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Diane Knippers; Conservative Christian Leader

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 20, 2005; Page B06

Diane Knippers, 53, a Protestant laywoman who became a much-quoted defender of Christian orthodoxy and sought to persuade conservatives to play a vital role in politics, died April 18 at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington. She had cancer.

For the past 12 years, Mrs. Knippers was president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, a small, Washington-based research center for conservative Christians.

Diane Knippers and the Institute for Religion and Democracy focused on social issues and human rights. (Lawrence Jackson -- AP)

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Her access to politicians and the news media outstripped the modest size of the institute. In February, Time magazine cited her as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in the United States, a list that included preacher Billy Graham; Charles Colson, the Watergate felon who founded a prison ministry; and Tim LaHaye, author of the "Left Behind" apocalypse fictions.

Mrs. Knippers, a Republican, joined the Institute for Religion and Democracy shortly after its founding in 1981. The group, whose annual budget is about $1 million, had received financial support from foundations run by Richard Mellon Scaife of Pittsburgh, the California philanthropists Howard and Roberta Ahmanson and other prominent backers of conservative causes. Most support now comes from direct-mail fundraising.

Initially concerned with the influence of communism abroad, the institute later began to focus on social matters at home and human rights concerns worldwide.

Mrs. Knippers highlighted the killing and persecution of Christians; took issue with those condemning Israel without noting human rights abuses in other parts of the world; and tried to "reform" Protestant churches in the United States through criticism of a liberalism that, in her view, fostered an "erosion in basic Christian doctrine."

She addressed divisive issues about sexuality, especially after the Episcopal Church consecrated the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as bishop in New Hampshire in 2003. Mrs. Knippers repudiated the ordination of gay people in the church and fought the church's acceptance of homosexual practice.

She also railed against a "radical feminist theology" that she said tried to "re-imagine" God in a way that did not seem patriarchal.

Much of what she disliked she saw as symptomatic of popular culture, and she tried to effect change. She once said that the CBS fantasy show "Touched by an Angel" worked with the institute to convey stories of human rights violations in China and Sudan.

"It bothers me when we are perceived as a Christian nation around the world, but most of what people know about our country is the popular culture we export," she told Religion and Ethics Newsweekly in 2003. "Well, that doesn't represent Christian values by any stretch of an imagination." Diane LeMasters Knippers was born Jan. 6, 1952, in Rushville, Ind. Her father was a Navy chaplain, and her mother taught elementary school. Both were conservative Methodists, which influenced their daughter's views.

She was a 1972 history graduate of Asbury College in Wilmore, Ky., and received a master's degree in sociology from the University of Tennessee in 1974.

She began her career at Good News magazine, the publication of a theologically conservative Methodist group in Wilmore. She joined the Institute on Religion and Democracy in 1982, in part through her friendship with its founding chairman, the Rev. Edmund Robb Jr., a United Methodist evangelist. She later switched to the Episcopal Church.

She was a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals and the American Anglican Council, a group for conservative Episcopalians. She was an Arlington resident and a member of Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax.

In 1972, she married Edward C. Knippers Jr., an artist who specializes in painting biblical scenes. Besides her husband, of Arlington, survivors include her parents, retired Navy Capt. Clarence LeMasters and Vera LeMasters of Lakeland, Fla.; and a brother, Douglas LeMasters of Fairfax, who is administrator of Truro Episcopal Church.

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