CAL THOMAS: Phelps pushed counterfeit religion



My parents taught me never to speak ill of the dead, but in the case of Fred Phelps, who died last week at the age of 84, I think they would have made an exception.

The man, who will be referred to in this column without the modifier “reverend,” because there was nothing reverent about him, defined the word “odious.” He and some of his family members constituted the entire membership of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. It was BINO, Baptist in name only. Phelps and some members of his family (though not all) picketed military funerals with signs that read, “God hates fags,” “God hates Jews,” and “thank God for dead soldiers.” Phelps was an equal opportunity bigot.

The father of one dead service member went to court seeking to outlaw picketing outside churches where military funerals were held. He lost because the behavior, though deplorable, was regarded as an exercise in free speech protected by the First Amendment.

The media played a major role in promoting Phelps and his cult-like family. The outrageous, the bizarre, the twisted, especially if these things can be tied to religion, are favorite subjects of broadcast networks and newspapers. Too bad those practicing true religion do not get the kind of coverage Phelps did.

Some years ago I was the object of Phelps’ wrath. I was the speaker at the Kansas Prayer Breakfast. It was the first time I had encountered Phelps and his bigotry. I mentioned my surprise at pickets outside a prayer breakfast to then-Governor Kathleen Sibelius, who was seated next to me. She told me not to take it seriously because “they picket everybody.”

Phelps claimed to be serving God with his diatribes against people he claimed were God’s enemies. But instead of directing hatred toward people, no less a figure than Jesus of Nazareth said, “love your enemies.” Real Baptist preachers will tell you it is Satan who hates and God who loves. They will tell you that Satan is a masquerader, a fraud and a liar. Does that sound like Phelps?

If Fred Phelps were a dollar bill, the Secret Service would have arrested him for being counterfeit. His is a counterfeit religion, which bears no resemblance to true faith.

Phelps’ language is useful in one sense. He should cause everyone to examine their own words and behavior toward people whose beliefs, lifestyle choices and faith might differ from theirs.

Hate never converted anyone to another way of thinking, believing or acting. Hate does, however, give permission to some to behave in evil ways.

If even one person is beaten, killed, or otherwise harmed because Phelps’ family has encouraged them along such lines, even Baptists would say it is an affront to the real God that Phelps did not represent.

Acts 13:10 contains a verse that is applicable in Phelps’ case. Paul, the Apostle, is speaking about a man named Elymas, who he judges to be a fraud: “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?”

Substitute the name Fred Phelps for Elymas and the description fits.

Though Fred Phelps is gone, the kind of hate he preached remains. It is why hate must be opposed no matter which group, faith, ceremony, or individual is the target.

Readers may email Cal Thomas at

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  • barney fife

    Phelps certainly found enough in that ancient fictional storybook to rant and rave about — the very same ancient fictional storybook used by christians everywhere on the planet — let there be no doubts about that.


    I will now go and read Acts 13 and the surrounding chapters again…..I do find the comparison of Phelps to Elymas quite interesting. Then again, I also find some comparison to Paul in this passage as well. Phelps was after all famous for judging gay people in particular and casting his net broadly to include anyone who didn’t likewise hate gay people in the same manner as he. Phelps was an extreme example of the commonplace today. If there is anything good to come out of this man’s mission, if you can call it that, it is to serve as an example of what not to be.

  • 1941641

    Thanks Cal,
    Your comments are a stark reminder to me of the parallels between Fred Phelps-Westboro Baptist Church and the Wildmon Boys’ – AFA headquartered on the “Dark Side” of Tupelo, MS.

    Fred Phelps was notorious for graphically depicting Matthew Sheppard burning in the Fires of Hell on his website, after having been murdered by some mentally sick homophobes.

    Very recently, Don Wildmon & Son Tim’s female homophobe, Sandy Rios, has been on the AFA’s web page depicting Matthew Sheppard as being, somehow, responsible for his own brutal murder. A truly absurd, hateful, published article from Tupelo’s American Family Association.

    After it’s all considered, seems to me as though Cal Thomas failed to tell Daily Journal readers “the rest of the story” which is a great deal longer and more disgusting.

    • TWBDB

      I’m glad you brought this up. I haven’t read the AFA article but I have read others circling around the publication of the Book of Matt. I’ll save comment on that topic for another discussion.

      What is relevant to Phelps and Matthew Shepard’s case ? AFA and others have opposed hate crime legislation from the beginning, claiming this legislation would be used to limit their free speech. Yet, the Supreme Court upheld Phelps right to take Christian opposition to gay rights to the extreme after hate crime legislation was in place.