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March 20, 2014 3

What Next for the Westboro Baptist Church?

fred phelpsThe vir­u­lently homo­pho­bic, anti-Semitic West­boro Bap­tist Church (WBC) is enter­ing a new stage now that founder and patri­arch Fred Phelps, Sr., has died. An estranged son, Nate Phelps, who first described his father’s impend­ing death on Face­book, also claimed that WBC mem­bers excom­mu­ni­cated the senior Phelps in August 2013.

WBC would not con­firm whether Fred Phelps had been excom­mu­ni­cated, assert­ing that infor­ma­tion on WBC’s mem­ber­ship was pri­vate. A March 16 press release on the group’s web­site stated that the group has no sin­gu­lar leader but is headed by an eight-member board of elders.

Accord­ing to Nate Phelps, WBC has under­gone a num­ber of changes over the last year. He claimed that ten­sions rose within WBC when the all-male board of elders mar­gin­al­ized WBC spokesper­son Shirley Phelps-Roper.  In response to the power strug­gle between Shirley and the board, Fred Phelps allegedly called for kinder treat­ment between WBC mem­bers. The board then sup­pos­edly excom­mu­ni­cated Fred.

The ongo­ing inter-family strife within the orga­ni­za­tion, if true, sig­nals a new chap­ter for WBC.  Shirley Phelps-Roper, Fred’s daugh­ter, has been the most pub­lic face of WBC and acts as a lawyer for the group, as well. Nate Phelps claimed that Shirley could never be the leader of WBC because of pas­sages in the Bible that cite women’s sub­servience to men. Another issue that could affect Shirley’s sta­tus within the church is her two daugh­ters’ very pub­lic defec­tion from the church about a year ago.

A new leader of WBC may emerge in the com­ing months now that Fred Phelps has actu­ally passed. Nate Phelps spec­u­lated that pos­si­bil­i­ties include one of Fred’s sons, Tim Phelps, or Steve Drain, a mem­ber of the church who is not part of the extended Phelps fam­ily.  In the last few months, Drain appears to have super­seded Shirley Phelps-Roper as spokesper­son for the church.

Fred Phelps’ death and Shirley Phelps Roper’s alleged mar­gin­al­iza­tion may change the pub­lic face of WBC but pre­sum­ably not its mes­sage. The church will likely con­tinue its many protests at the funer­als of sol­diers and other indi­vid­u­als and pro­mote hate towards any­one who dis­agrees with its viewpoint.

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