COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The former president and current chancellor of fundamentalist Christian Bob Jones University apologized for saying in 1980 that gay people should be stoned, calling his comments reckless and inflammatory.
In a statement issued by the university on Saturday, Bob Jones III called his comments "reckless" and "inflammatory rhetoric" made during the heat of a political controversy. At the time, ministers were at the White House to oppose extending Civil Rights Act protections to homosexuals.
"I'm sure this will be greatly misquoted," Jones told The Associated Press in Washington in March 1980, "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."
Jones said in his new statement that is not how he feels in his heart, but that he takes "personal ownership of this inflammatory rhetoric."
"Upon now reading these long-forgotten words, they seem to me as words belonging to a total stranger — were my name not attached," Jones said in the statement.
The apology came three months after a private group investigating university's response to victims of sexual abuse rebuked Jones. The report found that the school encouraged sexual abuse victims to not file police reports, to forgive their attackers and to not commit the sin of bitterness.
The university apologized, citing poor training. Jones did not comment directly.
This weekend's apology appeared to be spurred by an online petition started three years ago by BJUnity, a group that supports gay, lesbian bisexual and transgender students and faculty at Bob Jones University.
Bob Jones III never mentioned the petition, which was mailed to his office with nearly 2,000 signatures two weeks ago, and the university didn't reach out to the group before or after Jones statement, BJUnity Executive Director Jeffrey Hoffman told The AP by phone.
Hoffman said he was stunned by Jones' apology and that he accepts it.
"They stand out loud and without apology for that old-time religion. So for them to not just recognize, but apologize for something in the past is just stunning," Hoffman said.
Jones was president of the school his grandfather founded for 34 years before retiring in 2005 and becoming chancellor. In his apology, Jones said that at no other time in his 50 years of preaching has he ever said sinners should be pelted with rocks.
"The Bible I love, preach, and try to practice, does not present today the stoning of sinners as God's way. Its message is the good news that Christ Jesus was condemned on behalf of sinners to rescue all of us from condemnation and judgment by His willing sacrifice," Jones said in his statement.
University spokesman Randy Page said that Jones is not speaking further about the matter and that his apology stands on its own.
Hoffman went to Bob Jones Academy, a private elementary, middle and high school connected to the university. He said he heard similar messages from the required chapel time at the school in the 1980s.
"I was painfully aware of my sexual orientation at that point. That left me very isolated growing up. You couldn't talk to anyone," Hoffman said.
The BJUnity group is trying to get fundamentalist universities across the country to tone down what they say and how they treat homosexuals. "It doesn't have to be a shouting match," Hoffman said.
Bob Jones University was founded in 1927 and is known for its fundamentalist Christian views. The school banned interracial dating until 2000, issuing an apology for the ban in 2008, saying its rules on race were shaped by culture instead of the Bible.
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