NEW YORK — Ted Turner formed a $200 million partnership Tuesday with Lutherans and Methodists to fight malaria, apologizing for his past criticism of religion as he announced the effort.
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 said in a brief interview with The Associated Press.
Years ago, the CNN founder called Christianity a "religion for losers." He also wrote his own version of the 10 Commandments and asked CNN 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 considering 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 his employees and others who live nearby.
He said he has attended the churches a few times, but isn't a regular.
"I find it really hard to believe I'm going to hell," Turner said.
Turner said he had 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 of a form of lupus when they were both young.
On Tuesday, Turner's United Nations Foundation, which he started in 1997 with a $1 billion donation, launched the 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 communities.
But their new joint project has an even more ambitious goal: to stop deaths from malaria.
The United Methodist Church will raise $100 million for the project. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, with their humanitarian arm Lutheran World Relief, will raise between $75 million and $100 million.
"This will be the largest campaign of its type ever for Lutherans," said the Rev. John Nunes, president and chief executive of Lutheran World Relief.
Turner has not completely embraced faith.
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.
Nunes said that while the new anti-malaria project will address the underlying poverty that contributes to the spread of the disease, it will not involve distributing contraception.
"The religious community is huge and has a very good reputation for being able to mobilize resources," Turner said. "Why not use them and be thankful?"