Beverly LaHaye, Soldier of the Christian Right, Dies at 94

Beverly LaHaye, Soldier of the Christian Right, Dies at 94

Beverly LaHaye, a pastor’s wife whose recoil from 1970s feminism led her to build an organization advancing conservative views of the family, Concerned Women for America, which became a pillar of the Christian right, waging battles against abortion, gay rights and the Equal Rights Amendment, died on Sunday in hospice in El Cajon, Calif., near San Diego. She was 94.

Concerned Women for America, which Mrs. LaHaye founded in 1979, announced her death in a statement.

In the 1980s, Mrs. LaHaye ran an office in Washington of more than 25 employees, including lawyers and lobbyists. She urged Congress to send military aid to the right-wing contras of Nicaragua; rallied her members to barrage the television networks to protest condom commercials; and testified in the Senate for President Ronald Reagan’s Supreme Court nominees Antonin Scalia and Robert Bork.

President Reagan appeared at Concerned Women of America’s 1987 convention, as Judge Bork’s nomination was facing fierce liberal opposition. He was greeted by signs stating, “All Ladies Want Bork.” (The Senate rejected him.)

“In just a few short years,” the president told Mrs. LaHaye’s crowd, “you’ve become the largest politically active women’s group in the nation.” He called Mrs. LaHaye “one of the powerhouses on the political scene today.”

She had arrived just two years earlier, moving her headquarters to Washington from California “to be closer to the center of action,” she told The Arizona Republic in 1984.

At a news conference announcing her arrival, Mrs. LaHaye said that conservative women who turned to the Bible for guidance on women’s role in the family and society — and not to the writings of Betty Friedan and other feminists — now had a public voice. “This is our message: The feminists do not speak for all women in America, and C.W.A. is here in Washington to end the monopoly of feminists who claim to speak for all women,” she said.

Groups advocating the expansion of civil rights decried Mrs. LaHaye’s activities. The Human Rights Campaign, which lobbies for the L.G.B.T.Q. community, called Concerned Women for America “a radical anti-equality organization’’ in 2014.

In some ways, Mrs. LaHaye’s life was a model of the female empowerment championed by the feminist movement. She was a working woman who got a job in the 1950s to help support her struggling husband; a homemaker who wrote of her “smoldering resentment” of housework; and the author, with her husband, of a popular marriage manual for Christian couples with advice on how to avoid “a lifetime in the sexual wilderness of orgasmic malfunction.”

Married to an evangelical pastor, Tim LaHaye, co-author of the best-selling apocalyptic “Left Behind” novels, Mrs. LaHaye founded her organization to halt the proposed Equal Rights Amendment, which would outlaw discrimination based on sex.

Conservatives argued that the E.R.A. would expose women to a military draft and pressure housewives into the work force. “When the Equal Rights Amendment says no discrimination in sexes, it means no difference in the sexes,” Mrs. LaHaye told The Chicago Tribune in 1980. “Christianity cannot agree with that.”

Despite broad bipartisan support for most of the 1970s, the E.R.A. failed to win ratification by a supermajority of states, as required by the Constitution, ahead of a 1982 deadline. Its demise was credited to conservative activists like Mrs. LaHaye and, especially, Phyllis Schlafly, head of the Eagle Forum.

In contrast to the outspoken, sharp-elbowed Mrs. Schlafly, Mrs. LaHaye projected a homespun image: Her soft voice and golden Betty White coif seemed an embodiment of the supporters she did not hesitate to call “housewives.”

But before Mrs. LaHaye was able to lead a political movement, she had to overcome a crippling timidity that led her to shrink even from leading a prayer group at her husband’s church in San Diego. Mr. LaHaye called her a turtle.

She described herself as “a fearful, introverted person with a rather poor self-image” in a 1976 Christian self-help book she wrote, “The Spirit-Controlled Woman.”

As a young wife, she went on, she had resented housework — “the endless little tasks that had to be repeated over and over again and seemed so futile.”

But rather than rebel at the limitations of the role of wife and mother, as many American women were doing in the 1960s and ’70s, Mrs. LaHaye determined that the Bible intended women to submit to their husbands and to embrace domesticity, as a way of serving Jesus.

“This is a truly liberated woman,” she concluded. “Submission is God’s design for woman.”

As Mr. LaHaye’s congregation expanded into a megachurch, Mrs. LaHaye’s confidence grew. By the mid-1970s both husband and wife were published authors; they also collaborated on the multimillion-copy hit “The Act of Marriage,” which included advice for Christian couples on sexual pleasure.

While watching a TV interview in 1978 with Ms. Friedan, the trailblazing feminist who was a founder the National Organization for Women, Mrs. LaHaye was tipped into political activism. NOW, she was quoted as saying by Christianity Today, did not speak for “average, normal and traditional women.”

She gathered a group of church women for coffee. That get-together snowballed into her national organization, which eventually grew to include hundreds of thousands of members.

Opposition to gay rights particularly energized Mrs. LaHaye. She vehemently opposed laws protecting gay men and lesbians from discrimination, and she supported barring gay men from being teachers, deploying the lie that they were more likely to prey on children. “I’m not saying they all are, but the movement itself is aggressively trying to go after boys,” she told The Chicago Tribune in 1992.

Beverly LaHaye was born Beverly Davenport in Detroit on April 30, 1929, to Lowell Davenport, a salesman, and Nell (Pitts) Davenport. Her father died when she was 2 years old, and her mother married Daniel Ratcliffe, a toolmaker. Beverly took his family name.

In 1947 she married Timothy LaHaye, a World War II veteran and a fellow student at Bob Jones University, the South Carolina evangelical school. Mrs. LaHaye moved with her husband as he was appointed pastor of churches first in Pumpkintown, S.C., then in Minneapolis and San Diego. Mr. LaHaye also sat on the board of the Moral Majority, the Christian political group founded by Jerry Falwell. He died in 2016.

Mrs. LaHaye’s survivors include the couple’s two daughters, Linda Murphy and Lori Scheck; a son, Larry; nine grandchildren; and 20 great-grandchildren. Another son, Lee, died in 2017.

Mrs. LaHaye stepped down as president of Conservative Women for America in 2006 and retired from its board in 2020.

In a 1992 profile, The Chicago Tribune noted that Mrs. LaHaye projected an image of “spun sugar.” But she sipped from a coffee mug that told a different story: “Boss Lady.”

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