WASHINGTON (BP)–White House spokesman Joe Lockhart admitted Jan. 5 that the Southern Baptist Convention deserved an apology for comments he made accusing the SBC of “perpetrating ancient religious hatred.”
“I think an apology is in order,” Lockhart said, responding to a reporter’s inquiry about the issue. “And I’ve already made it. Several reporters called me at the time. This was a comment that I made to a question that I….wasn’t aware of the facts, and made a generalized statement that is missing some conditional words.”
The apology comes just one day after Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, a Southern Baptist, told Baptist Press that the president should direct Lockhart to make a public apology.
On Dec. 16, Lockhart likened Southern Baptist evangelism efforts to Muslims and Jews “perpetrating religious hatred.” Lockhart’s original comments brought strong rebukes from congressional leadership as well as Southern Baptist Convention leaders. His remarks were made following a reporter’s question about plans for a Chicago evangelism initiative by the SBC.
“As I explained to the reporters who called me right before Christmas, and I think I made very clear, that certainly my intentions were not to create the impression that was created,” Lockhart said. “And even more, I didn’t want to create the impression that this was the President’s belief, because it’s certainly not his, and it’s not mine.”
Lockhart’s strong criticism of the Southern Baptist Convention brought swift response from SBC leaders as well as congressional leadership.
In a Dec. 23 letter to the White House, House members J.C. Watts and J. D. Hayworth, both Southern Baptists, condemned Lockhart’s remarks and called for his resignation. “If he (Lockhart) had a shred of honor he would do the decent thing and resign,” Hayworth said.
Lockhart said he had contacted Watts’ office about the matter. “I took seriously the letters that came. I reached out to his office … I offered to talk to him personally to explain it to him. He didn’t think that was necessary,” Lockhart said.
A spokesman for the Oklahoma congressman said Watts was not available for comment on Lockhart’s apology.
“I think those who are looking at this in a serious way understand and accept my explanation,” he added. “For those who don’t that’s their right.”