Tim LaHaye Dies at 90; Fundamentalist Leader’s Grisly Novels Sold Millions

The New York Times/July 25, 2016

By Robert D. McFadden

The Rev. Tim LaHaye, a leader of the Christian fundamentalist movement and co-author of the best-selling “Left Behind” series of apocalyptic novels prophesying mass slaughters and the end of the world, died on Monday in a San Diego area hospital. He was 90.

His death, days after he had a stroke, was announced on the website for his Tim LaHaye Ministries.

In an age of seemingly endless natural and man-made disasters, the action-packed tales by Dr. LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins struck readers as all too realistic, even if they were based on biblical accounts of the Second Coming, the appearance of an Antichrist and multitudes leaving a calamitous dying world for heaven.

Some critics said that the books, with potboiler plots, characters in conflict and plenty of violence, elevated the sermonizing of old-fashioned Christian fiction into the realms of modern page-turning thrillers by John Grisham, Tom Clancy or Stephen King. Others called them tedious, fatuous, preposterous and exploitative.

And there were darker interpretations by critics who detected anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism and other religious biases in Scriptural adaptations that focused on questions of death, resurrection, salvation and immortality from a strictly Christian fundamentalist point of view.

The series — 16 volumes that appeared between 1995 and 2007, including sequels, prequels, children’s versions and translations into many languages, as well as spinoff movies, DVDs, audio dramatizations, video games and clothing — sold more than 65 million copies and was perhaps the most commercially successful Christian fiction in publishing history.

They made fortunes for Dr. LaHaye, who created the series and drafted outlines for the stories based on the Books of Isaiah, Ezekiel and Revelations, and for Mr. Jenkins, a former sportswriter who did the actual writing. Dr. LaHaye also wrote or helped write about 50 other books of fiction and nonfiction, and Mr. Jenkins nearly 100 books, including biographies of sports figures.

An evangelical minister in Southern California for decades, Dr. LaHaye turned to politics in the late 1970s, promoting Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition of America and the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. In the 1980s, he gathered 100,000 ministers into the American Coalition for Traditional Values and founded the Council for National Policy, a secretive forum that strategized about turning America to the right.

He also joined political campaigns. In 1987, he was honorary national co-chairman of Representative Jack Kemp’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, but quit after published reports quoted anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish passages in his writings. Dr. LaHaye helped muster the religious right for George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential race, and supported former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

Dr. LaHaye, on Mr. Huckabee’s talk show on Fox News in April 2011, said President Obama’s policies were bringing America “closer to the apocalypse,” adding: “He doesn’t understand that some of the things he’s introducing that many of us call ‘raw socialism’ — it’s a different name, but it’s essentially government control and government domination over everything.”

“Are we living in the end of times, from your perspective?” asked Mr. Huckabee.

“Very definitely, governor,” Dr. LaHaye said.

Timothy LaHaye was born in Detroit on April 27, 1926, one of three children of Frank and Margaret Palmer LaHaye. His father, a Ford autoworker, died when Timothy was 9, and his mother went to work at Ford. He attended public schools and began preaching while working at a summer camp. He joined the Army Air Force in 1944 and was a machine-gunner on bombers in Europe.

In 1947, while attending Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., he married a fellow student, Beverly Ratcliffe. They had two daughters, Linda and Lori, and two sons, Larry and Lee. They survive him, as do a brother, Richard; a sister, Margaret White; nine grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

After earning a bachelor’s degree at Bob Jones in 1950, he received a doctorate at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Mich. He served a congregation in Minneapolis until 1956, then moved to San Diego and for 25 years was pastor of the Scott Memorial Baptist Church in El Cajon, Calif. He also founded several religious schools and the Christian Heritage College. He lived in central California, in Hume, near Kings Canyon National Park.

In the 1970s, Dr. LaHaye wrote books on marriage and family life, depression and homosexuality. He was a harsh critic of Roman Catholicism, calling it a “false religion” and “pseudo-Christian,” and likened its rites to pagan rituals. In the 1980s, he wrote books on anger management, education and politics.

He met Mr. Jenkins in 1992 and proposed that they turn biblical prophesies into futuristic thrillers. Mr. Jenkins, an evangelical Christian, had written for Reader’s Digest and Parade magazines and composed adult and children’s fiction. Their collaboration produced its first book, “Left Behind,” in 1995.

The series revolves around “end times,” when those who have “accepted Christ” are “raptured” and leave behind a world in “Tribulation” — one that is engulfed in seven years of catastrophes and ruled by an Antichrist, the head of the United Nations, who sets up a global government with one religion and one currency.

The novels’ hero, his daughter, their pastor and a young journalist go on a quest to save the lost and to prepare for the Second Coming of Christ, who will reign for 1,000 years, ending with a battle, Armageddon, and Heaven on Earth.

The authors portrayed Jesus as a fearsome warrior who eviscerates millions of unbelievers in grisly detail, casting Hindus, Muslims, Jews, agnostics and anyone not a born-again Christian into the fires. “It was as if the Lord had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skin,” they wrote. “Even as they struggled, their own flesh dissolved, their eyes melted and their tongues disintegrated.”

As the series unfolded, usually with a book every year, interest in “end times” surged around the turn of the millennium, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, tsunamis and earthquakes. Tyndale House, the evangelical Christian publisher, spent millions on marketing; sales swollen by secular audiences rivaled the “Harry Potter” books. Most spent months on best-seller lists, several simultaneously.

Many theologians and scholars called the novels a simplistic and dangerous interpretation of Scripture. But Dr. LaHaye said that his only mission was to spread the Gospel by showing the gruesome perdition ahead for unbelievers and the merciful salvation awaiting faithful Christians.

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