Florida TV Preacher D. James Kennedy Leaves Theocratic Legacy

Florida-based TV preacher D. James Kennedy, a persistent advocate of the Religious Right’s “Christian America” view, died Sept. 5 at age 76.

Kennedy, whose Coral Ridge Ministries is based in Fort Lauderdale, suffered cardiac arrest on Dec. 28, 2006. He went into rehabilitation but was not able to return to the pulpit. His family reported that he died in his sleep early in the morning.

Although not as well known as some other figures on the theocratic right, Kennedy played a pivotal role in the rise of the Religious Right. He helped launch Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in the late 1970s, and his ministry over the years pumped out books, pamphlets, tapes, DVDs and other items blasting church-state separation, legal abortion, gay rights, evolution and other targets of the far right.

In the mid-1990s, Kennedy joined with other Religious Right leaders to form the Alliance Defense Fund, now one of the nation’s largest Religious Right legal groups. For a number of years, he ran his own overtly political group, the Center for Reclaiming America for Christ. A Washington, D.C.-based Center for Christian Statesmanship was also opened. (Both groups ceased operations earlier this year.)

Kennedy was upfront about his views, which were quite extreme. He outlined his thoughts in dozens of books and pamphlets published over his long career.

Kennedy had nothing but contempt for the concept of church-state separation. In a 1994 book, Character & Destiny: A Nation In Search of Its Soul, he called church-state separation “diabolical,” a “false doctrine” and “a lie” propagated by Thomas Jefferson.

Lapsing into Red-baiting, Kennedy wrote, “This phrase does not appear in the United States Constitution at all, but in Article 52 of the Constitution of the Soviet Union – now the Soviet disunion. Defunct, because they tried to get rid of God.”

A 1996 Kennedy tome, The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail: The Attack On Christianity And What You Need To Know To Combat It, coauthored with Jerry Newcombe, is perhaps even more strident. It calls the wall of separation a “great deception [that] has been used to destroy much of the religious freedom and liberty this country has enjoyed since its inception.”

In the book, Kennedy goes on to assert that although the United States was once a “Christian nation,” that is no longer the case because today “the hostile barrage from atheists, agnostics, and other secular humanists has begun to take a serious toll on that heritage.”

He asserted, “Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost.”

Kennedy denied being a Christian Reconstructionist, but his hyper-Calvinistic views and hostility toward secular government led him to make common cause with Reconstructionist-oriented groups. In May of 1996 he addressed a banquet held by American Vision, a Reconstructionist group based in Georgia. The group’s newsletter, A.V. Report, noted that, “American Vision has enjoyed a wonderful friendship and working relationship with Dr. Kennedy and others at Coral Ridge for many years.”

Religious Right leaders were quick to eulogize Kennedy.

“For decades, Dr. Kennedy has been a passionate defender of biblical truth in a culture that increasingly forgot it,” James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family said in a statement. “He was a giant in the battle to restore traditional values in our nation.”

Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, had a different view of Kennedy.

“I’ve been fighting him for years in every venue possible,” Lynn told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. “I would hate to live in an America he created, where people who are not his type of Christians are treated like second-class citizens.”

Kennedy promoted the idea that secular humanists have taken over American government and society, a frequent Religious Right conspiracy theory. He was also adamant in his opposition to evolution, insisting that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and that the Book of Genesis is to be read literally.

Reflecting on Kennedy’s opposition to evolution, Frank Wright, a Kennedy associate and chief executive of the National Religious Broadcasters, told The New York Times, “When people feel that they are the product of some accident and not the intended creation of God, they are filled with a sense of hopelessness and there is an almost pagan barbarianism in the way some people would act.”