Timothy Francis LaHaye was born on April 27, 1926, in Detroit, Michigan to Frank LaHaye, a Ford auto worker who died in 1936 of a heart attack, and Margaret LaHaye (née Palmer). His father's death had a significant influence on LaHaye, who was only nine years old at the time. He had been inconsolable until the minister at the funeral said, "This is not the end of Frank LaHaye; because he accepted Jesus Christ, the day will come when the Lord will shout from heaven and descend, and the dead in Christ will rise first and then we'll be caught up together to meet him in the air."
LaHaye later said that, upon hearing those remarks, "all of a sudden, there was hope in my heart I'd see my father again."
LaHaye enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces in 1944, at the age of 18, after he finished night school. He served in the European Theater of Operations as a machine gunner aboard a bomber.
In 1950, LaHaye received a Bachelor of Arts from Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. LaHaye held the Doctor of Ministry degree from Western Seminary and a Doctor of Literature from Liberty University. He served as a pastor in Pumpkintown, South Carolina, and after that he pastored a congregation in Minneapolis until 1956. After that, the LaHaye family moved to San Diego, California, where he served as pastor of the Scott Memorial Baptist Church (now called Shadow Mountain Community Church) for nearly 25 years. In 1971, he founded Christian Heritage College, now known as San Diego Christian College.
In 1972, LaHaye helped establish the Institute for Creation Research at Christian Heritage College in El Cajon, California, along with Henry M. Morris.
LaHaye started numerous groups to promote his views, having become involved in politics at the Christian Voice during the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1979, he encouraged Jerry Falwell to found the Moral Majority and sat on its board of directors. LaHaye's wife, Beverly, founded Concerned Women for America, a conservative Christian women's activist group.
Then in 1981, he left the pulpit to concentrate his time on politics and writing. That year, he helped found the Council for National Policy (CNP) a policy making think tank in which membership is only available through invitation; it has been reported "the most powerful conservative organization in America you've never heard of," and should not be confused with the liberal Center for National Policy.
In the 1980s, LaHaye founded the American Coalition for Traditional Values and the Coalition for Religious Freedom. He founded the Pre-Tribulation Research Center along with Thomas Ice in 1998. The center is dedicated to producing material that supports a dispensationalist, pre-tribulation interpretation of the Bible. He and his wife had connections to the John Birch Society, a conservative, anti-communist group.
LaHaye also took more direct roles in presidential politics. He supported Ronald Reagan's elections as United States president. He was a co-chairman of Jack Kemp's 1988 presidential bid but was removed from the campaign after four days when anti-Catholic views which he had expressed became known. LaHaye played a significant role in getting the Religious Right to support George W. Bush for the presidency in 2000. In 2007, he endorsed Mike Huckabee during the primaries and served as his spiritual advisor.
LaHaye is best known for the Left Behind series of apocalyptic fiction that depicts the Earth after the pretribulation rapture which Premillennial Dispensationalists believe the Bible states, multiple times, will occur. The books were LaHaye's brainchild, though Jerry B. Jenkins, a former sportswriter with numerous other works of fiction to his name, did the actual writing of the books from LaHaye's notes. Jenkins has said, "I write the best I can. I know I'm never going to be revered as some classic writer. I don't claim to be C. S. Lewis. The literary-type writers, I admire them. I wish I was smart enough to write a book that's hard to read, you know?"
The series, which started in 1995 with the first novel, includes 12 titles in the adult series, as well as juvenile novels, audio books, devotionals, and graphic novels. The books have been very popular, with total sales surpassing 65 million copies as of July 2016. Seven titles in the adult series have reached No. 1 on the bestseller lists for The New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly. Jerry Falwell said about the first book in the series: "In terms of its impact on Christianity, it's probably greater than that of any other book in modern times, outside the Bible." The best-selling series has been compared to the equally popular works of Tom Clancy and Stephen King: "the plotting is brisk and the characterizations Manichean. People disappear and things blow up."
LaHaye indicates that the idea for the series came to him one day circa 1994, while he was sitting on an airplane and observed a married pilot flirting with a flight attendant. He wondered what would befall the pilot if the Rapture happened at that moment. The first book in the series opens with a similar scene. He sold the movie rights for the Left Behind series and later stated he regretted that decision, because the films turned out to be "church-basement videos", rather than "a big-budget blockbuster" that he had hoped for.
In 2001, LaHaye co-hosted with Dave Breese the prophecy television program The King Is Coming. In 2001, LaHaye gave $4.5 million to Liberty University to build a new student center and School of Prophecy, which opened in January 2002 and was named after LaHaye. He also served as its president.
He provided funds for the LaHaye Ice Center on the campus of Liberty University, which opened in January 2006.
LeHaye's book The Rapture was released on June 6, 2006, in order to capitalize on a 6-6-6 connection.
Tim LaHaye married activist and fellow author Beverly Ratcliffe in 1947 while attending Bob Jones University.
In July 2016, the LaHayes celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary. They had four children - Linda, Larry, Lee, and Lori - and nine grandchildren, and lived in the Los Angeles area. LeHayes owned a home in Rancho Mirage, California.
LaHaye died on July 25, 2016 in a hospital in San Diego, California, after suffering from a stroke, aged 90. In addition to his wife, Beverly, he was survived by four children, nine grandchildren, 16 great grandchildren, a brother (Richard LaHaye), and a sister. His funeral service took place at Shadow Mountain Community Church on August 12, 2016, with Dr. David Jeremiah, who succeeded LaHaye as pastor at what was then Scott Memorial Baptist Church, led the service. LaHaye is interred at Miramar National Cemetery in San Diego, California.
