By Trudy Ring
Originally published on Advocate.com May 23 2014 1:00 PM ET
It sounds far-fetched, but Fred Phelps’s grandson swears it’s true – the notoriously homophobic preacher recanted his hatred of gays shortly before his death.
The grandson, Zacharias Phelps-Roper, sent a message to that effect to Equality House, an LGBT-supportive project of nonprofit group Planting Peace, located in a rainbow-colored house across the street from the Phelps family’s Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. Equality House shared it on its Facebook page last night.
“Fred W. Phelps, my grandfather, came out in support of the Equality House before he was voted out of WBC,” Phelps-Roper wrote. “Specifically, on the day that he was excommunicated, he stood outside of the front door of the church (but not within anyone’s earshot but a few members of WBC who happened to be in the immediate vicinity) ... I say, he spoke words to this effect to the Equality House: ‘You are good people.’”
Zacharias, son of church leader Shirley Phelps-Roper, says he believes his grandfather developed a sense of empathy after his wife’s serious illness. “I love my grandfather! And I believe people DO change, if they are inspired enough!” he concluded in the post. Zacharias, 23, left the Westboro congregation in February because he objected to the church’s hateful stances.
The report of Fred Phelps’s transformation has met with some skepticism. Nathan Phelps, a long-estranged son of the minister who is now an LGBT rights advocate, commented on the Facebook post by saying, “It’s the first I’m hearing of it. … It’s hard to know what to believe.”
Appearing on HuffPost Live today, Zacharias Phelps-Roper said his grandfather “seemed to express a change of heart” while in hospice care, although he did not say anything specific to his grandson. “I think that he got over that [homophobia],” he told host Marc Lamont Hill. “I don’t think he hated homosexuals by that point. Planting Peace, you know, the fact that it’s a rainbow house kind of implies that maybe there is a homosexual connection there. So yeah, I figured that he was supporting them too. The day that he was excommunicated my family took great notice of that and they called it rank blasphemy that he was coming out in support of the homosexuals.”
Fred Phelps, who died in March, was reportedly excommunicated by Westboro last August after a power struggle with other church leaders. The small congregation was infamous for its antigay demonstrations, including protests at the funerals of people with AIDS, hate-crime victims such as Matthew Shepard, and members of the U.S. military, as the church claimed military deaths were God’s punishment for the nation’s tolerance of LGBT people. The slogan “God Hates Fags” appeared so frequently on its protest signs that it became synonymous with the church.
Below, watch Zacharias Phelps-Roper’s appearance on HuffPost Live.