Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Fred Phelps, Lover of the Gayz

It’s possible you’ve heard by now the news of Fred Phelps alleged late-in-life conversion to LGBT equality. Actually, that might be overstating things. Zacharias Phelps-Roper, grandson of Phelps and former member of the Westboro Baptist Church, published a statement via the Equality House Facebook page that stated that his grandfather had a change of heart just prior to his excommunication from the church.

I have conflicted feelings about this. (Assuming it’s true. All we really have at this point is the word of Zacharias Phelps-Roper.) One the one hand, I don’t want to be too chipper about this. Phelps spent his life building a hateful organization that has done a lot of emotional damage to LGBT people. Absolutely nothing should eclipse that.

On the other hand, I can’t help but look at this as something of a moral victory for LGBT rights activists. As someone who spent a lot of energy during her college, grad school, and post-school years on activism, I know how demoralizing it can be. It’s really easy to lose all your energy. In my experience, even at our most successful, my activist groups were only successful at the margins. Working so hard for such small gains is hard to take over the long term.

But if this is true – if Fred Phelps came around in the end – that’s one of those victories that all LGBT activists can take part in. No matter how small you think your activism is, it potentially contributed to changing the mind of the most notorious hater in the country. That kind of things gives me hope.

I realize that it’s possible for me to feel this way because I was never the target of Phelps’ hate. Please feel free to tell me how wrong I am.

What do you think? Is it possible to acknowledge a too late change of heart without whitewashing a legacy of hate? Do you even buy this Phelps family development? Does this change how you view Phelps and the WBC?

Featured image credit: John Lemieux via Flickr


Mindy is an attorney and Managing Editor of Teen Skepchick. She hates the law and loves stars. You can follow her on Twitter and on Google+.

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  1. I’m trying not to be too eager to believe this. Try as I might the words “Lady Hope story” are going through my head.

    If true, and it’s a big if… well, it’s better than NOT having a change of heart. But not all that much better. Intent is good but it doesn’t erase action.

    1. I was never convinced that Phelps was really anything more than a publicity seeker. He was a racist and then when that became passe he realized that hating gays would get more publicity.

      As for the excommunication, recanting his earlier hate would seem like the most likely explanation. He probably worked out it would get him even more publicity.

      Whatever the explanation, seems unlikely the ‘church’ will survive long.

  2. I’m a little suspicious. More likely they said this in order to justify abandoning their protests in hope to get off the most-hated church list. Also, too little too late. Life is a balancing act and one tiny blip of remorse doesn’t erase years of active hatemongering.

    1. “More likely they said this in order to justify abandoning their protests in hope to get off the most-hated church list.”

      I understand being suspicious, but not for this reason. The statement comes not from the church or any “they”, but via a grandson who is a FORMER member of the church; he thus has no say in whether Westboro continues holding protests or not, and surely has little interest in manufacturing excuses for them.

  3. Seems plausible, since as far as I know no reason for the excommunication has been released.

  4. I think, if true, it’s an interesting tidbit in terms of showing just how accepted gay rights are becoming – even Fred Phelps was onboard in his later years. However, I think it’s important we don’t whitewash the history of the WBC. Mentioning his possible deathbed “conversion” should be an aside in his overall biography of hate – not the focus.

  5. As much as I’d like it to be true, and when facing death Phelps finally realized how petty his life’s cause had been, I’m extremely leery of deathbed conversion tales after having engaged with the anti-science crowd for so long. It would be a nice twist since usually religious people act as though atheists are just naturally going to turn to their particular religion when we’re facing imminent death.If Phelps’s stance against us in the LGBT community changed it wouldn’t be for selfish reasons but more likely would be due to actual understanding… Though even that’s probably wishful thinking.

  6. Obviously this doesn’t make up for all the crap he put us through, but it’s not impossible and if it’s true I would call it a victory.

    It’s very, very hard for someone to admit to being wrong, especially after being the cause of so much pain. If someone has the guts to eat crow and realize that they’ve done something terrible, we should always praise that.

    It’s a shame he didn’t live long enough to suit actions to words. If he’d been a turn-around story, that would have been a real amazing thing.

    1. To add to that, take the hypothetical on – say he’d survived and started speaking against the practices of the Church.
      While that doesn’t erase the, it’s a huge deal – someone who “comes over” from the dark side is always an extremely powerful messenger.

  7. Even the linked story doesn’t say he “came around”. It said that he went to Equality House and, out of earshot of all but a few WBC members, said “you are good people”. Even if true, that’s a very, very long way from changing his views or on the direction of the church.
    I believe that Phelps-Roper loves his grandfather, as he said, and wants to think the best of him. I don’t believe this is evidence of some kind of laudable deathbed change of heart. His excommunication also seems to have stemmed from an internal power struggle, and for his allegedly insisting on a ‘kinder’ treatment ‘between church members’. Nothing to do with being less hateful towards LGBTs.

  8. Phelps senior was a deranged, evil, piece of shit long before he found homophobia as his core belief. He built up some of his early following backing civil rights cases. Only to sue colleges for ‘reverse discrimination’ in order to force them to accept his underqualified offspring.

    If he ‘changed’ again at the end, one can be pretty sure it was for no sound reason and was without any moral improvement. I recall from reports that he sided with his daughter Shirley against an all-male cabal over the succession in Westboro Baptist. The new group then excommunicated him.

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