The Rev. D. James Kennedy, a pioneering Christian broadcaster and mega-church pastor whose fiercely conservative worldview helped fuel the rise of the religious right in American politics, died Wednesday. He was 76.
Kennedy died at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said Kristin Cole, a spokeswoman for Kennedy's Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. The cause of death has not been determined, but Kennedy had not been seen publicly since he suffered cardiac arrest Dec. 28. His retirement was announced last month.
Kennedy's voice and face were known to millions through radio and television broadcasts, urging Christians to evangelize in their daily lives, while condemning homosexuality and abortion as assaults on the traditional family. He also preached on issues of the day, rejecting evolution and global warming.
Kennedy was influential in the founding of the religious right, but did so more often from behind the scenes, as attention focused on his allies, the Revs. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.
"He was never in the front ranks of evangelical leaders that were also political leaders, but he was active at every stage of the Christian right," said John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum for Religion & Public Life who specializes in religion and politics.
Kennedy was a founding board member of the Moral Majority, which Falwell formed in 1979. In 1996, Kennedy created Coral Ridge's political arm, called the Center for Reclaiming America for Christ, to mobilize conservative Christians against gay marriage, pornography and what he called "judicial tyranny," among other issues.
Kennedy also founded the Center for Christian Statesmanship, which organized Capitol Hill Bible studies and other events that attracted top government officials.
He encouraged them "to embrace God's providential purpose for this nation."
In 1959, the pastor started his congregation with about 45 members, eventually expanding into a church that claims 10,000 members today.
At the time of his death, Kennedy's influence was beginning to wane, as his congregation aged and new evangelical leaders emerged. Coral Ridge closed its Center for Reclaiming America this year.
Still, Kennedy was the author of more than 50 books and founded two schools -- Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale and Westminster Academy, a kindergarten through 12th-grade Christian school near his church.
Coral Ridge Ministries, his radio and TV outreach arm, claimed a weekly audience of 3.5 million people for all its broadcasts. Kennedy's TV show, "The Coral Ridge Hour," has been airing reruns on more than 400 stations and is broadcast to more than 150 countries on the Armed Forces Network, his ministry said.
Last year, the National Religious Broadcasters group inducted him into its hall of fame.
Dennis James Kennedy was born Nov. 3, 1930, in Augusta, Ga., and raised in Chicago and Tampa, Fla.
He dropped out of college to become an Arthur Murray dance instructor but eventually returned to school. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Tampa, master's degrees from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., and the Chicago Graduate School of Theology, and a doctorate from New York University.
He met his future wife, the former Anne Lewis, while teaching dance.
Besides his wife of 51 years, the pastor is survived by a daughter, Jennifer Kennedy Cassidy.