By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
"I once talked to a woman who was up to her eyeballs in lesbianism," he says. "She told me that all the lesbians she'd known were all seduced by men as children. I have in the church numerous ex-homosexuals."
Kennedy is an ardent believer in conversion -- that is, gay-to-straight conversion. He formed Worthy Creations Ministry in 1998, a group devoted to preaching that homosexuality is a conscious choice and can be healed through religious devotion. Worthy Creations made headlines October 18, 2000, when America Online customers feared that their dollars might be going to Westminster Academy, a school founded by Kennedy that teaches his brand of antigay dogma to its approximately 1000 students, most of whom are Coral Ridge congregants' kids. AOL Chairman and CEO Steve Case gave $8 million to Westminster, which educated Case's wife, Jean. The school receives funding from 18 conservative political groups, including the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council.
Another of Coral Ridge's high-profile ministries is the Center for Reclaiming America. It received national attention two years ago for a newspaper ad featuring testimonials by people claiming that spiritual devotion had helped them turn straight. "The Truth in Love" campaign's star was Anne Paulk, wife of John Paulk, who claimed he had turned straight only to be spotted dancing with a man in a popular Washington, D.C., gay club two years ago. The center is a busy place. Just last week on its Website, it posted a warning that the Broward County School Board was going to "meet and sign an agreement with the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to add homosexual indoctrination to the schools!" and urging people to fax, write, or e-mail their opposition.
"Our best way to get people to believe our glorious truth is to point out that this fellow who said -- I don't remember his name -- but about eight or nine years ago, he said he'd found the gay gene," Kennedy says. "The thing that struck me was that this so-called scientist was gay himself! Of course, the media, which is often complicit with the homosexuals, played this up. It was all a part of gays' effort to gain special rights."
Kennedy is referring to a 1993 National Institute of Health announcement that it might have possibly found a genetic indicator for homosexuality. A research team, led by an openly gay geneticist, discovered that 33 of 40 pairs of gay male brothers had identical DNA "markers." But many in the field dismissed the study because the group was too small. Others called it an oversimplified answer to a highly complex question.
Kennedy scoffs at the characterization of Coral Ridge's work on this and other fronts as political activity. "I'm not a politician. I've never said the words Democrat or Republican ever in my church," he declares. Yet the minister, who founded the D. James Kennedy Center for Christian Statesmanship in Washington, D.C., has long aligned himself and his church with a bevy of right-wing politicians and causes.
In 1994, Kennedy launched a national fundraising campaign to oppose former President Bill Clinton's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, condemning that "Honorable and decent men and women" are forced to "shower, share latrines, and bunker with" gays. To support pro-life causes, the reverend has raised millions, characterizing abortion in fundraising letters as "Pull[ing] a baby three-fourths of the way out of its mother's womb, stick[ing] a pair of scissors in the back of its neck, and kill[ing] it." This year, he began a fundraising campaign opposing gay adoption in Florida.
Most recently, Kennedy appealed to his international flock to help pay for Alabama Supreme Court Judge Roy Moore's legal expenses. Moore is in trouble for placing a two-and-a-half-ton tablet of the Ten Commandments on the floor of the court rotunda after hours, telling no one except Kennedy -- who beamed the stunt live to Coral Ridge worshipers. Moore has also been widely criticized by colleagues for a February 15, 2002, ruling that stripped a lesbian of custody rights to her three children. In a 33-page concurrence, Moore, citing the book of Genesis, called homosexuality an "inherent evil."
Such activities have led Murphy and Soulforce members to call Kennedy a hatemonger. "I don't hate anyone," Kennedy says. "Gays have threatened my life. My secretary got a call from a homosexual who said he was going to come in here with a bomb strapped to his body and blow us both to heaven."
The reverend describes protests that have raged outside Coral Ridge in past years, many of which have become loud and at times unruly.
"I've been a little hesitant to even walk outside [during the protest]," he admits. "You know what one of them had? A 'KKKennedy' sign. Now, I'll admit that that hurt me."
The man who carried that sign was Richard Murphy.
Before joining Soulforce, Murphy had difficulty talking about the Rev. Kennedy without feeling violent. And then, someone was violent to him. "Because of my shame, I lived a pretty closeted life," he says. "I was having sex with anonymous men in parks, and one night a guy whacked me in the back of the head with a metal pipe. I woke up bleeding. That was the incident that made me think there could be something wrong with this."