Pastor Fred Phelps, the infamous founder of the intolerant, quasi-religious Westboro Baptist Church, apparently had a change of heart before his death.
On Thursday, Planting Peace, an anti-bullying, equal rights group that founded the Equality House directly across the street from WBC's headquarters in Topeka, Kansas, posted a message to Facebook allegedly from former WBC member Zacharias Phelps-Roper, son of Shirley Phelps-Roper. In the message, Phelps-Roper says his grandfather had an epiphany in front of the Equality House before he was voted out of the WBC. The message reads:
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." I feel like he had a change of heart after my grandmother nearly passed away, and he felt the pangs of loss ... he waited for news of her every day and night while she was in intensive care. I think this triggered a chain reaction whereby he developed great empathy for others... which would explain why he would support Planting Peace's anti-suicide and anti-bullying platforms, and their charities across the world.... I love my grandfather! And I believe people DO change, if they are inspired enough!
Zacharias Phelps-Roper spoke with HuffPost Live on Friday and discussed Fred Phelps' supposed change of heart. Although his grandfather did not specifically say anything to him, Phelps-Roper claimed "he seemed to express a change of heart" while in hospice.
"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."
The 23-year-old left the WBC earlier this month because he said he no longer believed in the group's hateful teachings.
“I feel like I have unconditional love for every person around the world,” he told the Topeka Capital Journal, adding that the WBC only points to problems in society but fails to look for solutions. “The Westboro Baptist Church sees things differently than I do now.”
President of Planting Peace Aaron Jackson told The Huffington Post in an email:
In life we should all have the goal of growing into better people every single day. Although Fred spent many years believing and teaching very destructive ideology I think this is a great example of how even the hardest of hearts can change. Although it is only a small gesture I think for someone with a perspective as staunch as his to experience transformation demonstrates that the equality movement is truly moving forward. Times are truly changing and for the better.
In March, Nate Phelps, Fred Phelps' estranged son, previously revealed his father had been excommunicated from the church after he reportedly called for "kinder treatment of fellow church members" following a power struggle between elder male board members and Shirley Phelps-Roper.
Fred Phelps died in March at 84 years old.