Evening, 10 May 1987. Thousands of American fingers flick their television remotes to Old Time Gospel Hour. The Reverend Jerry Falwell steps forward to address an adoring audience, worn Bibles in hand, blessed suppers of body and blood recently consumed. His message is a comforting one for this gathering. 'They are scared to walk near one of their own kind right now. And what we have been unable to do with our preaching, a God who hates sin has stopped dead in its tracks by saying, "Do it and die. Do it and die." ' Falwell wrote later that year: 'Aids is a lethal judgment of God on America for endorsing this vulgar, perverted and reprobate lifestyle.' His words emerged from the sun-beat soul of the American South and did not, as you might imagine, solely reflect his desire to fill the coffers of televangelism. Two years earlier, the residents of an unprepossessing Southern town were asked their views about Aids. Half of those polled believed that the law should prevent people with HIV from working in close contact with others. Forty per cent thought that children with Aids should be excluded from schools. Intolerance is institutionalised; it is the ordinary language of Christian fundamentalists, and fundamentalists are the human infrastructure of the southern United States. Or so it seems at first blush.
LRB 20 April 1995 | PDF Download