The Gospel according to Fred

The Topeka Capital-Journal
By Joe Taschler and Steve Fry

Fred Phelps believes homosexuals who willfully and deliberately engage in sodomy should be executed.

If that idea astounds you or makes you mad, congratulations. You have made Phelps a very happy man.

"I rejoice when people get mad at me," Phelps, 64, said during an interview. The disbarred lawyer and Baptist preacher is on a mission from God. His face lights up like a child's on Christmas morning when he talks about how the community has reacted to his anti-homosexual picketing and faxes.

"That theme is powerful in the scriptures -- that if you are preaching the truth of God, people are going to hate you," Phelps said.

The Bible supports the death penalty for sodomy, he contends. "I'm not urging anybody to kill anybody." But the matter of factly explained his belief that homosexual sodomy should be a crime punishable by death based on his interpretation of the Bible.

The death penalty was violently carried out by God on a massive scale when the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire and brimstone, Phelps said. "I am inclined to the view that the closer man's laws come to God's laws, the better off our race will be."

Phelps is a realistic man. He admits chances of getting the death penalty for sodomy in Kansas is remote.

"To get that penalty raised -- enhanced to the death penalty -- when you can't even get the death penalty in Kansas for murdering police officers, is too remote to talk about." Phelps made the comment prior to the 1994 Kansas Legislature passing the death penalty. Under the new law, one of the crimes punishable by death is killing a police officer.

Loving the Hate

The Rev. Fred W. Phelps Sr. identifies with the prophets and martyrs of the Bible. He has a commanding presence and is a mesmerizing speaker.

He runs 6.2 miles a day. The strongest thing he drinks is what he calls a "vitamin C cocktail" consisting of vitamin C, Diet Pepsi and water. Phelps basks in the glow of community anger and outrage over his anti-homosexual pickets and fax campaign.

On this particular day, he is estatic: His message is going to be reported by the largest news outlet in Topeka. Phelps is charming, willing to answer any question. His usual booming voice is reduced to a croak by a cold snap. He is polite and accommodating as he sits behind a huge desk in his office on the second floor of his Westboro Baptist Church, 3701 S.W. 12th. Two large ceiling fans spin slowly and silently overhead. The room is comfortable, the conversation polite. The message is absolute and not to be disputed.

Small and nondescript, the church sanctuary has a full-immersion baptismal pool. The facility is clean and well-kept. The back yards of several homes owned by people associated with the church surround church property to form a courtyard containing an in-ground pool, a track and a trampoline. All of the homes are connected by a wooden privacy fence.

Phelps is clearly proud of his church, its surrounding and his religious library, which includes several 350-year-old books, works of Martin Luther and the 400 hymns of John Newton, composer of "Amazing Grace."

Phelps quotes the Bible verbatim and gloats over his vast knowledge of biblical passages. While searching for a Bible verse, Phelps says he has 50 translations of the Bible and is equally good at preaching from every one of them.

He is amused by the question he is asked this particular day, as if small children are asking them. He is toying with his questioners. "You guys don't seem to understand what motivates me," he says chuckling. A Bible verse -- as usual -- serves as his answer: "Blessed are ye when men shall hate you and revile you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven. For so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." The Bible quote is tinged in Mississippi drawl as it rolls off Phelps' tongue.

Phelps smiles broadly when asked how he felt being the target of so much hatred in Topeka. He is giddy. "I love them to death," Phelps says of people who criticize him. "If they weren't doing that, how am I going to get all that 'great is your reward in heaven?'"

He says the criticism heaped on him is convincing evidence of his righteousness. "If you are preaching the truth of God, people are going to hate you. And they can't often or always articulate why, and so they fall back on specious, insincere and false reasons why they hate you. And you swim in a sea of lies. And I love it!"

Phelps believes he is a modern-day prophet.

"Nobody has the right, in my view, to think he's preaching the truth of God unless people hate him. All the prophets were treated that way," Phelps said.

"If you're preaching the truth, there's something in the warp and woof of Adam's fallen race that rebels against it until convinced of it by moral persuasion, and they find ways to get mad at you."

Warp and woof are defined as the threads of fabric and also as the underlying structure upon which something is built.

All the while, Phelps is speaking in a voice reminiscent of an impassioned trial lawyer and fire-and-brimstone preacher. His diction and tone are spellbinding and chilling. He doesn't stumble over any of his words.

Phelps said he and his family have been hated and persecuted almost from the time they arrived in Topeka in 1954. "The more opposition we get the more committed we get," said one of his daughters, Elizabeth Phelps, a lawyer.

There is nothing, short of the elimination of homosexuality in the world, that will make them stop their pickets and fax campaign, Fred Phelps said. "We're going to preach this word, the same thing I've been preaching for 46 years, and it's supremely, supremely irrelevant to us what anybody thinks or says. You get a little bit of this message I'm preaching, you can't ask for anything more. God hates fags. That's a synopsis."

America Doomed

The world, and the United States in particular, are dismal moral failures, according to Fred Phelps.

Most Americans and most of the world's inhabitants are headed for hell, Phelps believes. "I believe this Adamic race is doomed. It's fallen and depraved and sinful. No hope for it whatever to save itself."

Phelps said his first duty is to be faithful to God, but his second duty is to save America by pointing out its sinful ways.

"I am powerfully persuaded that what I'm preaching is the only thing that will save this country. That's what I've got to do, satisfy my marching orders so to speak. And the best chance anybody has of getting to heaven is to listen to this stuff I'm telling them."

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