Directly across the street from the rising spire of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida sits an Olive Garden restaurant. While researching this article I stopped there for a late-afternoon lunch.
"So, what do you know about the church across the street?" I asked my congenial waiter. "I hate them!" he exclaimed. "Well, I don't really hate them, but I think they're awful. I won't wait on them." He explained that some of the of the church's members come to the Olive Garden after services. Instead of a leaving a tip, they're more apt to leave a religious tract. "We have a waiter who is effeminate," he said. "When he waits on their tables they make all sorts of nasty remarks about him."
These diners are the disciples of the Rev. D. James Kennedy. Kennedy is a leader in the radical religious right's least talked about plan for Christianizing America — converting people, one at a time, until there are enough to make "very dramatic" changes in our society. The chances are, whether you live in a big city or a small town, his Christian missionaries are active nearby.
Christian evangelism offends many, yet, it is perfectly legal. For Kennedy — and thousands of his ardent followers — it is the means by which Christians can take over the country.
"You cannot force a Christian ethic on a non-Christian culture," Kennedy said. "There is something very obvious _ though Christianity is growing in this country, it is still far from being the controlling force. I am sure that only a Christian-controlled country is going to be able to stand up to the impending threat and avert the approaching disaster that our nation is facing."
Christian media has long recognized the influence of Rev. Kennedy, but only recently has the secular media become aware of Kennedy's political influence. Last year Gustav Niebuhr of The New York Times attended Kennedy's "Reclaiming America for Christ" conference in Fort Lauderdale. "The political power of religious conservatives may be most acutely felt in Washington," he observed, "but, the basis [emphasis added] for that power — the instruction and encouragement of the people who vote — takes place away from the politicians and polling booths, in church basements and at convention-style gatherings like one being held here."
In a 1980 sermon called "A Christian Offensive," Kennedy observed, "There are forty million people who claim to have been converted. If every one of those would simply win one other person to Christ in 1980, we could control this country. We have tremendous opportunities to preach the Gospel directly to millions of people by television and through Evangelism Explosion International. It is not an elective which certain Christians may choose. It is the command of our General! It is the marching orders of the army of Christ! If you claim to be a soldier in that army then you are under orders to go and tell, and not to do so is treason against the government of heaven."
In another sermon, called "The Christians are Coming!", delivered the Sunday after the Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994, Kennedy said that in 1988 only eighteen percent of those who voted said they were "evangelical born-again Christians." In 1992 that figure rose to twenty-four percent, and in 1994 thirty-three percent of those who voted said they were born-again Christians. About seventy percent of these voters voted Republican, according to Kennedy.
Kennedy claims that "the number of Christians in this country is growing 100 times faster than it was in 1900," and that "more of those Christians are getting involved in the political arena than ever before in history."
Christian evangelism is rooted in The Great Commission — the New Testament command to preach the Gospel in all the world. Kennedy links the Great Commission with a philosophy he calls "The Cultural Mandate." While most Christian evangelism emphasizes salvation to convince believers that they will go to heaven, Kennedy's emphasis is radically different.
According to Kennedy, God gave the world two mandates, "The Cultural Mandate He gave at the beginning of the world, and the Great Commission He gave at the beginning of the Christian era after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ; the former at the dawn of creation, the latter at the dawn of the new creation. Man is to subdue the earth and have dominion over all its creatures. This is called 'The Cultural Mandate' because it deals with all culture as we know it. As God's junior partners we are to rule over the earth in His name."
This dogma is virtually the same as R.J. Rushdoony and Gary North's radical Christian Reconstructionism. In fact, Kennedy has called the Bible commentaries by those men "essential" works.
An early proponent of a Christian America, in 1967 Kennedy launched Evangelism Explosion International ("EE"), a sophisticated 13-week training seminar in discipleship. Discipleship teaches converts how to create more converts. Discipleship also teaches its adherents a particular political point of view. This facet is important because mere adherence to born-again Christianity is not tantamount to holding radical right political views; there are socially liberal born-again Christians. However, Christian converts have opened their minds to a new way of looking at life and are therefore vulnerable to radical concepts.
As an example of the power of EE, Kennedy started his church with an enrollment of 36, and during his tenure at Coral Ridge has added 9,000 members using EE techniques. An ongoing program, the church calendar at Coral Ridge is structured so that every member has the opportunity to undergo EE training. Evangelism Explosion is the most intensive evangelism training in the world today. It is used by hundreds of conservative Christian churches across the country, and has made inroads into every single country in the world.
The Rev. Jerry Falwell used to say that the mission of the church was three-fold: "To get people saved, baptized, and registered to vote." Kennedy would add, "and get them trained in political activism."
