A fundamentalist Christian leader has apologized for saying gay people should be stoned -- 35 years after he made the statement.
Bob Jones III, chancellor and former president of Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., issued a statement of apology over the weekend, a few days after the delivery of a petition by BJUnity, a support group for past and president BJU students who are LGBT, the Greenville News reports.
In 1980, when speaking to the Associated Press at the White House, Jones said, "I'm sure this will be greatly misquoted. But it would not be a bad idea to bring the swift justice today that was brought in Israel's day against murder and rape and homosexuality. I guarantee it would solve the problem posthaste if homosexuals were stoned, if murderers were immediately killed as the Bible commands." At the time, he and other fundamentalist leaders were delivering a petition to the White House opposing the extension of some provisions of the Civil Rights Act to gay people.
In a statement posted on the university's public relations blog Saturday, Jones said, "I take personal ownership of this inflammatory rhetoric. This reckless statement was made in the heat of a political controversy 35 years ago. It is antithetical to my theology and my 50 years of preaching a redeeming Christ Who came into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. Upon now reading these long-forgotten words, they seem to me as words belonging to a total stranger -- were my name not attached.
"I cannot erase them, but wish I could, because they do not represent the belief of my heart or the content of my preaching. Neither before, nor since, that event in 1980 have I ever advocated the stoning of sinners."
BJUnity issued a statement in response Saturday: "We are grateful that Bob Jones III has taken responsibility for these words -- words that have caused deep harm for many more people than any of us knows. This means a lot to us because it represents the beginning of a change in the rhetoric and conversation."
Bob Jones III is the grandson of the university's founder. The university has long opposed same-sex relationships and continues to do so; its current student handbook says that sex is reserved for "the marriage relationship between one man and one woman for a lifetime."
The university has been involved in numerous controversies besides those related to its anti-LGBT policies. Founded in the 1920s, it did not admit black students until the 1970s, and it banned interracial dating for students until 2000. The ban was lifted after George W. Bush, then running for president, was criticized for appearing at the university prior to the South Carolina primary.
And just this week, members of a group investigating the university's handling of sexual abuse claims denounced the school's response to its recommendations. Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, an independent nonprofit that BJU contracted to do the investigation, found that the university's response was "shallow words backed largely by inaction," reports Columbia, S.C., newspaper The State. In many cases, the group said, the university has blamed victims for sexual assaults and failed to notify law enforcement.