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May 8th, 2012
02:02 PM ET

Pastor who sparked outrage over hitting gay children speaks out

By David Mattingly and Eric Marrapodi, CNN

Fayetteville, North Carolina (CNN)– A pastor who advocated hitting boys who display effeminate qualities is expressing regret for the sermon he delivered in the midst of a controversial marriage amendment battle.

"Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist," Sean Harris, the pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina, told his congregants in his sermon on April 28. He continued, "Man up, give them a good punch, OK. 'You're not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male and you're going to be a male.'"

This week Harris said, "I was telling them in strong words that were not careful. What did I learn this week? Be more careful with your words."

Harris' comments came in a heated environment in the Tarheel State. On Tuesday, voters will cast ballots on Amendment One, which would amend the state constitution to say that "Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State."

While North Carolina already has a law banning same-sex marriage, the passage of the amendment would effectively ban same-sex civil unions and domestic partnerships.

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Churches across the state have taken opposing sides on the issue. George Reed, the head of the North Carolina Council of Churches, which is opposing the amendment, says the support breaks along traditional battle lines. He says many Catholic and independent evangelical churches support the amendment and many mainline churches oppose it.

On Sunday, a full-page advertisement from the world's most famous evangelist, long-time North Carolina resident Billy Graham, ran in 14 newspapers across the state.

The ad featured the 93-year-old evangelist's picture and read, "I never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage." It continued, "The Bible is clear - God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. I want to urge my fellow North Carolinians to vote for the marriage amendment on Tuesday, May 8. God bless you as you vote.”

Graham has shied away from other hot-button political issues in the past. His spokesman, A. Larry Ross, noted he had kept silent when similar ballot issues appeared in 30 other states but felt compelled to speak up this time because the debate was raging in his home state.

“For him it’s a timeless message, not a timely issue. He’s preached this for 60 years. He was reinforcing the positive message he has been preaching," Ross said. “For him it’s not a political issue, it’s a moral issue.”

Harris' controversial sermon was focused on the amendment debate and he is encouraging his members to vote for the marriage amendment.

Harris said he preaches a biblical interpretation at the Berean Baptist Church - that homosexuality is a choice and that the Bible teaches it is sinful behavior.

The church is an independent congregation that began in 1967 after members left Grace Baptist church "in reaction to the liberal influence in the Southern Baptist Convention," its website says.

When Harris' sermon hit the Internet, it became a flashpoint for the statewide debate. Harris says he became the target of angry, hateful messages filled with profanity and multiple death threats after telling parents how to deal with children and effeminate behavior.

"You know, it's amazing how 'punch' has been equated to inciting violence against gay youth. That's not what I meant," the pastor said.

Instead, he said, the reference should be interpreted differently: "A shove, an affirmation. You see coaches give their players a good punch, a good slug. It's a way of affirming the gender distinctions between a male and a female," he said.

Anyone looking for a sweeping apology will be disappointed.

"I was apologizing for failing to say the right thing, for failing to be more careful, to make sure that no one thinks that Sean Harris is suggesting, as was said - although I never said this - ... 'Beat the gay outta children.' Those weren't my words, I didn't even believe there is such a thing as gay children. So I wasn't saying that. I was dealing with effeminate behavior, and instructing parents to affirm the manhood or the womanhood in their children," he said.

Congregants have stood by and supported their pastor. Prior to the service on Sunday, Harris received a standing ovation. Police kept watch outside the church. Demonstrators were kept at a distance.

"He always has a little levity into it and that's why we all laughed. We know our pastor," one member said.

Harris said he won't apologize for for what he called doing his job.

"No, I don't think that I need to apologize for preaching to my people what the word of God says. That's my responsibility."

See the full interview with Harris on Tuesday on "AC360."

Watch Anderson Cooper 360° weeknights 8pm ET. For the latest from AC360° click here.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Baptist • Belief • Billy Graham • Christianity • Church and state • TV-Anderson Cooper 360

soundoff (1,109 Responses)
  1. thomasmc1957

    Remember children: Nothing says Jesus like bigotry and hate!

    May 16, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  2. Rob

    "You know, it's amazing how 'punch' has been equated to inciting violence against gay youth. That's not what I meant," the pastor said.

    You know, last time I checked lying was a sin, something about bearing false witness.

    May 16, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  3. Rob

    "You know, it's amazing how 'punch' has been equated to inciting violence against gay youth. That's not what I meant," the pastor said.

    BS, punch has a very clear definition, and has no interpretation that does not include violence. He just got caught spewing the violent rhetoric common in these kinds of churches(don't forget, it was the peaceful followers of Christ who burned people at the stake for being accused of witchcraft and invented tortures like stretching people on the rack to "convince" people to convert to their version of Christianity).

    May 16, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  4. Tricia

    This is terrible.

    May 16, 2012 at 10:01 am |
  5. oh please

    someone should SMACK the CRAP out of this man to CORRECT his ASININE thought process

    better yet someone should help him get to know god, face to face.
    oh did I mispeak......perhaps I should have said get in this fools face and show him what his words can cause people to do, to him....

    May 16, 2012 at 5:50 am |
  6. DrBob

    This is hate speech. It is encouraging violence against a specific group of individuals and it is sick. The fact that he thinks he is a Christian is scary but the fact that many believe him to be a Christian is outright terrifying.

    May 16, 2012 at 3:28 am |
  7. DrBob

    This is hate speech. It is encouraging violence against a specific group of individuals and it is sick. The fact that he thinks he is a Christian is scary but the fact that many believe him to be a Christian is outright terrifying. Please tell your conservative and Christian leaders that hate is not an American nor a Christian value.

