Thirty-five years after he made them, Bob Jones III, one of the country's most influential evangelical Christian leaders, has apologized for comments calling for gay men and lesbians to be killed "as the Bible commands."
Jones, chancellor and former president of Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., issued the apology Saturday, calling his comments in 1980 "antithetical to my theology and my 50 years of preaching a redeeming Christ." A petition on Change.org filed by BJ Unity, a nonprofit organization of LGBTQ alumni of the private evangelical college, has sought the apology since 2012.
In 1980, Jones and other leading evangelical ministers supporting the presidential candidacy of Ronald Reagan visited the White House to demand that President Jimmy Carter not extend protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to gay men and lesbians. In remarks to The Associated Press, Jones was quoted as having 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 post-haste if homosexuals were stoned, if murderers were immediately killed as the Bible commands."
In his apology, issued through the college his grandfather founded in 1927, Jones, 75, said: "I take personal ownership of this inflammatory rhetoric. This reckless statement was made in the heat of a political controversy 35 years ago. ... 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."
BJ Unity accepted Jones' apology, saying in a statement: "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 became president of the university — a must-visit stop for conservative political candidates throughout the 1980s and 1990s — in 1971. Since then, it has rescinded a ban on black students and a prohibition on interracial dating. Jones retired as president of the school in 2005 but remains its chancellor.