In 1978 LaHaye published The Unhappy Gays, which was later retitled What Everyone Should Know About Homosexuality. The book called homosexuals "militant, organized" and "vile." The Unhappy Gays also argues that gays share 16 pernicious traits, including "incredible promiscuity", "deceit", "selfishness", "vulnerability to sadism-masochism", and "poor health and an early death." He believed that homosexuality can be cured. However, he said that such conversions are rare.
LaHaye believed that the Illuminati is secretly engineering world affairs. In Rapture Under Attack he wrote:
I myself have been a forty-five year student of the satanically-inspired, centuries-old conspiracy to use government, education, and media to destroy every vestige of Christianity within our society and establish a new world order. Having read at least fifty books on the Illuminati, I am convinced that it exists and can be blamed for many of man's inhumane actions against his fellow man during the past two hundred years.
The Illuminati is just one of many groups that he believed are working to "turn America into an amoral, humanist country, ripe for merger into a one-world socialist state." Other secret societies and liberal groups working to destroy "every vestige of Christianity", according to LaHaye, include: the Trilateral Commission, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, "the major TV networks, high-profile newspapers and newsmagazines," the State Department, major foundations (Rockefeller, Carnegie, Ford), the United Nations, "the left wing of the Democratic Party", Harvard, Yale "and 2,000 other colleges and universities."
LaHaye has been criticized for his apocalyptic beliefs, in which he asserts the end of the world is near. Other believers in dispensational premillennialism, who believe that the return of Jesus is imminent, criticize various aspects of his theology, saying he has "some real problems with his prophetical teachings in the Left Behind series." It is noted that "in books 8 & 9, LaHaye and Jenkins teach that [non-willing] recipients of the mark of the beast can still be saved". However, in The Mark, "the Chang scenario" is developed, whereby a character receives both the mark of the beast and the sealing of the Lord. In Desecration, his dual-marking was justified in the storyline." This has led some readers to wonder "how a Christian can have the mark of the beast and still be saved" and has been asked many times by perplexed readers on the Left Behind messageboard. Attempts to address this question have appeared on the FAQ page at LeftBehind.com.
Many mainstream Christians and certain other evangelicals had broader disagreements with the series as a whole, pointing out that "most biblical scholars largely reject the eschatological assumptions of this kind of pop end-times literature." Others say that LaHaye portrays the Book of Revelation with a selective literalism, choosing to take some things literally (such as the violence) and others as metaphor (the Beast) as it suits his point of view. In The Rapture Exposed by Barbara Rossing, a number of criticisms are raised regarding the series, particularly its focus on violence.
Robert M. Price, a professor of biblical criticism for the Council for Secular Humanism's Center for Inquiry Institute and a proponent of the Christ myth theory, wrote a critique of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins's 'Left Behind' novels called The paperback apocalypse, How the Christian church was left behind ("The paperback apocalypse examines the theological framework of popular eschatology, comparing it with the texts to which it erroneously appeals.").
LaHaye was a harsh critic of Roman Catholicism, which he called "a false religion". In his 1973 book Revelation Illustrated and Made Plain, he stated that the Catholic Church "is more dangerous than no religion because she substitutes religion for truth" and "is also dangerous because some of her doctrines are pseudo-Christian." Elsewhere the same book compared Catholic ceremonies to pagan rituals. It was these statements that were largely responsible for LaHaye's dismissal from Jack Kemp's presidential campaign. It was later revealed that the San Diego church that LaHaye had pastored throughout the 1970s had sponsored an anti-Catholic group called Mission to Catholics; one of their pamphlets asserted that Pope Paul VI was the "archpriest of Satan, a deceiver, and an antichrist, who has, like Judas, gone to his own place."
The issue of anti-Catholicism also comes up in regard to the Left Behind series. While the fictional Pope John XXIV was raptured, he is described as having "stirred up controversy in the church with a new doctrine that seemed to coincide more with the 'heresy' of Martin Luther than with the historic orthodoxy they were used to," and this is implied as the reason he was raptured. His successor, Pope Peter II becomes Pontifex Maximus of Enigma Babylon One World Faith, an amalgamation of all remaining world faiths and religions.
In Book 9 of the series, The Desecration, Carpathia, the villain, specifically refutes all happenings at Jesus' crucifixion that are part of the Catholic stations of the Cross but not in the canonical gospels, further undercutting the Catholic traditions. Other Catholic writers have said that while the books aren't "anti-Catholic per se" they reflect LaHaye's other writings on the subject.
Despite his anti-Catholic views, he praised traditionalist Catholic director Mel Gibson's 2004 film The Passion of the Christ, saying that "Everyone should see this movie. It could be Hollywood's finest achievement to date." He also endorsed Catholic convert Newt Gingrich for president in 2012.
In the 1980s he was criticized by the evangelical community for accepting money from Bo Hi Pak, a longtime Sun Myung Moon operative. He was additionally criticized for joining Moon's Council for Religious Freedom, which was founded to protest Moon's 1984 imprisonment. In 1996, LaHaye's wife spoke at an event sponsored by Moon.
Time Magazine named LaHaye one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America, and in the summer of 2001, the Evangelical Studies Bulletin named him the most influential Christian leader of the preceding quarter century.