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In Theory: On the legacy of Fred Phelps

March 27, 2014

Fred Phelps, the founder the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. who was known for his fire-and-brimstone anti-gay public protests — as many as 53,000 of them since 1991, according to church officials — died March 19 at the age of 84.

Q: What do you think will be his legacy, or impact on religion in 21st century America?

Fred Phelps was a man who had zero positive impact to the history of Christendom.

His unpalatable brand of Christianity was valid fodder for critics of any organized religion. His cultural presence eclipsed the size of his following. Because of his skill in media manipulation, he took a wild fringe group and placed them center stage as the counterpoint to the gay civil rights movement. He will reside in the conscious of our nation for decades to come as the definition of what it means to be both loveless and self-righteous.


Ultimately Fred Phelps' legacy is hate. Yet, he did not succeed in getting the world to hate the same people he did. Instead, he gave us someone to hate and we are worse off for having fallen into his trap.

David Derus
Fuller Theological Seminary

Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which any lasting life-impact must be built. Any person’s life that is not built upon honoring and serving him will fade into obscurity. Paul the apostle wrote: “each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work which he has built upon it [that is, the foundation of Christ] remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:13-15). Romans 14:4 warns us to be careful in evaluating another’s life: “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”

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