Religious Right, HIV/AIDS and Christian Marriage

Photo by Bret Kavanaugh on Unsplash

I had hoped to bring you another person’s story this month, but unfortunately there has been a delay.  As you will no doubt have found in your own experience, life sometimes gets in the way of plans, and this has been the case this month, so I hope to get back on track next month.  Here’s hoping!

 In the meantime, I want to return to something I discussed in my essay and update it – having learned a little more!  It also includes a look back at western Evangelical history, at least as I remember it!  History is subjective and, on this occasion, I am writing from the perspective of my own observations and experiences as I look back.  I have tried to fact-check my impressions, but a few have proven difficult to chase down. The subject might be a little niche, but it takes a look at why Evangelicalism is as anti-LGBTQ+ as it appears today, and hopefully, I can show some of the roots for this.  Incidentally, if you have anything further to add on today’s subject, I’d love to know, so I can look for the source material. 

My essay is, in a sense, the foundation stone for this website, and therefore, for these Blog Posts.  As I have previously written, I was born in the Fifties, and grew up in the Sixties and Seventies.  I became a Christian in late in 1971, and was baptised on Remembrance Sunday in 1972, and have held onto my faith since then.  There have been at least two occasions where I went through experiences that threatened my application of my faith.  By that I mean I never doubted Jesus, or my salvation (my belief in Him as my Saviour), but everything else was up for grabs, especially the idea about how we understand God guiding us, and how we can trust what the Bible says. 

I have always read theological books and magazines but can’t cope with reading them continually!  I have to get a fix of Science Fiction, fantasy or mythic fantasy, between anything theological, to keep me grounded.  If you can get something like C.S Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles or his science fiction trilogy, we’re sorted! To add a little bit more detail, I also love the writings of Charles De Lint, Douglas Adams, Joan D Vinge, and Stephen R Lawhead amongst many others.  I grew up reading the Christian Magazine “Buzz” which I think became “21st Century Christian” and finally “Premier Christianity”, so those are some of my background literary influences.  I still browse Premier Christianity, but am far more cautious because they try and be non-committal about sexuality, but clearly have a bias towards the traditional stance.

With that background in place, I don’t remember ever hearing the expression “Christian Marriage” in churches/sermons, or indeed in any Christian context, until probably sometime in the Eighties.  Prior to that, I only ever remember preachers using the word “Marriage” when talking about sex and relationships.   They never used the prefix “Christian” – they didn’t need to.  It was/is irrelevant.  Why would you need it?  Obviously, if it is used, it is to draw attention to, or contrast with, something being disapproved of.  Christians have no problem with Muslim (Jewish/Hindu, Pagan even, etc.) marriage, so that can’t be it, so what is going on?  Where did it come from?

When writing this, I was surprised how difficult it was to research “Christian Marriage” because whatever search engine I used, the term clearly wasn’t really understood.

So where did it first appear?  Initially, my starting point is from my own memory.    As I say my first recollections really stem from the 1980’s, when the Moral Majority movement in America, founded in June 1979 by Jerry Falwell Sr., started overtly attacking what we now know as the LGBTQ+ community.  When it was first formed, Moral Majority didn’t say much about being gay because they were interested in focussing on a group of other social issues deemed important to Jerry Falwell and his team — issues that he perceived were resulting in the moral decay of America.  Part of this was the reinforcement of “traditional family values”, where the father went out to work, and the mother stayed at home to raise their kids – which sounds so quaint and twee nowadays!  In addition, the idea of abortion was abhorrent in any circumstance.  The heartland of support for Moral Majority were the Southern, former Confederate, states, but the influence was felt throughout America as many churches embraced the ideas promoted by Moral Majority, but the effects were felt even on these shores.  This is because many American Preachers have always come to tour the UK on a regular basis at the invitation of various churches and Christian organisations.

