Controversial evangelical Christian leader Bob Jones III has apologised for saying that gay people should be stoned to death, 35 years after making the comment at the White House.
Jones was president of Bob Jones University (BJU), founded by his grandfather in Greenville, South Carolina, when he delivered a 70,000 strong petition to then-President Jimmy Carter opposing the extension of the Civil Rights Act to protect gay people.
"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," he said at the time.
"I guarantee it would solve the problem post-haste if homosexuals were stoned, if murderers were immediately killed as the Bible commands."
On Saturday, Jones issued an apology for his comments, saying they were "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."
"I take personal ownership of this inflammatory rhetoric. This reckless statement was made in the heat of a political controversy 35 years ago," Jones added.
"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."
A petition calling on Jones to apologise was first filed in 2012 by BJUnity, a group which advocates on behalf of past and present LGBT students and staff at the university. The group has accepted Jones' apology.
"It is never too late to say you're sorry," Jeffrey Hoffman, Executive Director of BJUnity, told wspa.com.
"Three years ago, when BJUnity launched our petition, we didn't imagine we would ever see this day," a statement from the group said.
"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."