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Religion News Service
The Rev. D. James Kennedy, a Florida minister who took to the airwaves and became a force in driving conservative Christians to the polls and into the public square, died Wednesday (Sept. 5) after months of serious illness.
Kennedy, 76, died after suffering complications from a cardiac arrest in late December. He preached his last sermon on Christmas Eve at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale and retired Aug. 26 from his pulpit of 48 years.
The Augusta, Ga., native and former ballroom dance instructor converted to Christianity after hearing a radio preacher share the gospel in 1953. Six years later, he founded his congregation, which grew to almost 10,000 members and became affiliated with the conservative Presbyterian Church in America.
“For decades, Dr. Kennedy has been a passionate defender of biblical truth in a culture that increasingly forgot it,” said James Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family. “He was a giant in the battle to restore traditional values in our nation.”
Kennedy’s death comes four months after the death of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, another pioneer in religious broadcasting and conservative politics, and two months after the death of Tammy Faye Messner, wife of disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker.
Beyond his megachurch, Kennedy’s voice and image were carried on radio and television stations across the globe. “Truths That Transform” has aired daily on almost 750 radio stations across the country and “The Coral Ridge Hour” has aired weekly on more than 400 television stations and reached 165 nations via the Armed Forces Network.
“We will miss Dr. Kennedy enormously,” said Frank Wright, president of the National Religious Broadcasters. “His moral leadership and his legacy of impacting the globe for Jesus Christ is unmatched by few in the history of the church.”
Other leaders among Christian conservatives praised Kennedy for his influence and his message. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called Kennedy “one of the giants among Christian preachers and statesmen of the last third of the 20th century and beyond.”
Beverly LaHaye, founder and chairman of Concerned Women for America, said Kennedy “left a legacy of profound spiritual leadership and effective evangelism.”
Mathew Staver, dean of Liberty University School of Law, considers Kennedy to be one of his mentors and a guide for younger evangelicals.
“He activated a new generation of Christian leaders,” said Staver, who also founded Liberty Counsel, a conservative law firm that was affiliated with Falwell. “His legacy will live on through the lives of those of us he inspired.”
As the author of more than 65 books, Kennedy established centers and schools that aimed to increase the reach of evangelical Christianity at home and abroad.
He founded Evangelism Explosion International, originally known as Lay Evangelism Inc., in 1970 to encourage lay people to share their Christian faith. His Coral Ridge Ministries, which oversees his broadcasts, closed the Center for Reclaiming America, which fostered grass-roots action among conservative Christians, in April.
Another ministry, the Washington-based D. James Kennedy Center for Christian Statesmanship, opened in 1995 and closed briefly in April. It reopened two weeks later under the auspices of Evangelism Explosion International.
Kennedy also established two educational institutions in Fort Lauderdale: Knox Theological Seminary, which trains future pastors, teachers and missionaries, and Westminster Academy, a Christian school for pre-kindergartners through 12th graders.
Officials of Coral Ridge Ministries, who have plans to increase its audience of 3 million to 30 million by 2012, intend to continue using Kennedy’s teachings on radio, television, the Internet and in print.
A quote from Kennedy, who is survived by his wife of 51 years, Anne, and their daughter, Jennifer Kennedy Cassidy, was placed on a memorial Web page at www.djameskennedy.org, expressing his confident wishes to those he expected to leave behind.
“… I don’t want them to cry. I want them to begin the service with the Doxology and end with the Hallelujah chorus, because I am not going to be there, and I am not going to be dead,” he said. “I will be more alive than I have ever been in my life. …”
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