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

Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
June 5 2018

“AIDS has been since its emergence both a religious and moral event.”

In After the Wrath of God, Anthony Petro vividly narrates the religious history of AIDS in America. Delving into the culture wars over sex, morality, and the future of the American nation, he demonstrates how religious leaders and AIDS activists have shaped debates over sexual morality and public health from the 1980s to the present day.

While most attention to religion and AIDS foregrounds the role of the Religious Right, Petro takes a much broader view, encompassing the range of mainline Protestant, evangelical, and Catholic groups–alongside AIDS activist organizations–that shaped public discussions of AIDS prevention and care in the U.S.

Petro analyzes how the AIDS crisis prompted American Christians across denominations and political persuasions to speak publicly about sexuality–especially homosexuality–and to foster a moral discourse on sex that spoke not only to personal concerns but to anxieties about the health of the nation. He reveals how the epidemic increased efforts to advance a moral agenda regarding the health benefits of abstinence and monogamy, a legacy glimpsed as much in the traction gained by abstinence education campaigns as in the more recent cultural purchase of gay marriage.

Senior Minister Scott Jones will review and discuss this exciting book at our next Theology Brunch on Thursday, June 28 at noon at Early Bird Brunch.

Here are excerpts from the Introduction and Final Chapter, After the Wrath of God.

Anthony M. Petro is an assistant professor in the Department of Religion and in the Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program. His teaching and research interests include religion and culture in the United States; religion, medicine, and public health; and gender and sexuality studies. For the last five years, he has co-chaired an interdisciplinary seminar called “Global Perspectives on Religion and HIV/AIDS” for the American Academy of Religion.