As a current example, we have just had an announcement that Franklin Grahem (son of Billy Graham) will be touring England in 2022.  Billy Graham was someone I had a lot of respect for, although he didn’t get everything right, he knew when to keep his own counsel.  Sadly, his son didn’t inherit those genes, and there is no way I’d want to go and hear him.  There is a half-remembered quote I read about him a couple of years ago – I have no idea who the author was or where I read it – so apologies.  Here is how I remember it, though it may not be quite right: “Franklin lacks his earthly father’s wisdom, intellect and humility, and his Heavenly Father’s grace and mercy.”  Let me know the source, and correct wording  if you know it.

There are a good number of testimonial contrasts of Billy and Franklin, and if you are interested, here are two: and  One of my problems with him is that Franklin is very much a product of the Christian Right that has been empowered by the likes of Moral Majority.

As I said, most well-known American speakers and evangelists, will, at some point, have done tours of the UK, and will have influenced our thinking.  This has always been the way.

The politics of Moral Majority were largely conservative right-wing, and it’s roots were based heavily in Christian fundamentalism.  This is where people adopt a strict conformity to the words of the Bible, adhering to the theological idea of Biblical inerrancy (that there are no errors or mistakes in the Biblical text).  Moral Majority, opposed abortion, pornography, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement (in particular the Equal Rights Amendment), and later, gay rights.  They supported increased defence spending and a strong anti-communist foreign policy with continued support for Israel.

Moral Majority grew through the Eighties but folded in 1989 when the money ran out and the leadership started to fracture.  By then, they had sufficiently influenced the Religious Right in America, so that the effects are still being felt today, especially after being fanned back into flame by President number 45, and his flunkies. 

Back at the formation of Moral Majority, the influence of the organisation strongly encouraged Christians across the nation to vote for Ronald Reagan to become President of the United States in 1981.  As an outsider, this is perhaps surprising from a Christian perspective, because Jimmy Carter, the incumbent President, had a strong Christian morality underpinning his politics, and Ronald Reagan much less so.  It is worth having a read through the Wikipedia or Britanica ( pages for both Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter and fact checking with some of the linked documents.  Personally, my memories of President Carter were that he was considered a weak President, and this was seen particularly in the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 which lasted 444 days.  This was when 66 Americans were captured by militant Iranian students and held in the American Embassy.  Fourteen were quickly released, but Jimmy Carter was badly damaged by failing to get the release of the remaining 52 American hostages.  The release of these remaining hostages occurred minutes after President Reagan was inaugurated as President.

During the election campaign, Moral Majority campaigned against Carter because the Democratic party whom he represented, was in favour of abortion, although Carter himself was pro-life, but accepting that abortion was necessary in certain situations.  Much more recently, in around 2015, Carter indicated he thought Jesus would disapprove of “most” abortions (See – the whole web page is worth a read). In addition, abortion had been permitted because of the Roe vs Wade case in the Supreme Court during his presidency.  

Shortly after Reagan became President, we had the first signs appearing of what became the AIDS crisis.  It was this, that I believe created the narrative that turned the church so anti-gay and anti-LGBTQ+, not just in America but also the UK and Europe, and the rest of the world.  HIV/AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus infection and Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome) first came to public notice in America during the early 1980’s.  As I write in my essay, if you haven’t read it:

AIDS is not the gay disease many have claimed, because straight people have also been caught right up in it, but it has disproportionately affected the gay community.  But we do need to dispel some myths: it wasn’t a disease created in the 1980’s, but [over]100 years ago, around 1920, in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo).  [See: and and]

HIV/AIDS drew the public gaze to the small section of the community which had been living fairly quietly among us, until that point, albeit with some exceptions and some terrible assumptions, which I’ll get to shortly.  Here in the UK, we gradually became aware of HIV/AIDS in the very early 1980’s but Governments were slow to recognise the seriousness of the pandemic.  President Reagan did not talk publicly about it until 1985, and although the UK Government were talking about it earlier than this, our “Tombstone” adverts in the UK, did not come out until late 1986.  In the meantime, because most of the early cases were gay men, ‘the expression “gay plague” became accepted media shorthand’ – see This was offensive because it was lazy journalism – and wrong. 

