Forgive and Forget After Bob Jones’ “Stone the Gays” Apology?

At Religion News Service, Kevin Eckstrom reports on a rather unexpected, much belated apology. In 1980, during a visit to the White House, former Bob Jones University president Bob Jones III suggested that the United States should consider stoning homosexuals.

“I’m sure this will be greatly misquoted,” Jones said. “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.”

Three years ago, BJUnity, an organization of LGBT alumni, launched a petition asking Jones to apologize for the remarks. This past weekend, he did:

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.

To take Jones at his word is to grant that his comments were an aberration, not just in the mainstream discourse of the time, but also within his own thinking. His advocacy of stoning was the product of one moment – divorced from anything before or since – in which he misspoke and misrepresented himself terribly. It was an inopportune moment to be sure, in that he happened to be speaking to the President of the United States.

There are reasons to doubt Jones’ sincerity. Critics will be quick to observe, for instance, that his comments were delivered alongside a petition opposing legal protections for gays and lesbians. They will also observe that Bob Jones University continues to forbid all same-sex dating, and that it forbade interracial dating up until 2000. There are thus grounds for the claim that prejudice is more rule than exception in the Bob Jones universe.

Still, Jones’ apology is important and conciliatory to those students and alumni alienated by his words.

For the rest of us, it may be useful as a synecdoche for the rhetorical posture of conservative evangelicalism writ large. Burdened with a history of vicious anti-gay arguments, these speakers and advocates hope to simply disavow it, to proceed against equality movements in the present as though their opposition has always been purely intellectual and well-intended, as though they don’t even recognize the noxious forms it has until recently taken.

But this is not the case. Current arguments against equal rights for the LGBT community acquire new dimensions when understood in light of that history. This is a point I’ve made before, and I understand that saying it again runs the risk of redundancy. But I believe it is central and vital to any accurate reading of contemporary conservative discourse on LGBT issues.

BJUnity has forgiven Bob Jones, which strikes me as a very Christian thing to do. But in forgiving, we should be careful never, ever to forget.


  •' Craptacular says:

    “BJUnity has forgiven Bob Jones, which strikes me as a very Christian thing to do.” – Eric C. Miller

    Actually, I think of it as the human thing to do, since we all make mistakes. Ascribing forgiveness to a religion whose vocal adherents call for homosexuals to be put to death or requesting institutionalized segregation to ignore homosexuals in every day life doesn’t sound much like a religion of forgiveness.

  •' ecm192 says:

    I appreciate the clear attribution.

  •' fiona64 says:

    Neither before, nor since, that event in 1980 have I ever advocated the stoning of sinners.

    Because GLBT people must automatically be “sinners,” according to this yokel …

    And, as is pointed out in the article, the words were delivered during a presentation on his support for yet another anti-equality measure. At this point, I wouldn’t believe him if his tongue came notarized. (h/t to Judge Marilyn Milian)

  •' Laurence Charles Ringo says:

    EVERYBODY is a sinner,Fiona64…and it wasn’t Bob Jones who said it.

  •' DKeane123 says:

    I’m not.

  •' joeyj1220 says:

    but only the LGBT community has to endure the abuse by the Christian Taliban

  •' Laurence Charles Ringo says:

    You’re not what,DKeane123?

  •' DKeane123 says:

    A sinner, of course.

  •' fiona64 says:

    Really? Everybody is a “sinner”? Is that so?

    Citation needed. Peer-reviewed journals only. Thanks in advance.

  •' Jeffrey G. Johnson says:

    Jones use of “sinner” here invites a question: does he exclude himself from the category of sinner, or did he once include himself amongst those who ought to be stoned?

  •' Laurence Charles Ringo says:

    I’m going to operate on the assumption here that you are NOT an atheist,and just give the 2 most well-known”citations”,Fiona64 :Romans 3:23,and 1st John 1:8-10.And,it doesn’t have to be” peer-reviewed”; unless you have some heretofore unknown word for sin,the actions of ALL mankind shouts out the reality of sin’s prescence and power.Seriously,Fiona64…are you trying to be cute? As I said,unless you have some other words like the ones psychobabblers use,the Scriptures use words like sin,sinful,sinners,iniquity,wicked,wickedness, describe what human beings are,and the wrong actions they perpretrate against one another.If you prefer other words,that’s fine.I prefer what Scripture teaches;it’s a lot more honest about humanity. (I suspect that’s why so many people hate the Word of God—too honest;won’t let them hide.)-Oh,and read Mark 7:20-23 and 2nd Timothy 3 : 1-5.Jesus described what ails humanity perfectly,and the Apostle Paul did the same inre the world at large.Deny these truths if you can,Fiona64.Even atheists know better.—PEACE IN CHRIST.

  •' fiona64 says:

    I’m sorry, Laurence, but you fail right out of the gate. I specifically asked for peer-reviewed journals.

    Scripture is opinion … regardless of whose scripture it is.

  •' fiona64 says:

    Exactly. This is just one of many reasons why Laurence’s assertion is bee-ess.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    It is the concept of Christian humility. They are sinners and worthy of death. Their hearts are naturally wicked, and they know it. But they have invited God and Jesus into their hearts, and now the creator and ruler of the universe lives in them and guides them from moment to moment in the path of righteousness. They give God and Jesus all credit. Of themselves, they are nothing, and it is only through God’s power that they manifest a life of love. They are unworthy and give God all credit. Their natural vanity is changed to love and humility through Jesus Christ.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Now we have the law for bad things that people do to each other. Sin is more a concept to refer to things that disrespect the church and scriptures. That shows why it was necessary to separate church and state.

  •' Jeffrey G. Johnson says:

    That is quite a rather grand form of humility. And so convenient that one becomes blameless since they are nothing and God is everything. Presumably even when the manifestations of God’s love appear to be acts that are hateful, cruel, and violent, it’s only my confusion that I don’t understand the mysterious ways of God. This posture basically indemnifies and licenses an individual to a fully unaccountable carte blanche that is backed up by the (purportedly) most powerful authority in the Universe. Very convenient.

    What mystifies me is that people continue to assume that they need to punish others on God’s behalf. If God is the most powerful being, capable of creating the entire Universe in a matter of days, it doesn’t seem that He should require the puny efforts of mere mortals to settle his disputes. To think that He needs such mortal assistance strikes me as a conspicuous lack of faith in the power of God.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Good points. I have to agree with you.

  •' Craptacular says:

    “What mystifies me is that people continue to assume that they need to punish others on God’s behalf.” – Jeffrey G. Johnson

    Their god doesn’t need their help, their god is the rationale they use to do what they want.

  •' MikeP says:

    At least the LGBT community can practice their lifestyle here in the US. To equate American christians with the real Taliban does not

  •' Jeffrey G. Johnson says:

    Calling them “Christian Taliban” does not equate them with the Muslim Afghan Taliban. It simply draws a comparison. It is to say that cultural conservatives in the United States share some parallels with the Taliban. Specifically, they want to use force and/or coercion to stop other people from living in ways they don’t like. This is authoritarian and anti-liberty. It is a primitive impulse to try to control others based on a standard of religious purity that is antithetical to the principles enshrined in the First Amendment and the idea of religious freedom. It is exactly what religious pilgrims to the US tried to escape was the exercise of power by narrow religious interests preventing their freedom.
    American Christians shave, read the Bible not the Koran, and are willing to not resort to violence to accomplish their goals. They stick to rule of law and political activism. These are substantial differences, but they do not entirely erase the parallels.
    They both seem to have little faith in their God to punish the people that displeases Him, so they think they have to do it for Him.

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