Diane Knippers, president of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy and a vocal proponent of traditional Christian practice whom Time magazine recently named as one of the nation's 25 most influential evangelicals, has died. She was 53.
Knippers, who battled colon cancer for more than a year, died Monday in a hospital in Arlington, Va.
Knippers served 12 years as president of the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy, an ecumenical alliance of Christians that monitors developments in mainline churches and discourages liberal trends.
Despite an annual budget of about $1 million and a staff of fewer than a dozen, the 24-year-old IRD has become known for having what the New York Times last year characterized as "an outsized effect on the dynamics of American politics by counteracting the liberal influence of the mainline Protestant churches."
In naming Knippers one of the country's most influential evangelicals in February, Time magazine noted that when liberal Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-North Hollywood) sought Knippers' counsel last September, it became obvious that her organization had become a major force.
Berman, according to the magazine, "was upset that the Presbyterian Church (USA) had voted to consider divesting from some companies doing business in Israel to protest the country's treatment of Palestinians."
He wanted to talk with Knippers, Time said, "because IRD had issued a report criticizing such decisions, which it saw as singling out Israel while largely ignoring alleged serious human-rights abuses by Saudi Arabia and North Korea."
"It was gratifying that he read and appreciated our work," Knippers told Time.
The magazine also noted that Knippers "was among the conservative leaders who helped persuade the Bush administration to press for a cease-fire in the Sudan civil war and an end to the oppression of Christians there."
But Time added that in championing conservative reforms within more liberal Christian denominations, her institute "has helped create deep fissures ... especially concerning homosexuality."
For her part, Knippers believed that the churches' liberalism had contributed to declining membership over the past few decades.
By pushing for a return to biblical orthodoxy, the New York Times reported in May, Knippers and her allies believe they are saving the denominations from themselves.
"It's pretty clear that the church elite in the mainline denominations are to the left of the people in the pews," Knippers, an Episcopalian, told the newspaper.
Knippers' last public appearance was at an event on Capitol Hill last month to publicize "Toward an Evangelical Public Policy," a book she co-edited.
It is part of a larger project organized by the National Assn. of Evangelicals.
Alan Wisdom, IRD's vice president who worked with Knippers for nearly 20 years, said in a statement that she was a "faithful Christian witness amidst church and political conflicts."
"One of her consistent emphases was the importance of nurturing a new generation of church reformers," he said.
The daughter of a United Methodist minister, Knippers was born in Rushville, Ind.
She earned a bachelor's degree in history from Asbury College in Wilmore, Ky., and a master's in sociology of religion from the University of Tennessee.
Knippers joined IRD in 1982 after eight years at Good News, a renewal group within the United Methodist Church, where she served as associate executive secretary and editor of Good News magazine.
She served on the boards of the National Assn. of Evangelicals, the American Anglican Council, the Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance, Five Talents (an Anglican small business development program) and the steering committee of Anglican Mainstream International.
She is survived by her husband, artist Edward Knippers; her parents, Clarence E. and Vera LeMasters of Lakeland, Fla.; and her brother, Douglas LeMasters of Fairfax, Va.