In 1980, Bob Jones III, a fundamentalist minister and president of Bob Jones University in South Carolina, visited the White House with other ministers to urge President Jimmy Carter to oppose any extension of the Civil Rights Act to homosexuals.
That's when Jones made these comments:
“I'm sure this will be greatly misquoted,” Jones said at the news conference, according to the Associated Press. “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.”
Jones, among the nation's most influential evangelical leaders, publicly apologized over the weekend for his harsh comments after a campus advocacy group worked for three years on the issue.
One of the tenets uniting fundamentalist Christians is a strict belief in the absolute truth of the Bible as God’s word. Jones’ comments 35 years ago reflected his community’s feelings on the issue at the time.
But times have changed with greater acceptance of gay issues. And so has much of the rhetoric.
“I take personal ownership of this inflammatory rhetoric,” Jones, 75, said in his apology, posted on the school’s website. He has retired from the president's post, but serves as chancellor of the Greenville campus.
“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,” he stated.
“I cannot erase them, but wish I could, because they do not represent the belief of my heart or the content of my preaching,” he said. “Neither before, nor since, that event in 1980 have I ever advocated the stoning of sinners.”
BJUnity, which advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual students, said it took three years to gather signatures for its petition seeking the apology.
“We didn’t imagine we would ever see this day,” the group said in a statement. “We are grateful for this apology. 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 University is no stranger to controversy over minority rights. Because of its interpretation of the Bible, the school once prohibited interracial dating.
The Internal Revenue Service pulled the school’s tax-exempt status as a religious university. The issue was litigated up to the U.S. Supreme Court and the IRS action was upheld in 1983.
The dating ban was officially nullified by the school in 2000, after a media uproar brought about in part by the visit of GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush.
Follow @latimesmuskal for national news.