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Ted Turner softens stance on religion

By A. James Memmott

April 2, 2008 at 5:09pm

Noting that as he gets older, he gets more tolerant, the once anti-religious Ted Turner has joined with two religious organizations to reduce malaria in Africa.

On Tuesday, Turner announced a partnership between the United Nations Foundation, which he started, and Lutheran World Relief and the People of the United Methodist Church. They hope to raise $200 million.

“The battle against disease and poverty go hand in hand,” Turner said. “We can only do this by all of us pulling together.”

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has also contributed a $10 million grant toward the campaign.

Turner, 69, the billionaire who founded CNN and was once married to actress Jane Fonda, acknowledged Tuesday that his joining a faith-based initiative may seem at odds with some of his earlier statements.

Suggesting he’s had a change of heart, he said, “I regret anything I said about religion that was negative.”

“Religion is one of the bright spots as far as I am concerned,” added Turner. “Even though there are some areas, like everything else, where they’ve gone over the top.”

Turner does have more than one anti-religious remark to regret.

In 2001, he suggested that CNN employees who had ashes on their foreheads for Ash Wednesday were a “bunch of Jesus freaks.”

And in 1989, he called Christianity “a religion for losers.”

Turner, who once owned the Atlanta Braves, is the largest private landowner in the United States.

In September 1997, he announced his intention to begin the UN Foundation with a $1 billion donation. His goal was to “make things better for people all over the world.”

He had to create the foundation, he said, because the United Nations was structured in such a way that it couldn’t receive private donations directly.

Turner serves as the chairman of the foundation. Its board members include Kofi Annan, the former secretary-general of the UN, and Andrew Young, the former U.N. ambassador from the United States.

The UN Foundation and the People of the United Methodist Church are already among the founding partners of Nothing but Nets. It battles malaria by providing anti-mosquito bed nets for people in areas where the disease prevalent.

Transmitted by mosquitoes, malaria annually kills over 1 million people, most of them children in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Methodist Church hopes to raise $100 million toward the new anti-malaria campaign. Lutheran World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, hopes to raise between $75 million and $100 million.

“The religious community is huge and has a very good reputation for being able to mobilize resources,” Turner said Tuesday. “Why not use them and be thankful?”

Rachel Zoll, the AP’s religion reporter, reported that Turner said he had rejected religion following the death of his sister from lupus when they were both young. Before that Turner had read the Bible “cover to cover twice” and had considered becoming a missionary, Zoll reported.

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