Monday, Feb. 07, 2005

Diane Knippers

A Think Tank With Firepower
When liberal Democratic Congressman Howard Berman of California called her last September seeking counsel, Diane Knippers, president of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy (I.R.D.), knew that her organization had become a major force. Berman was upset that the Presbyterian Church (USA) had voted to consider divesting from some companies doing business in Israel to protest the country's treatment of Palestinians. He wanted to confer with her because I.R.D. had issued a report criticizing such decisions, which it saw as singling out Israel while largely ignoring alleged serious human-rights abuses by Saudi Arabia and North Korea. "It was gratifying that he read and appreciated our work," says Knippers, 53.

On another front, she was among the conservative leaders who helped persuade the Bush Administration to press for a cease-fire in the Sudan civil war and an end to the oppression of Christians there. But I.R.D., which receives major funding from the Ahmansons, can be a divisive force as well. Its championing of conservative reforms within more liberal Christian denominations has helped create deep fissures in those bodies, especially concerning homosexuality.

"I.R.D.," says Randall Balmer, head of the religion department at Barnard College, "is starting to have the kind of impact that think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Brookings Institution enjoy." Knippers should expect more calls from Capitol Hill.