News reports have emerged that Fred Phelps, the founder and patriarch of the virulently anti-gay church based in Topeka, Kansas that his large extended family dominates, is near death and in a hospice facility. This is not a surprise since he is 84 years old and videos from a few years ago already showed him somewhat feeble, as if he were in poor health.
What is a surprise are other reports that he has been ‘excommunicated’ by his church, as long ago as last summer. The media have not been allowed to speak to Phelps himself and one of the church’s most active members who is not a member of the family is Steve Drain and he refused to comment on the charges of excommunication. Another usually highly visible member Shirley Phelps Roper, Phelps’s daughter and whom I thought was the de facto leader when her father’s energy declined, has been conspicuous by her absence in the media. Even though she is clearly smart and articulate and a true believer, she cannot be the official leader because according to their church the head, like the head of a household, has to be a man. I wonder if she also has fallen out of favor for some reason.
The church has been in decline for some time. As more of the younger members of the Phelps clan defected because they could no longer believe what they had been taught by their elders, the energy of the church seemed to almost visibly drain away. Those who defected were excommunicated and I cannot imagine what might have caused Phelps to be excommunicated unless he too suddenly realized that he had been mistaken all along by misreading the Bible, and this caused his followers to become upset with him for his heresy.