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Phyllis Schlafly, defender of family & unborn, dies

ST. LOUIS (BP) — Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the conservative group Eagle Forum who was known for her decades-long advocacy on behalf of the traditional family, died Sept. 5. She was 92.

Called a friend and “profound influence” by leading Southern Baptist women, Schlafly opposed the feminist movement for more than 40 years. An attorney, speaker and mother of six, she also publically opposed abortion, same-sex marriage and communism.

In addition to authoring or editing 20 books, Schlafly was a columnist, radio commentator and television commentator.

Dorothy Patterson, wife of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, told Baptist Press Schlafly was “a friend and mentor to me and thousands of other women over the decades.”

“I learned from her a sense of priority for family commitments, the value of perseverance and the conviction that ultimately we were all accountable to God for upholding the creation order and the sanctity of life,” said Patterson, a recipient in 1987 of the Eagle Forum’s Eagle Award, which honors “citizen volunteers for their dedicated work at every level of government,” according to the Eagle Forum website.

Susie Hawkins, wife of GuideStone Financial Resources President O.S. Hawkins, called Schlafly “a profound influence on the American conservative movement.”

“Brilliant, fearless and nobody’s fool, Mrs. Schlafly was a fierce defender of the rights of the unborn and other dignity of life causes,” Hawkins told BP in written comments. “As a pioneer of the movement, she unleashed conservative women’s voices onto the political battlefield during the tumultuous 70s. She will be remembered with great respect and admiration.”

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Schlafly was a chief leader in defeating the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution despite its 90-percent approval by Congress and ratification by 35 state legislatures.

The ERA would have barred denial of “equality of rights under the law” based on sex in federal and state legislation. Schlafly told a 1979 seminar hosted by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Christian Life Commission (CLC), however, it would likely be interpreted by courts to block commonsense laws supporting traditional family structure.

“Why would anybody want to tie our hands so that we can no longer give certain [legal] helps to the wife, the mother, and the widow, in order to compensate for the natural differences that women have babies, that women don’t have the same physical strength as men, and that women live longer than men?” Schlafly said according to a published copy of her address. “There are these differences between the sexes. And we should be entitled to have laws that respect those differences.”

At the time, BP noted that “some questioners from the floor took exception to some of Mrs. Schlafly’s points.”

Following the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence, however, opinions among SBC leaders seemed to change regarding Schlafly.

Upon her death, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the CLC’s successor organization, recommended via Twitter a video from the early 1970s in which a representative from the National Organization for Women “clearly underestimated” Schlafly in a debate.

Patterson said in written comments, “Phyllis was a committed Roman Catholic, and I am a devoted Baptist; but together we have been on a mission to protect the family and life itself in the midst of a world spinning out of control morally and spiritually. From our first meeting in the early 1980s in Washington D.C., she remembered my name. She inspired me to take the fight against the ERA to Southern Baptists and gave me specific assignments on how to do that.”

In 1980, the SBC adopted a resolution which “reaffirm[ed] the biblical role which stresses the equal worth but not always the sameness of function of women” and stated the convention did “not endorse the Equal Rights Amendment.”

Patterson called Schlafly “an example of the victory awaiting her winning combination of steel and velvet.”

“I salute her life and ministry,” Patterson said, “and bid her adieu with sorrow and with the reminder that as long as I breathe and live, there is a fight to be fought for all that is dear — and that includes the upcoming election. God help us as women to evaluate the candidates — even if the lesser of two unsatisfactory choices. We must vote and keep on fighting for what is right. We owe that to our friend and co-laborer Phyllis Schlafly.”

In addition to her six children, Schlafly is survived by 16 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her husband John Fred Schlafly.