fred phelps
Gay hate pastor Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church on deathbedBBC/YouTube

Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps Sr is on his deathbed in Kansas, his atheist son Nathan Phelps has announced on Facebook.

Posting on the social network, Nathan said his 84-year-old father is dying at a hospice in Topeka, seven months after being excommunicated from the extreme Christian church.

"I've learned that my father, Fred Phelps Sr, pastor of the 'God Hates Fags' WBC, was ex-communicated from the 'church' back in August of 2013. He is now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas.

"I'm not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.

"I feel sad for all the hurt he's caused so many. I feel sad for those who will lose the grandfather and father they loved. And I'm bitterly angry that my family is blocking the family members who left from seeing him, and saying their good-byes."

Nathan Phelps
Excommunicated pastor's atheist son Nathan Phelps announced his health condition.Facebook/Nathan Phelps

Nathan Phelps left the church 37 years ago. He is one of Fred Phelps' five children and announced he was an atheist in 2012, following the events of 9/11.

It is currently unclear what Fred Phelps Sr is suffering from, but a statement issued to the Topeka Capital-Journal said he was experiencing respiratory difficulties and that he is "unresponsive".

According to the Journal, after Phelps was ousted from the Church, he was moved into a house where he was monitored to ensure he did not harm himself. He eventually stopped eating and drinking, the newspaper said.

WBC is yet to comment on the state of their former leader's wellbeing, but announced he was healthy just a month ago. Steve Drain told the Journal he was "healthy" on two separate occasions.

"We don't owe any talk to you about that," Drain said of Nathan Phelps' announcement. "We don't discuss our internal church dealings with anybody. It's only because of his notoriety that you are asking."

Who is Fred Phelps Sr?

fred phelps
WBC founder Fred Phelps in 2002Rudolf 1922

Fred Phelps founded the WBC in 1955. Born in 1929 in Mississippi, he graduated with the highest academic honours at the age of 16. After what he called 'a profound religious experience', he enrolled for Bible training instead of joining the West Point Military Academy. He met his wife Margie in 1951 while preaching in Arizona.

Before the foundation of the church, he had become known as a civil rights lawyer. However, he was disbarred in 1979 by the Kansas Supreme Court and his licence to practice law was taken from him in 1989.

His infamy grew in 2007 following a Louis Theroux BBC documentary about Phelps and his beliefs, called The Most Hated Family in America. In the film, Theroux followed the family and discovered what the Church stands for.

Among his findings, Theroux showed how the church believes homosexuality is the root of all evil.

Church members are famously known for picketing at the funerals of gay soldiers, carrying banners with slogans such as "Thank God for IEDs".

Who will continue the West Baptist Church legacy?

Fred Phelps jr
Fred Phelps Jr continuing the family tradition of homophobiaReuters

Nathan Phelps told the Journal he is convinced the Church will continue long after his father dies, with Topeka lawyer Pedro Irigonegaray agreeing. He said the members are "very committed" to their cause, saying they are "divinely driven" and that "it may be difficult for them to abandon (an identity) they've adopted as their reason for existing".

Despite the Church's rule that women are subservient to men, it is thought Fred Phelps' daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper, 56, might replace her father as leader. Barry Crawford, professor of religion at Washburn University, said: "She seems to be a pretty authoritative figure in the church."

At present the WBC has no leader, with various male elders sharing the preaching duties.

Explaining what will happen after Fred Phelps' death, Nathan Phelps said it will raise a big issue, as one of its beliefs is that no member will ever die: "They fully expected that Christ is going to return, and they are going to be taken up with him because they think that death is a judgment from God. So far, that illusion has held because none of them has passed."