After the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality, and American Religion

ISBN : 9780199391288

Anthony M. Petro
312 Pages
170 x 236 mm
Pub date
Aug 2015
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One Sunday in February 1987, protesters stood outside the Unitarian Universalist Church of Amherst in Massachusetts, whose minister planned to hand out condoms during his sermon, dramatizing the need for the church to confront the AIDS crisis. The minister gave out nearly five hundred condoms as the audience exploded into applause. But he could not hang around to enjoy it; having received threats in advance of the service, he dashed out of the sanctuary immediately. Thus was the climate for religious AIDS activism in the mid-1980s. After the Wrath of God is the first book to tell the story of American religion and the AIDS epidemic. Anthony Petro shows how religious leaders and organizations posited AIDS as a religious and moral epidemic, and analyzes how this construction has informed cultural and political debates about public health and sexual morality. While most attention to religion and AIDS foregrounds the role of the Religious Right, this book examines the much broader-and more influential-range of mainline Protestant, evangelical, and Catholic groups that shaped public discussions of AIDS prevention and care in the U.S. The AIDS epidemic, Petro argues, effected a shift in Christian rhetoric regarding sexuality. Mainstream religious groups almost uniformly called for compassion for those afflicted with the disease. While the Christian Right focused on what not to do, an increasing number of mainstream religious leaders promoted instead a positive prescription for sex, one more readily taken up in public health endeavors and sex education curricula alike-a vision that informs debates over sexual morality to this day.


Introduction: AIDS, Sexuality, and American Religion
1) Emerging Morality: American Christians, Sexuality, and AIDS
2) Governing Authority: C. Everett Koop and the Moral Politics of Public Health
3) Ecclesiastical Authority: AIDS, Sexuality, and the American Catholic Church
4) Protest Religion!: ACT UP, Religious Freedom, and the Ethics of Sex
Afterword: We "Other Christians"

About the author: 

Anthony M. Petro is Assistant Professor of Religion at Boston University.

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