CT's editor-at-large probes the feelings and aspirations of one of the nation's most colorful surgeons general, C. Everett Koop, who died yesterday. This article originally appeared in the November 3, 1989, issue of Christianity Today, shortly after Koop resigned as Surgeon General. Yancey had profiled Koop in the previous issue.
How did you get nominated for the post of surgeon general in the first place?
I doubt we'll ever know. Ronald Reagan had read my books Whatever Happened to the Human Race? and The Right to Live, the Right to Die. In his typically unorthodox political style, he went to his pastor at Bel Air Presbyterian Church, Don Moomaw, and asked him to get a sense from around the country of what Koop's peers thought of him. Almost immediately I started getting calls from my friends saying the President was interested in me.
You have said that as a surgeon you used to pray over specific procedures and that you had a sense of God being involved in your work. Did you feel anything similar during your time as surgeon general?
Oh, yes. I have frequently said that I could not have been a pediatric surgeon if I thought when I walked into the operating room that I was in complete control of what was going to happen. And when the surgeon general post came up (I had never sought public office), I believed that God plucked me out of Philadelphia and dumped me in Washington. I used to ask him a lot of questions about it! During the agonizing nine months of the nomination process, I would stare at the Bible on my desk, trying to understand what had happened. Looking back now, I thank the Lord for the great opportunity.
I am not a great prayer. But I go to work with the attitude that says, God, ...