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  • Thumbnail for (Un)holy bodies : the radical interruption of C. Everett Koop’s Evangelical Christianity in the discourse of AIDS
    (Un)holy bodies : the radical interruption of C. Everett Koop’s Evangelical Christianity in the discourse of AIDS by Milliken, Tara Sophia

    In the 1980s, the appearance of AIDS in urban centers of the United States unleashed a strong, and often condemnatory reaction from outspoken conservative Christians. With their digital and human networks, the fundamentalists used biblical and medieval rhetoric that stressed the intersection of sin and disease to enforce the idea that AIDS was a divine retribution for the behavior of gay men. Founded on premillennialism, biblical infallibility and the protestant sense of purpose, fundamentalists view America as sacred, susceptible and in rapid decline. In part because of these factors, fundamentalism has been inclined to create narratives of immanent demise to explain historical events. Their messages on AIDS were powerful and tapped into preexisting cultural anxieties around sex, illness and death. Unlike the trajectory of other diseases that had been interpreted as religion to promote the notion of sin, the fundamentalist construction of AIDS was countered by C. Everett Koop, the surgeon general of the United States, who followed his evangelical faith and used his position of power to change the course of the illness’ presence in America. By shifting the focus from asking why to saving lives, C. Everett Koop’s radical faith-based action began to re-write the cultural perception of AIDS. In this process, Koop stayed true to his two faiths, medicine and evangelical Christianity, and proceeded to discredit centuries of moralizing on illness as divine retribution. His disruption created the necessary foundation for serious action being taken to resolve the AIDS crisis. In providing factual information about the disease, allowed space for more moderate religious bodies and secular movements, such as ACT UP, to enter the public discourse, humanize the sick, and call America to action on finding a cure for AIDS.