Much of society was anti-gay, and this included the church, although I don’t think people at a local church level ever gave it any real thought – they didn’t know anyone who was gay.  (They probably did, but didn’t realise it!)  To demonstrate the total ignorance of the time, when it did get mentioned, homosexuality frequently got rolled up with paedophilia as a single issue, so that it was thought gay men would attack your children.  Then you also had the sensationalist stories in the papers like the Jeremy Thorpe scandal.  We also read about the spies who “betrayed the UK to the USSR” who were gay – people like Guy Burgess and Sir Anthony Blunt.  The narrative was that these were bad men, and they were gay, so ….   And then there was the less well-known story of Ron Davies, who, in 1998, resigned from the cabinet after a man robbed him at Clapham Common (a well-known gay cruising ground).  His mistake was to later lie about it.  He later admitted to being bisexual.  I remember this one because it was relatively close to where I lived at the time, and I frequently drove past Clapham Common, or passed it on the 109 bus to London!

So, society and churches wanted to keep HIV/AIDS as far from themselves as possible.  The “gay plague” idiom was easily adopted by religious groups and churches who saw in their Bibles the erroneous word “Homosexual” in a number of places (Read the essay!) and jumped to the conclusion that this was God’s judgement on a group of specific people.  They superficially thought they saw one + one = two, but failed to look more closely at the evidence, both Biblical and scientific (biological and psychological). 

I have to say I am not without guilt either, because although I found the “gay plague” language distasteful, I didn’t do anything about it.  I didn’t explore the issues, until 2014, neither did I argue publicly against it.  I was passive.  This was largely because it was an issue that didn’t affect anyone I was close to, and my interests were focussed on other things.  It was irrelevant to me.  I was struggling with the stress of a job change that went very wrong — and the impact that had on my mental health (which I didn’t recognise at the time) and faith.  My faith has always been important to me, and I found myself trying to make sense of something that had turned everything I believed in, upside down.  But that doesn’t give me a free pass.

As I have mentioned, through the Eighties we saw Moral Majority and the Christian/Religious Right call HIV/AIDS God’s Judgement on gays, ( and I surprised myself in researching around the issue for this blog, as I found this is still a “thing” with some ignorant people today.  I’m left struggling for words, because I thought with everything we now know, no-one would be stupid enough to still hold onto that idea.  (I do not want to give oxygen to the sites that espouse this thinking, and quoting their links, so if you really must find the sites, do your own internet search.)  Again, to quote from the essay:

When AIDS exploded in the 80’s it also affected haemophiliacs, drug addicts and Haitians.  If it really was God’s judgement, there should have been no other groups affected – no collateral damage.  Why Haitians specifically?  Haitians were so poor they were selling their own blood plasma but there was little or no sterilisation between patients when their red blood cells, minus the plasma, were reinjected. 

The thinking that says God has been judging the gay community is similar to the morality that the Americans use when they target a drone strike at a wedding, because a terrorist leader is there.  It’s okay to kill 70 guests, providing you’ve killed the main target.)  That is NOT the God of the Bible, neither is it the way of Jesus.

You may wonder what relevance HIV/AIDS has to Christian Marriage!  I will get back to the main theme, but we must understand the historical period where this expression was born, and why it became important.

With this in mind, as we went through the Eighties, we saw Moral Majority turn it’s fire onto the gay community, because AIDS was “God showing his displeasure against this dissolute community”.  With the gay community gradually recognising it needed to step out from the shadows and shame, and taking Pride in their creation in the image of God, the Religious Right became terrified in case the Gay community received the same rights as the rest of society.  Calls that gay people be allowed to marry were seen as being offensive to God, though I don’t think God was asked for a comment!  I get the impression that the device thought up was to start talking about marriage as “Christian Marriage”, as a counter to Gay Marriage.  This was directly intended to be offensive, conveying the idea that gay marriage could only be a cheap, second-class event.  Because the definition of a Christian Marriage was that it was only available to a man and a woman, it was also meant as a slap down.  In addition, the usual term “Marriage” was now more clearly defined as being only available to a couple comprising of a man and a woman.  As usually happens, what starts in the USA gradually permeates British Christian culture, to the extent that many Christians don’t even realise the term Christian Marriage is a very recent term.

