140317094013-restricted-fred-phelps-story-topFred Phelps — the founding pastor of a Kansas church known for its virulently anti-gay protests at public events, including military funerals — has died, the church said Thursday. The 84-year-old died of natural causes at 11:15 p.m. Wednesday, according to church spokesman Steve Drain. Phelps founded Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, in 1955 and molded it in his fire-and-brimstone image. Many members of the small congregation are related to Phelps through blood or marriage. In a statement Thursday, the church chided the “world-wide media” for “gleefully anticipating the death.”  “God forbid, if every little soul at the Westboro Baptist Church were to die at this instant, or to turn from serving the true and living God, it would not change one thing about the judgments of God that await this deeply corrupted nation and world.” According to Westboro, the church has picketed more than 53,000 events, ranging from Lady Gaga concerts to funerals for slain U.S. soldiers. Typically, a dozen or so church members — including small children — will brandish signs that say “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” MORE