U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who has been sharply criticized by many of his fellow evangelical Christians for his positions on AIDS, has struck back in an interview in the June issue of Charisma & Christian Life.
The 72-year-old Presbyterian, who will leave his federal post Oct. 1, specifically criticized positions taken by James Dobson, president of the Pomona-based Focus on the Family, and the Rev. D. James Kennedy, a prominent television preacher and outgoing moderator of the Presbyterian Church in America.
Koop debunked several assertions made by author Gene Antonio in his book "The AIDS Cover-Up," such as the contentions that AIDS could be spread by kissing and mosquito bites. Then interviewer Steven Lawson said: "James Dobson, James Kennedy and other Christian leaders have referred to some of the same conclusions as Antonio. These are very credible voices within the Christian community."
In response, Koop said that "the Christian activity in reference to AIDS of both D. James Kennedy and Jim Dobson is reprehensible. The first time that Kennedy ever made a statement about AIDS, I saw it on television. It was so terrible, so homophobic, so pure Antonio that I wrote him a letter."
Koop said he and Kennedy had gone to the same church years ago in Philadelphia and "both became Christians under the same man." He said he wrote to Kennedy, who is pastor of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., "and told him how far off base he was in his comments about AIDS."
The surgeon general said he had offered to give Kennedy a briefing about AIDS but the offer was never accepted. Koop said: "Kennedy wrote me a letter full of this trash and rubbish out of Antonio's book. I responded to it thoroughly, paragraph by paragraph. I never heard a word from him."
Koop recalled that he and Dobson had made some films on the AIDS epidemic and that the Focus on the Family president "was with me completely."
But then, the surgeon general said: "I don't know what happened to him. He changed his mind, and last August in his paper he attacked me for two pages as leading people down the garden path. But again his arguments were full of holes. I just cannot believe the poor scholarship of so many Christians."
The surgeon general said AIDS offers "an opportunity for Christian service. We have an opportunity for evangelism to those who are sick, and it is an opportunity for Christian witness to those who are watching."
There was no immediate response from Kennedy or Dobson.