April 1999 Church & State | Featured

Although he's not nearly as well known as other religious broadcasters such as James Dobson and Pat Robertson, D. James Kennedy is working to amass a Religious Right empire that could one day rival Focus on the Family or the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Born on Nov. 3, 1930, in Augusta, Ga., Kennedy is a one-time Arthur Murray Studios dance instructor who turned to the ministry. He graduated with honors from Columbia Theological Seminary in 1959 and assumed the pastorate that same year of Ft. Lauderdale's Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, a congregation affiliated with the ultraconservative Presbyterian Church in America. (Kennedy holds a number of other degrees as well, including a Ph.D. from New York University.)

Coral Ridge has grown rapidly under Kennedy's oversight, and the church now claims just under 10,000 members. He began broadcasting on television in 1974 and today reaches millions all over the country with a regular Sunday morning program, "The Coral Ridge Hour," which is carried by more than 500 TV stations. In addition, Kennedy has a radio program, "Truths That Transform," heard daily on more than 500 stations. A second daily Kennedy program, the 90-second "Kennedy Commentary," is heard on more than 300 radio stations. He is the author of several books.

According to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, Kennedy's TV ministry, Coral Ridge Ministries Media, Inc., had a total income of $24,555,110 as of Dec. 31, 1996, the last year for which figures are available. In addition, Kennedy's Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, which is incorporated separately, had an income of $16,586,074 for the same period.

In 1996 Kennedy founded the Center for Reclaiming America as an arm of his TV ministry. Directed by Janet Folger, a former anti-abortion lobbyist from Ohio, the Ft. Lauderdale-based Center says its mission is to provide "non-partisan, inter-denominational information, training, and support to enable Christians to have a positive role in developing a biblical virtues-based culture in their communities and in our nation."

The rhetoric may sound lofty, but in reality the Center is just another Religious Right outfit obsessed with opposing legal abortion and gay rights and bashing public education. Under Folger, the Center has focused chiefly on fighting the "homosexual agenda," and she has played a lead role in bringing "ex-gays" into the public eye.

Kennedy has a Washington presence through the Center for Christian Statesmanship, which is also a project of his television ministry. Located on Capitol Hill, the Center, which opened in 1995, sponsors Bible studies and other evangelical activities for members of Congress and their staffs. Its weekly fax newsletter, Compass, is designed to "help today's leaders apply the principles of God's Word to their official duties." The Center also runs newspaper ads "that present the Gospel and challenge today's leaders to become modern-day Christian statesmen." Its director is Dr. Frank Wright.

Coral Ridge runs a K-12 school in Ft. Lauderdale called Westminster Academy that serves about 1,000 students. It also sponsors Knox Theological Seminary and owns a radio station, WAFG-FM.

Kennedy's ministry has always promoted right-wing politics. It isn't uncommon to tune in to "The Coral Ridge Hour" and hear him railing against legal abortion, anti-discrimination protections for gays or the teaching of evolution in public schools. The ministry frequently sends out lurid fund-raising appeals. One recent letter begged for funds to stop PBS stations from airing a "homosexual-propaganda program" called "It's Elementary." Three years ago Kennedy told an evangelical magazine that it has become "increasingly difficult for a genuine Christian to support" the Democratic Party.

What does Kennedy think about the separation of church and state? He doesn't like it. Kennedy's 1994 book, Character & Destiny: A Nation In Search of Its Soul, is riddled with attacks on the constitutional principle. Among other things, Kennedy calls church-state separation "diabolical," a "false doctrine" and "a lie" propagated by Thomas Jefferson. Kennedy also lapses into Red-baiting, writing, "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, 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."

Kennedy asserts 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. In recent years, they have built up their forces and even increased their assault upon all our Christian institutions, and they have been enormously successful in taking over the 'public square.' Public education, the media, the government, the courts, and even the church in many places, now belong to them."

Elsewhere in the book, Kennedy writes, "Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost." Kennedy's triumphalist rhetoric has led to speculation that he may be sympathetic to "Christian Reconstructionism," an extreme Religious Right movement that seeks a theocracy in America based on the Old Testament's harsh legal code.

Kennedy has denied being a Reconstructionist, but 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."

Are TV preacher D. James Kennedy's views extreme? Judge for yourself. Here is a sampling of opinions taken from his 1994 book, Character & Destiny: A Nation In Search of Its Soul (written with Jim Nelson Black):

The Culture War

"Christians did not start the culture war but...we are going to end it. That is a fact, and the Bible assures us of victory." (p. 76)

Deliberately Deceitful Educators

"Not all the educators in our public schools and universities are deliberately deceitful, not all of them want to destroy this nation, but many do. The major teachers' unions certainly do." (p. 75)

The United States: A Christian Nation

"But the fact is, the United States of America was conceived and brought forth by Christians, and history tells us that story in no uncertain terms....Anyone who reads about the values upon which this nation was founded understands perfectly well that this was, from the start, a Christian nation." (p. 71)

Ten Thousand Communist Professors

"Just a few years ago, there were as many as ten thousand Communist professors in American universities. The average person never saw any of them, and many would doubt the truth of that statistic. But I can assure you it is true." (p. 63)

Secular Sinners

"Modern secularists and agnostics do not want to admit that the Christian religion is true, because that would mean that they are sinners; and they have no intention of giving up their right to sin." (p. 46)

Public School Immorality

"Teachers in many of our public schools have acceded to the policies of the liberal teachers' unions to make sure that students from kindergarten through high school will be stripped of any sense of moral or ethical absolutes. Right and wrong are non-issues in our public schools." (p.260)

Evolution: Into The Slime

"Every new advance and every step taken by science confirm not evolution but the Genesis account of creation. Yet evolution still continues to be taught as fact....Thus, the honorable place that had been given to human beings by God is surreptitiously aborted, and they are dragged down into the slime." (p. 178)

Dismantling The Wall Of Separation

"If we are committed and involved in taking back the nation for Christian moral values, and if we are willing to risk the scorn of the secular media and the bureaucracy that stand against us, there is no doubt we can witness the dismantling of not just the Berlin Wall but the even more diabolical 'wall of separation' that has led to increasing secularization, godlessness, immorality, and corruption in our country." (p. 126-127)

Engaging The Enemy

"God forbid that we who were born into the blessings of a Christian America should let our patrimony slip like sand through our fingers and leave to our children the bleached bones of a godless secular society. But whatever the outcome, one thing is certain: God has called us to engage the enemy in this culture war. That is our challenge today." (p. 91)

No Power On Earth Can Stop Us

"This is our land. This is our world. This is our heritage, and with God's help, we shall reclaim this nation for Jesus Christ. And no power on earth can stop us." (p. 85)

Reclaiming America For Christ

"How much more forcefully can I say it? The time has come, and it is long overdue, when Christians and conservatives and all men and women who believe in the birthright of freedom must rise up and reclaim America for Jesus Christ." (p. 80)