I would have preferred to not be writing about Westboro Baptist Church again so soon. But Fred Phelps, the founder of the everyone-else's-going-to-hell religious organization, is reportedly at death's door. His estranged son, Nate Phelps, posted a note on Facebook this weekend that said Fred Phelps was in hospice care and "on the edge of death."
Shockingly, Nate Phelps noted that Fred Phelps had been excommunicated from Westboro Baptist Church last summer.
And now we get this theory of why from the Topeka Capital-Journal:
Pastor Fred Waldron Phelps Sr. was excommunicated from the Westboro Baptist Church after advocating a kinder approach between church members.
The excommunication occurred after the formation of a board of male elders in the church. The board had defeated Shirley Phelps-Roper, the church’s longtime spokeswoman, in a power struggle, and Fred Phelps Sr. called for kinder treatment of fellow church members.
The board then ejected Fred Phelps Sr., who founded the church in the 1950s.
The story doesn't add many more details, just some bricklaying from Nate Phelps. Of course, Westboro Baptist declined to comment.
Without more, though, this theory seems pretty dubious. Based just on what is in the Capital-Journal story, I see a political struggle, not a theological conflict.
Significantly, advocating "kinder treatment of fellow church members" doesn't strike me as incongruent with Westboro practices. The hate-spewing for which we've come to know Westboro Baptist has always targeted -- and in the most offensive ways possible -- gays and Jews and nerds and Uncle Sam. The only time Westboro Baptist members seemed to fall under the hammer was when they broke from church doctrine (as was the case with Phelps' granddaughters).
So why would Phelps -- who built Westboro Baptist from nothing into next to nothing, into a lot of publicity over outrageous pickets, into a great deal of discomfort for Christians who shudder to call Westboro's perverted theology part of The Church -- why would he get the boot for telling the new church elders that they should treat fellow church members more kindly? (I'm not even sure what "kind" means in this context. In the church, it's about treating others with love.)
What seems more likely, is that Phelps' daughters lost a power struggle -- and the victors decided it was time for a change. That meant it was time for Fred, who represents the past, to go.
Though I hope I'm wrong. Westboro's past was nasty enough. We don't need a more extremist Westboro future.