The Rev. D. James Kennedy, the longtime pastor of Fort Lauderdale’s Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and a driving force in the national religious conservative movement, was in serious condition Friday after suffering a heart attack.
Church officials said Kennedy, 76, was rushed to a local hospital from his home in the Coral Ridge neighborhood Thursday night. Although they were extremely concerned about his health, the officials said Kennedy was becoming more alert and responsive Friday.
With one of the largest religious broadcast audiences in the country and as pastor of one of the nation’s first mega-churches, Kennedy has been at the forefront of social conservative causes, including opposition to abortion and homosexuality. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State this year ranked Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministries as the third most powerful conservative religious group in the nation, behind only the Christian Broadcasting Network and Focus on the Family.
“He is a passionate man about family and country, and we are certainly praying for him,” said Roberta Combs, head of the Christian Coalition of America. “He was an early leader along with Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and has been a strong voice for the pro-family movement.”
Kennedy preached Christmas Eve sermons at the church and was scheduled to be absent this weekend for a traditional post-holiday vacation, church officials said. They declined to discuss his medical history or say in which hospital he was being treated.
“This is serious, and we covet the prayers of all the people on his behalf,” Kennedy spokesman John Aman said.
Coral Ridge Presbyterian was a 45-member church when Kennedy arrived as pastor in 1959. Today, sermons are televised from the 10,000-member church to 40,000 cities across the nation and to nearly 200 nations.
Kennedy also started the Center for Reclaiming America, a political action group aimed at getting Christian conservatives involved in grass-roots politics, and hosts an annual conference for politicians and activists on how to bring their moral views to bear on politics.
His fundamental message has been that Christians should be active in ensuring their voice is heard on social issues.
Among Kennedy’s recent causes have been pushing Congress for a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage and outlawing partial-birth abortion.
He raised money to help Alabama’s chief justice defend himself in the fight over displaying the Ten Commandments at the state’s Supreme Court building and urged supporters to fight to keep Terri Schiavo on life support.
The Rev. O’Neal Dozier, pastor of Worldwide Christian Center in Pompano Beach and a conservative activist in Florida, said Kennedy has been a role model because of his uncompromising view on the Bible and about social activism among Christian conservatives.
“I pray we don’t lose Dr. Kennedy,” Dozier said. “He is the one everyone looks to on leading the fight. No one has put it on the line like Dr. Kennedy has.”
Kennedy was one of the key religious figures in getting social conservatives to rally behind George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election. Kennedy declared Bush’s victory a “moral mandate” and demanded that issues important to Christian conservatives be at the top of the new administration’s agenda.
“He’s able to put the foot soldiers on the ground and get the faith-based message out there on the responsibility of voting,” said Sharon Day, a member of the National Republican Committee from Fort Lauderdale.