Toward this end, Coral Ridge Ministries holds an annual political training conference called Reclaiming America for Christ Conference. The Reclaiming America conference is one of the church's major annual events. Held in March, this year's event at the Ft. Lauderdale Convention Center and Coral Ridge church, and drew nearly a thousand activists from thirty nine states, and featured Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed as the keynote speaker. Political workshops dealt with a variety of issues, including Transforming America, Pro-Life, Public School Textbooks, How to Organize at the Grassroots Level, and the Homosexual Agenda.
Coral Ridge church also hosts local Christian Coalition meetings in its Evangelism Explosion Hall. In addition, Coral Ridge houses the Center for Reclaiming America in order to carry out the mission of the Reclaiming America conference throughout the year. The Center conducts grassroots political training seminars with visiting faculty from other politically active Christian organizations. Additionally, the Center is home to the "Office of Traditional Values-based Legislation." The purpose of this office is to "draft model legislation with a biblical perspective — bills submitted in individual states where the real impact of the law is felt." This focus on state legislation is further evidence of the increasing political emphasis of the religious right.
D. James Kennedy exerts his influence in Washington through his Center for Christian Statesmanship. The purpose of this Washington office is "to offer spiritual counsel to members of Congress and their staffs." Frank Wright, the center's director, is known for his antiabortion and antipornography activities. "We think the staffers are the key to what goes on up there [on the Hill]," Wright told The New York Times. Although the Washington office ostensibly functions to provide spiritual counsel to government officials, Kennedy keeps in direct touch with numerous politicians, thus expanding his own opportunities for political influence.
In the mind of D. James Kennedy, Christians are superior citizens because they possess an understanding that unbelievers lack. "It seems that somehow or another only the converted mind (the regenerate mind) is able to understand what is going on in the world; what the Communists are really up to; what Satan's intentions are," he said. "Most unbelievers do not even believe in Satan and cannot understand his tactics."
For Kennedy, the conclusion is clear; Christians are America's only hope. "I am afraid that unless this country is taken over by Christians so that we have a Christian consensus, we are going to find that when it really gets tough, the unbelieving world, the Western world, is not going to be willing to stand."
Ordained by the Presbyterian Church in America in 1959, Kennedy, now 66, founded the Calvinist-oriented Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church a year later. Often referred to as "Dr." Kennedy, he holds a Ph.D. in world religion, which he earned at New York University in 1979.
Although D. James Kennedy is one of America's foremost enemies of the separation of church and state, he is practically unknown to mainstream America. On the other hand, Kennedy is extremely popular among evangelical Christians who delight in his sermons opposing abortion, homosexuality, pornography, and the American Civil Liberties Union. (According to Kennedy, gay men and women are "a curse against our nation," and claims that "Any person who practices sexual immorality and who does not repent and turn from it to Christ to find forgiveness will spend eternity in Hell.")
His nationally syndicated Sunday morning TV program, "The Coral Ridge Hour," airs on approximately 470 stations nationwide; and his radio program, "Truths that Transform," airs on approximately 237 radio outlets.
His television and radio programs are platforms for such personalities as anti-church/state separationist David Barton, Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, Christian Reconstructionists R.J. Rushdoony and Gary North, and Christian Identity leader Pete Peters.
A member of the secretive Council for National Policy, Kennedy has strong bonds to many radical religious right groups. These include the Coalition on Revival and the Christian Coalition. In 1994, Kennedy spoke at the Christian Coalition's annual "Road to Victory" convention in Washington.
Other enterprises of Coral Ridge Ministries include Westminster Academy, a K-12 Christian school with 1,150 students; and Knox Theological Seminary, whose purpose is to "fulfill the Cultural Mandate by preparing faithful servants of Christ for the 21st century." Knox has campuses in Fort Lauderdale and Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Ultimately, Kennedy believes all political struggles entail a battle between God and Satan, and the players in those political encounters are either on God's side or Satan's.
"It is important that we understand that this is ultimately a theological battle in which we are engaged," Kennedy said, "not a battle between mere economic outlooks or various political philosophies. It is a battle between Christ and Antichrist and his [followers]. Therefore, ultimately, it is a battle that will be won, not by bullets, but by beliefs."
Almost two decades ago, Kennedy helped set the agenda for the radical religious right by combining evangelism and political activism. He and other prominent conservative Christian leaders conceived an effective strategy to propel their movement into the 21st century.
"God has given us the Great Commission and the Cultural Mandate," Kennedy wrote in January of this year. "Neither one of them is sufficient alone to transform America into what its Founders intended it to be — a Christian nation."
"I would urge you," he pleaded, "to recommit yourself to the great principles that our Founding Fathers gave us in the founding documents of this nation; to strive by our prayers, our efforts, by our work, by our evangelization, to make this nation a Christian nation once more."
"C.S. Lewis put it so very interestingly," Kennedy observed, "'The most significant political action that any Christian can take...is to convert his neighbor.'"