WASHINGTON — Diane Knippers, an intellectual heavyweight who rallied opposition to the liberal drift of mainline churches and was named by Time magazine as one of the country's 25 most influential evangelicals, died Monday (April 18). She was 53.

Knippers had battled colon cancer for more than a year and was admitted to intensive care at a Virginia hospital as the cancer spread to her lymph nodes.

Knippers was president of the Washington-based Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD), a conservative think tank whose roots were in protecting Christian minorities overseas but found its footing as a counter voice to liberal mainline Protestant churches.

On April 4, Knippers took a seven-month writing leave from IRD as her condition worsened.

In recent months, she worked with the National Association of Evangelicals as co-editor of "Toward an Evangelical Public Policy," a political manifesto that urged conservative Christians to expand their policy agenda in Washington and beyond.

"She set an example of faithful Christian witness amidst church and political conflicts," said Alan Wisdom, IRD's vice president. "She was firm in her conviction of God's truth, and that firmness enabled her to show a great serenity and warmth toward others."

Raised as the daughter of a United Methodist minister, she emerged as a respected voice within the Episcopal Church in opposition to the ordination of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire.

Knippers was a key lay leader at Truro (Episcopal) Church in Fairfax, Va., a bulwark of the conservative Episcopal movement, and was a member of the board of directors of the American Anglican Council.

"It's our loss but heaven's gain," said the Rev. Kendall Harmon, a South Carolina Episcopal priest and ally in the conservative network that continues to oppose the consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

"She told the truth in a way that was personal and compelling and yet brave, often at great personal cost."

In February, she was ranked by Time magazine as one of the nation's "25 most influential evangelicals," alongside James Dobson of Focus on the Family, the Rev. Rick Warren of The Purpose-Driven Life and evangelists Billy and Franklin Graham.

"IRD is starting to have the kind of impact that think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Brookings Institution enjoy," evangelical scholar Randall Balmer told Time in its Feb. 7 cover story.

Knippers was not, however, without controversy. When IRD published a scathing report last September about mainline churches' policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the National Council of Churches accused Knippers of playing "partisan secular politics."

Knippers and the IRD often accused the NCC and the Geneva-based World Council of Churches of leftist political activity, and urged member churches to yank funding to both bodies.

Knippers joined IRD in 1982 after spending eight years at Good News, a conservative Methodist renewal group. She graduated from Asbury College and the University of Tennessee.

"It's a sad day for us because she was a dear friend and longtime colleague," said the Rev. Jim Heidinger, a United Methodist and president of the Association for Church Renewal. "We shall miss her dearly."

Knippers is survived by her husband, artist Edward Knippers, her parents and a brother. Her funeral is scheduled for Saturday (April 23) at her church in Virginia.

Related Elsewhere:

Harmon's blog, TitusOneNine, has several postings (1, 2, 3) with readers' comments on Knipppers's death.