Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps, who is reportedly on his death bed, was excommunicated after advocating for "a kinder approach between church members," according to the Topeka-Capital Journal.
Problems at Westboro purportedly began last August when a power struggle unfolded following the creation of a male board of elders at the church. The board found itself in a struggle with Shirley Phelps-Roper, the long-time church spokeswoman who is also one of Phelps' daughters, the outlet reported.
It was around that time that the 84-year-old pastor reportedly urged for a kinder approach between Westboro members, but was excommunicated.
A same sex couple kisses in front of Westboro Baptist Church protesters, at the U.S. Supreme Court, on March 27, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
"They took the one thing that meant everything to the man," said Nathan Phelps, one of the former preacher's estranged children who hasn't seen his father in more than three decades. "That old man and his reason to exist have gone away."
It is unclear if there were other reasons that might have led to the excommunication, which was reportedly carried out by the all-male board of elders -- a group that includes some of Fred Phelps' own family members.
It is also not clear how Phelps' estranged son has been receiving internal church information.
The Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. preaches at his Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
Nathan Phelps said that the possible power struggle has created some visible upheaval. Phelps-Roper, his sister who was once very visible as a church spokesperson, appears to no longer be serving in that role.
Additionally, he told the Capital Journal that some church members are anxious about being labeled as "contrary" to church teaching -- or of other possible judgement.
Fred Phelps, who founded Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., in 1955, has long led Westboro’s activities and rallies, so it was surprising when his estranged son, Nathan Phelps, posted on his Facebook page over the weekend that his father was officially excommunicated from the church in August 2013.
Representatives for Westboro have so far refused to definitively answer whether Fred Phelps — once a civil rights lawyer — is no longer a member, though leaders did say he is “a person of advanced age” who is in hospice care.
Read more about how Westboro handles excommunication here.
(H/T: Huffington Post)