    May 16, 2012 at 3:27 am |
  8. robert

    what ever!!!I think that guy is pretty cool!! I wouldnt want my kids to turn out gay. if a little scolding helps then cool!!

    May 15, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • DrBob

      I am assuming you are just trying to stir the pot, right? You can't actually think this guy is cool? He is pure evil. There is nothing Christian about what he says.

      May 16, 2012 at 3:30 am |
    • hippie power 69

      robert, what can i say? wow, i feel sorry for your children if you have any. we are born this way. did you pick to be attracted to women or men or was that just the way you found yourself to be? it has never been a choice and people who say it is are stupid. i have a gay brother and a daughter. every family has someone who is gay or they are still hiding. i am 12 years older then my brother and when he was 3 i knew there was something different about him. at 15 i didn't know what that was but i saw he liked things that my other brother did not. he like doing laundry. at three he would sit and watch the clothes in the washing machine. he was never interested in sports, he would rather play with the girls and play house. i asked him when he was older at what age did he know he was gay. he answer was very sad. he said he knew he was different at about 5 years old. he knew he would rather play with the girls and dolls but he also knew he better not. that if he did act "different" he would have to pay for that. isn't that a shame? shame on this "minister". he is no christian. who is he to judge anyone. we are born this way, this is how god made us. so if you have a problem with someone being gay, speak with god.

      May 18, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  9. aj

    There's Satan in that man. NO child should be abused.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  10. Kris Craig

    Oh and CNN, why are you blocking comments that contain the word "h.o.m.o.p.h.o.b.i.c?!" Who comes up with these long, secret lists of words you have in these WP comment filters, anyway? I guess CNN doesn't have a very high opinion of free speech and open dialogue.

    May 15, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  11. BOb the Prairie Dog

    Typical Right Wing response. Don't like someone else's behavior? Physically assault them until they comply with your standards. Just ask Mitt how he deals with guys who wear long hair...

    May 15, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  12. Kris Craig

    Ok, could somebody please remind me again why we're using taxpayer dollars to subsidize the partisan political activities of churches? We allow them to claim tax-exempt status (which means we all have to make up the difference as taxpayers), then they use that extra money to influence political elections and spread a political agenda.

    If churches want to engage in bigoted nonsense, that's fine by me. But don't use my hard-earned money to do it. I should have the right to expect my taxpayer dollars not to be spent on outright bigotry.

    May 15, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  13. Mary

    IMO there is more violence coming from churches than just about anywhere else.

    May 15, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  14. PLogan

    I just love how people say"this is what God wants" NOBODY knows what he wants. They are turn words arounds and scprits arounds to fit themselves. You should be ashamed of yourselves. God didn't tell you to build million dollar churches but you did! God didn't say you have to have a fashion show. But you do!!! God did all his preaching in the streets,fields,hill tops. He accepted people for who they are. Funny how relgion has try to run our lives. Some of the relgions are older then Christians. Yet they accept things better.You are not God and you don't have wings or a halo on. So please don't stand there preach God to us. You, again you have no idea what he would want! God says to love ALL mankind. Yet you are turning your back. Acceot people for who they are,Not what they are. They are a living person that God made, How darn you put down mankind thatwas suppose to be made by God. You people are so FAKE!!!!!!!!!!

    May 15, 2012 at 8:13 am |
  15. divejoy

    Most Jewish groups advocate religious weddings by rabbis for gays.

    May 14, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • Drew

      The Jews are so much more progressive than most Christians or Muslims... I wonder if it's because their faith is older, and has had more time to mature?

      May 14, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
  16. NanH

    I am really confused...so when a boy shows effeminate behavior one should
    ""You know, it's amazing how 'punch' has been equated to inciting violence against gay youth. That's not what I meant," the pastor said.

    Instead, he said, the reference should be interpreted differently: "A shove, an affirmation. You see coaches give their players a good punch, a good slug. It's a way of affirming the gender distinctions between a male and a female," he said.

    So you are saying that you really approve of this behavior........Also does this mean we should punch girls when they act like tomboys? And I thought a high five was enough for all???

    May 14, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • divejoy

      What he meant was "a pat on the ass" : just kidding

      May 14, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • divejoy

      that is "a pat on the ass" for girls (just kidding)

      May 14, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Yeah, you're "just kidding".

      Get a clue, Cletus. NO ONE wants you touching his OR her private parts, you creepazoid.

      May 14, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  17. Le Skwal

    "The church is an independent congregation that began in 1967 after members left Grace Baptist church "in reaction to the liberal influence in the Southern Baptist Convention," its website says." – 1967...Civil Rights Act of 1964...seems to me they didn't like the darkies as much as they don't like the gays.

    May 14, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • rickjsmith

      "The darkies"?! Really? Could you come up with a more offensive way to say that? Because right now you are looking a whole lot more racist than they are.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  18. Kangaroo123

    If you are not religious – does this definition of marriage (according to the Bible) now apply as a matter of law?

    May 14, 2012 at 8:56 am |
  19. jjoonnyy

    Churches are nothing more than hate groups shoving religion at you to live a fake life

    May 12, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  20. blurb4591

    "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Geez, what a bunch of first graders posting comments to this site. This goes for both pro and con LGBT issues.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
    • Phronsie

      Nope,words never hurt anybody, never drove anyone to suicide or crushed their sense of self-worth or drove them to deny the truest part of themselves or to hurt themselves or others - give me a break! Yes, it's a quaint little aphorism, but I think the time has finally come for us to acknowledge that it has no truth - words can hurt and they can break a lot more than bones; broken bones can heal but the wounds from words can fester and poison for a lifetime.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:14 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.