Through the Eighties, as the HIV/AIDS pandemic grew, many died of the disease.  Some died alone because no friends or relatives visited them as they approached their death.**  Some died alone in hospital wards, at times because even some nursing staff were afraid to come too close, or didn’t have enough time to give quality time to all their patients.  There were even reports of some nurses refusing to have anything to do with AIDS Patients.

That sounds ridiculous, but in episode 5 (called “First Response”) of the recent (November 2021) podcast “We Were Always Here”, a nurse called Theresa Burns described one situation she faced.  She said: “We were desperately short… so we got an agency nurse, and she turned up and she seemed perfectly lovely.  It was officially an infectious diseases ward, so I said it was “aprons”, “gloves” – nobody needs a mask as we had no TB, or anything. … And she said “Have you got any aids on this ward?” I knew exactly what she meant, but I said, “What, like walking sticks, walking frames?”  And she went, “No.  No.  AIDS.  Homosexuals”.  I went: “Well yes, a few.” “Well, I’m not having this.  I’m a good Christian woman.”  Although the ward was desperate for help, they sent her away because the patients did not need that type of attitude.  Fortunately, other nurses were far more caring, though there were not nearly enough of them.

With this in mind, if you haven’t watched Russell T. Davies’ “It’s A Sin”, make time and watch it.  Towards the end of the series, we are shown something of what happened on an AIDS ward, where friends of the dying patient would provide some of the care.  Sometimes they would even sit with and care for a patient they didn’t know, because they were so alone, with no visitors.

How did the church respond?  Other than the Metropolitan Community Church, whose focus is on the LGBTQ+ community, very poorly.  We were all too busy looking the other way.  Take a look at Matthew 25: 34-46 but particularly: 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

So, with this in mind as a backdrop, the Christian Right in America including Moral Majority, were making a play to ostracise the LGBTQ+ community (though their focus at the time was simply on the gay community).  They saw gay culture as running totally contrary to Biblical teaching, and were very worried that the American States would pass laws that allowed Gay folks to marry.  To counter this perceived threat, they focussed on what they claimed was real “biblical” marriage which they argued could only be between a man and a woman – ideally Christians, but they didn’t seem unduly concerned if they weren’t.  Hence, they were using the term Christian Marriage to cover marriage and although they were using it to talk about two Christians, it was an umbrella term that covered two atheists, two Sikhs, two Muslim’s, basically any pair providing they were man and woman.  They didn’t mind offending the Sikh or Muslim community by calling their marriage “Christian” because they had a different target in mind.  It was designed to be a contrast to “Gay Marriage”. 

They kept referring to this as “Christian Marriage”, to such an extent that some people now think it goes right back to the Bible.  That’s obviously wrong, and is a human construct designed to sow division and exclusion.  It is designed purely as a counterpoint to “Gay Marriage”.  I hate both terms and want to advocate the use of the simple term “marriage”.  Marriage ideally being a commitment for life between two people, regardless of sexuality, gender, religion, politics, race, ethnicity, or whatever.

The only place I have been able to find that expression prior to the 1980’s is in the writings of C. S. Lewis.  After the comments I made in the essay, and after I had published the completed work a couple of months back, my attention was drawn to a chapter in C. S. Lewis’ book called “Mere Christianity”, published in 1952, called “Christian Marriage”.  However, Lewis is talking about Christian marriage in a very different way.

