New York Ted Turner, who once called Christianity a "religion for losers," launched a $200 million partnership Tuesday with Lutherans and Methodists to fight malaria in Africa, apologizing for his past criticism of religion and calling faith a "bright spot" in the world.
Turner, 69, said he had only made a few disparaging comments a long time ago and that he is "always developing" his thinking as he grows older.
"I regret anything I said about religion that was negative," he told The Associated Press ahead of a news conference announcing the anti-malaria program.
In the 1980s, the CNN founder criticized Christianity, wrote his own version of the Ten Commandments and in 2001 asked employees who commemorated Ash Wednesday whether they were "Jesus freaks," saying they should work for Fox. He apologized at the time.
Turner now says he does not consider himself agnostic or atheist, as he had sometimes described himself previously. He prays for sick friends because "it doesn't hurt," he said, and maintains several churches on his properties for employees and others who live nearby.
"As I get older, you know, I get more, you know, more tolerant," Turner said at the news conference.
On Tuesday, Turner's United Nations Foundation, which he started in 1997 with a $1 billion donation, launched the anti-malaria project with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the United Methodist Church. The Protestant groups have been working overseas to fight poverty and prevent disease for more than a century.
"Religion is one of the bright spots as far as I'm concerned, even though there are some areas, like everything else, where they've gone over the top a little, in my opinion," Turner said. "But I'm sure God, wherever he is, wants to see us get along with one another and love one another."
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also provided a $10 million grant that will help promote the campaign in churches. The Protestant groups together have more than 15 million U.S. members.
Turner's foundation had been working with many groups, including the Methodists, on the Nothing But Nets campaign, which provides insecticide-treated bed nets in needy communities. Lutheran World Relief also had been helping malaria-infected cities and villages.
But the new joint project has an even more ambitious goal: to stop deaths from malaria. The disease kills more than 1 million people a year - mostly women and children under the age of 5 in Africa.
The two denominations were chosen because of their overseas experience and their ability to advocate for the project in the U.S. Turner said he was familiar with Methodist and Lutheran churches, praising them for preaching "the brotherhood of man."
He said he has read the Bible "cover to cover twice" even though some of it is "pretty tedious" and considered becoming a missionary as a boy. But he rejected religion after his younger sister died from a form of lupus when they were both young.
Turner still has not completely embraced religion.He said he continues to subscribe to his alternative commandments, which he called the "Ten Voluntary Initiatives." They include caring for people and the earth, promising not to have more than two children and contributing to the less fortunate.