How should we respond to the death of Fred Phelps? Featured

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The infamous Fred Phelps The infamous Fred Phelps

Fred Phelps is dying. Although this may be a name that you do not, or did not until recently, know, it is a topic that you will almost certainly have an opinion on. Nathan Phelps, the estranged son of Fred, when announcing that he had heard of the nearing death of his father, asserted that he was ‘not sure how [he felt] about this’. He’s not the only one.


Fred Phelps is the founder of the highly controversial Westboro Baptist Church, infamous for its website,, and for extensive picketing, often of funerals (52,316 pickets to date, according to the WBC website). Now, I see the link that many will make. Phelps is one of the most contemptible characters that we are likely to encounter in our short lives. He pickets funerals, disturbing the most solemn and private of events, with anti-gay propaganda. And now he himself is dying, which means he will have a funeral himself. The opportunity for revenge seems too good to be true, doesn’t it?


For some, this will be all that is on their mind: vengeance. But for the majority, I hope, there is that small voice of conscience whispering somewhere underneath our swelling rage. Is there not something inherently wrong about celebrating the death of a person, whoever they may be? So to not only celebrate his death, but to use it as a chance to take vengeance upon him, is something that I cannot condone. Instead of emulating the man, take the moral high ground.


One of the most high-profile responses to the news of Phelps’ nearing demise is that of actor George Takei: ‘Hate never wins out in the end. It instead goes always to its lonely, dusty end.’ There is nothing to be gained from extending the hate started by Phelps; by exacting revenge upon his funeral, we would only be sinking to the level of those WBC members that we abhor so overtly. Human nature seems to tend towards a desire for punishment, revenge and inflicting pain upon those who have caused pain themselves. This may seem like justice, but I remain firmly with Takei on the matter: ‘I take no solace or joy in this man's passing.’


And after all, he will be dead. If nothing else, this means that at least one of the WBC website’s dubious statistics will hold true for the Phelps who lies inside that coffin: ‘0 - nanoseconds of sleep that WBC members lose over your opinions and feeeeellllliiiiiings.’

Dan Nuttall

English Literature student at Durham University. Will write on almost anything. Hope you enjoy!

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