qualifications to engage in a serious scholarly exchange and requesting Phelps contact him to work out a compatible date. Fred forgot. Though he was reminded several times by both the paper and Till, the impulsive pastor never remembered to set that date.
By Christmas, Till reported he had inquired by phone or letter five times and received no response. Coincidentally, during the same time period, the Capital-Journal had arranged for a round-table exchange in print: participating with Phelps would have been Tex Sample, a liberal minister from St. Paul's School of Theology in Kansas City; Rabbi Lawrence Karol, an old testament scholar in Topeka; and Scott Clark, a primitive Baptist (old Calvinist) minister from Fred's own sect, now working on his doctorate in theology at Oxford University. Fred would exchange views in print with clergymen of three differing faiths to avoid the discussion becoming mired in minor sectarian conflicts.
All four agreed to participate, and all agreed to the tennis format: Phelps would serve by responding to three questions; the others would return with comment, and Phelps would bat it back. To the three questions-Does God hate? Does God hate gays? By what authority do you judge?-Phelps submitted a brief response. His turbid theology was quickly returned to him, analyzed as unfounded and unbiblical-even by the Oxford Calvinist of his own sect. Now here was a battle of the Titans! Let's get it on! But again the would-be William Jennings Bryan fled the field, muttering he'd heard all those false arguments before and couldn't be bothered refuting them again.
Pity. All those reprobates out there who've never heard his refutations...it would be like water to parched souls... Twice turning tail at the opportunity for his truth to confront publicly the world's falsehoods...a very odd response indeed for someone who claims his only aim in his crude, cruel, and vindictive behavior is to get the "good word" out to a world of stubborn reprobates. Each time has been offered the chance to present his message in a fair and sober forum-sans shin-kicking and street theatre-the earnest pastor has passed. In fairness, it would be observed that, since his tent emptied that night in Vernal, Utah, Phelps has preached almost entirely to the converted and the blood-related. He may find an opinion differing from his own to be a frightening and flight-triggering experience. Or perhaps the amateur Biblical erudition gained during that long, arduous summer Phelps spent between his baptism and ordination failed him when he entered the arena of professional scholarship. Whatever the cause, the pastor appears long on antics, insults, and threats-short on good news the reprobates can use. Of the 12 abominations listed in the Old Testament, pride in one-homosexuality is not. "His dad couldn't care less about God or the Bible," says Luava. "He just happened to embrace that structure to create a framework for himself as god. What he says, goes. In his mind, and in his life, he is god." "He's not for anything but Fred," adds Nate. "Whatever it is he has to do to get attention, he'll do it."
Mark interrupts: "...He helped himself to any behavior he ever wanted to have and then left it for others to clean up. He's operating at the level of a two year-old. My little girl just goes up and shoves someone sometimes, but she's two. He does not hesitate to do what my little Becky does, but he does it in adult ways. "He's completely out-focused and totally high right now. He's got the best fix: drugs, beatings, all the raging and abusing he's done, all the political stirring-up he's caused, nothing compares to what he's doing now." Nate adds: "And each time it seems he has to ratchet it a little higher. Eventually it could end in tragedy for a lot of people." He shakes his head. "My father likes to hurt people. And he needs to hate them. Why, I don't know. But you can be sure of one thing: he'll always do it with the Bible. "They'll give us the fags," says Margie, referring to Topeka's generally hostile response to the pastor's message, "it's the 'God hates' part they can't stand. The notion that God hates humans is rejected so deeply by most people-that's what everyone is so angry about." If the strange case of Fred Phelps were, in fact, a doctrinal and not a mental health phenomenon, it would revolve on two issues: whether God hates some souls regardless of their character or actions and whether he hates homosexuals most of all. Absolute predestination-the theory that some people are bound for heaven before they are born, while others have a one-way ticket to hell-best focuses the beliefs of Westboro Baptist and its basilisk leader.
"It goes like this," says Fred, shifting into his preacher voice, talking slowly and emphasizing every syllable, "the everlasting love of God for some men and the everlasting hatred of God for other men is the grand doctrine that razes free will to the ground. "Hate in the deity is not a passion like it is with humans, you know. It is a purpose that is part of His nature and His essential attributes."
The Bible is chock full of hate, says the pastor. "From all eternal ages past, God has loved some of Adam's race and purposed to do them good, and he's hated the rest and purposed to punish them for their sins." Attributes of God linked to hate, anger, wrath and punishment are used two-thirds more often in the Bible than attributes linked to love, mercy, pity, long-suffering, gentleness and goodness, he claims
"You can't be a Bible preacher without preaching the hatred of God, the wrath of God. It is a fabrication, this modern Christianity, that says good old God loves everybody." Implicit in all this talk of predestination is the assumption that Fred, at last, is going to heaven. Yet the Bible, as it interpreted by predestinists, says the elect will not be revealed until the Judgement Day. Tacitly, the pastor's congregation counts him early in that tiny group and looks to him for a sign they'll be a part too. Not only is Phelps without Bible authority to designate them elect, he may not be elect himself. His ministry could be that of a reprobate. A summary of some of the objections raised to the pastor's philosophy of hate by Sample, Clark, and Karol is listed below. The text of the original exchange is contained in the appendix.