Lewis talks about “Christian marriage” as being the attitudes of Christians towards marriage, in making it work through whatever stresses and tensions that affect it – rejecting divorce; working at showing love, even when the passion has disappeared; and having the determination and integrity to keep the promises you made when you were married.  And, to my mind, this type of Christian marriage, can equally apply to Christians who are trans*, Bi- or gay.  He is not talking about Christian Marriage (double capitals) as we see it sometimes referred to today, which is an elitist concept designed to highlight the differences and separate Christians who are married, from those who are gay and married.  As part of his discourse on marriage, Lewis talks about divorce, he says:

Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused.  The Christian conception of marriage is one [PJ – He has spoken about this earlier in the chapter]: the other is the quite different question – how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws.  A great many seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for everyone, I do not think that.  At least, I know I should be very angry if [Muslims] tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine.  My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members.  The distinction ought to be quite sharp so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense, and which are not.  [My emphases.]  Page 99 of my Collins – Fount Paperbacks version.

The “distinction” Lewis refers to here is not by way of a title, or piece of paper, or ceremony but by the quality.  Idealistically, an outside observer should look at any Christian couple who are married, and compere them to another couple – perhaps next door and recognise the qualitative difference of the Christians.  Although some of that text gives an impression of when it was written, the points Lewis makes are just as significant today.  So far, that is the earliest use of the phrase “Christian marriage” that I can find, but it’s used here in a different way to that usually used by non-affirming churches.  (Also note that he also refers to “Christian marriage” on p99 of The Four Loves originally published in 1960 [in my Collins – Fontana Books 15th impression, published in 1976!]).

So, my main point is that other earlier authors may have used the expression to talk about the qualities and expectations of a marriage between two Christians, but they haven’t used it in the way that the Christian Right have adopted it, since the 1980’s, which has little to do with the Bible, and far more to do with divisive politics.  The church therefore needs to be very careful how it uses the term.  As I describe in the essay, the Bible recognises eight different types of marriage that God seems to recognise, and it doesn’t clearly condemn any of them.  See the infographic at  However, if you apply a Jesus hermeneutic, some of them won’t match the standard He would require.

In conclusion, the Religious Right in the USA have had a major impact on the church’s attitudes to the LGBTQ+ community, and this has crossed into our culture and to our shame we did not challenge it when we first saw it, and instead, we embraced it.  Alongside the very damaging and mistaken use of the word “Homosexual”, in the Revised Standard Version in 1946 (, the big question is: what do we do now?

Recommended resources: There are a couple of great videos to watch, that deal with some of the material for this Blog.  If you haven’t already done so, watch:

It’s a Sin – a superbly moving 5-episode story of five friends living in London during the 1980’s as they come to terms with the ravages of HIV/AIDS.  It is created by Russell T. Davies and comes with a mascara warning!

Pose – Set in New York during the late 80s and early 90s, this tells the story of the hyper-glitzy “ball culture” and the gay and trans community, during the HIV/AIDS crisis.  It is told over three series and 26 episodes, and is tremendously moving.  Once again, a mascara warning!

Mrs America – where Cate Blanchett plays the role of Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly who leads a fight against the Equal Rights Amendment movement during the 1970s and provides the oxygen that helped form Moral Majority, and made Ronald Reagan the POTUS.  This is a 9-episode TV series and is superb in the way it depicts the Evangelical Christian scene of the day.  It will help you understand the history of the period, whilst making you rage against the lack of any true Jesus‑centred values within the Religious Right.

And if podcasts rock your boat:

The Log Books – a look at the Archived log books of the LGBTQ+ helpline called “Switchboard” which started in 1974.  The logbooks are held at the Bishopsgate Institute.  See – “Untold stories from Britain’s LGBTQ+ history”, and the podcasts are available from most Podcast providers.


** but also take time to read the other blogs on:

Also”We Were Always Here” Although I have quoted from episodes 5, “First Response” and 6, “Body & Soul”, in the Blog, the whole series is a superb introduction to how specific people were impacted by the HIV/AIDS crisis, and how they were affected.  As I was living reasonably close to some of the areas referred to in the series, I could easily picture the places.