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.
Recently the issue of homosexuality has come to represent a majorly divisive factor within American Christianity as more and more churches are defining their boundaries, or lack thereof, at homosexuality: many congregations believe that practicing homosexuality is not an acceptable aspect of one’s life that will allow passage into God’s Kingdom or salvation. Within megachurches, Protestant churches having at least 2,000 attendees per week, homosexuality often presents itself as a divisive and controversial issue. Megachurches tend to be situated on the more conservative and evangelical end of the spectrum of Protestant Christianity and, therefore, many of their congregations have expressed disapproval of homosexuality; they preach doctrines providing content for rhetoric following the guidelines of sexual purity as follows from divine law within their congregations. These doctrines include the biblical literalist approach to abiding by divine law, the presence of sin in today’s world, and the conscious choice to continue living a life in sin. Megachurches are also using rhetoric of love and acceptance regardless of sexuality. They preach their doors are open to all and everyone is welcome into the church, because everyone is welcome in God’s eyes. However, megachurches preach that all humans must repent for all of their sin if there is to be any redemption and entrance into Heaven. Therefore, those practicing homosexuality must acknowledge the sin and begin repentance in order to be accepted into the Kingdom of God. The contradiction comes when homosexuals do not repent for their “sin” but choose to live acting in their love. The churches are forced to accept their own belief that homosexuals not repenting will be condemned to Hell, therefore, going against their firm belief in love, hope, encouragement, and acceptance. Therefore, my thesis argues that the first stream of rhetoric, which combines the three doctrines, as the willful violation of divine law by homosexuals, in partnership with the rhetoric of an all-encompassing love, represents a fundamental inconsistency within megachurch theology concerning homosexuality.