1) It rejects a 3000 year-old rabbinical interpretation of the Jacob and Esau story in favor of one of his own.
2) It mistranslates and falsely equates the words for the anger and wrath of God that so often occur in the Old Testament with a divine hatred of mankind.
3) When the Bible does speak of God hating, God is described as hating the act or the sin-not the sinner.
4) The speaker in the book of Psalms does profess hatred for the sinner- but the voice is that of the psalmist, not of God.
5) Phelps pointedly ignores the emphasis in the New Testament on love and forgiveness. One may find lichen growing on the floor of a redwood forest-but that does not make it a moor, not so long as the landscape is dominated by the giant trees.
The prophet of hate grins broadly when asked how it feels being the target of so much hatred himself now:
"You guys don't seem to understand what motivates me." He chuckles. As usual, a Bible verse serves as his answer. "Blessed are ye when men shall hate you and revile you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven." Phelps seems giddy, His words roll off his tongue in a Mississippi drawl tinged with excitement. "I love them to death," he says of those who criticize him. "If they weren't doing that, how am I going to get all that 'great is your reward in heaven'? If you are preaching the truth of God, people are going to hate you. And they can't often or always articulate why, and so they fall back on specious, insincere and false reasons for why they hate you. And you swim in a sea of lies. And I love it!"
Phelps seems to lead a euphoric life, Today he is wearing his trademark running shoes, running shorts, and shirt and tie with a nylon running jacket, sleeves rolled up to his biceps. He has just returned from a noontime picket in downtown Topeka. "If the call was good, it never goes away," he chirps, referring to the 1946 revival that called him to preaching. "I have a hard time getting to sleep some nights from pure happiness." A wide smile blossoms on his windburned face. His eyes gleam and glitter. It's hard to imagine so much happiness taking root and growing out of so much hate. "If my father's going to become a spokesman for the Christian Reform Movement, it's important Christians realize who he really is," states Mark. "What worries me most is my brothers and sisters may see him as a Christ-like figure. "He has nothing to do with Christ. He is a sad, sick man who likes to hurt people. For a long as I've known him, he has been addicted to hate." Even a cursory glance at the pastor's most recent published material would seem to beat this out. The following random excerpts from his faxes can't be defended as "scaring 'em to salvation". They are mean and hateful and nothing more:
(December 2, 1993) Next to the headline, "FAGS: GOD'S HATE SPEAKS LOUDEST", is the text: "Fag Bishop Fritz Mutti...confessed his sins to ANTICHRIST CLINTON: He raised 2 fag sons for the Devil; they died of AIDS. GOOD RIDDANCE!"
(December 9, 1993) "Court Clerk JOYCE REEVES dying of cancer? Couldn't happen to a better dyke...May explain why she's super bitchy to the help. N.Y. Fag Son TODD's arrived, looking like AIDS on a stick. Patronize his Westboro Shop and go home with AIDS?"
(December 16, 1993) [When Topeka Police Sergeant, Dave Landis, only 45 years-old and with a wife and children, was suddenly paralyzed by a stroke, Phelps found time to gloat.] "You don't scare us, Officer Landis! Not even before the Lord turned you into a limp vegetable! "Westboro Baptist will picket fag cop Landis fundraiser...Fag cop John Sams and his FOP (Phaternal Order of Phags) will try to raise $12,500 to unscramble the brain of fag cop Dave Landis...Forget it, guys! When God scrambles eggs, man can't unscramble 'em. Westboro Baptist has picketed this evil Son of Belial at the VA hospital for 4 months now; Westboro Baptist will picket his funeral to give him a proper send-off to hell..."
Many of Fred Phelps' former adversaries and law school classmates have gone on to become luminaries, while he has slowly dissolved into a disbarred lawyer and failed preacher, supported by his abused children.
The more his own life slips into the periphery, the more stridently abusive he becomes. Pastor Phelps is one of many false prophets to come who will seek to exploit the loss of faith, soul, and identity in North America. As a society that has lost its path in a steaming, sensual, violent marsh of mindless, me-first, frantic consumerism, America is entering its dark middle age stupified by television and content to let its values be formed, not by saints, heroes, and visionaries, but by default, by advertising and market forces appealing to the basest urges in each of us. Our culture has grown childish and narcissistic, slothful and irrational. With the winter of our nation will soon follow the wolves-fierce white toothed beasts come to trip the flesh of our indolence.
Fred Phelps is one of them. And in our chaos and confusion, the false prophets will claim to lead us into a new day. But by this mark we shall know them: no matter how bright their vision, always it will demand someone or group be punished before a new day can come.
The dark angels will promise a bright tomorrow but ask for blood today.
Fifty years ago, looking ahead to our time, the poet, Yates, would lament:
"The best lack all conviction and the worst
are filled with a passionate intensity."