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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. The world needs ditch diggers, too

    Sean Harris, looks like you chose the wrong profession. You may disagree with gay marriage, thats fine and its a free country. But for you, as a pastor, to suggest abusing a child is an acceptable means to an end? Time for you to resign. You can fight it out with the other defrocked catholic priests for an interview at a Motel 6 job fair.

    May 18, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
  2. Enigma

    The lesson learned by smart children who are hit because they act in a way not approved by their parents is to become skilled at lying and hiding. Corporal punishment doesn't work on many children. Just makes them angry.

    May 18, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  3. Matthew Temple

    God works in mysterious ways. That's why there are Gay People.

    May 18, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  4. achepotle

    When will be start protecting children and start putting these predators and child abuse cult members in jail?

    May 18, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • Becky

      Amen. That is a sermon I can get behind. This man is advocating VIOLENCE TO KIDS! Where's a lynch mob when you need them?!?!

      May 18, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  5. Christy

    Thank you Trent 🙂 I hurt for my son but he is My son and God loves ALL his children as we love the ones he gives us too raise. I am Proud of who my son is unconditionally!

    May 18, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  6. David

    What about the gay NFL players or gay Military people? Clearly, 2 notorioulsy "limp wristed" groups of people....I think this pastor should go "punch" one of them! I'd pay money to see that!

    May 18, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  7. care247

    WHAT THE FCK???!! I'm Christian but I do not think that was right for him to do that! The word of God doesn't tell him to hit any children (no matter who they are) and it also doesn't tell him to bring people down like that. It says to love others no matter what. This guy's just nuts. His no pastor and he ain't no Christian, either.

    May 18, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • karlawhitmore

      Christians are human - and I was raised that people who say things like "fck" are not Christians, either (?). Who are you to point at someone and say whether or not they are a Christian when you obviously have some motes in your own eyes with which to deal? What he said was not right and he has admitted to being too strong about it. By the way, I think the state should stay out of who marries who, anyway. To me, marriage is a contract between two people and GOD. The sacredness demands the state leave it alone, as far as I'm concerned. BUT I despise thought police. I am so sick of people being dragged through the mud for having a thought that does not fall in line with what society thinks is appropriate. I may not agree with a thought, but I stand by people's right to express it - even your UNChristian "fck" - depending on which church denomination you go to... If people don't like the way a church views things, they need to leave the church, not make it a secular issue.

      May 18, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  8. Marie

    So what exactly is considered "limp wrist" behaviour? And what exactly does manhood and womanhood look like?
    I am a female member of the military, guess that would not be showing the proper womanhood?? Kinda confused here. 🙂

    May 18, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  9. Watching You

    Hey preacher man, they are Gods people NOT YOURS!

    May 18, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  10. jaybird

    THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS! This is the final nail in the coffin for me where RELIGION is concerned! It is IGNORANT through and through! This so-called "pastor" is a DEVIL!

    May 18, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • S

      I'd bet the queen's crown that this pastor guy is secretly into dudes. Remember Haggard? There's been a few right wing conservative politicians in my state who were very much against gays, as it turns out, they were gay!

      May 18, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  11. jaybird

    This is PRECISELY why the world must turn away from hateful ignorant religions. They breed only more hate and indifference because of their backward, dark age teachings. Do away with religion and accept the divine mystery, loving one another in peace.

    May 18, 2012 at 8:28 am |
  12. Taylor

    I don't support what has transpired here but I do love the term "Beat the gay outta" someone.

    May 18, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • jaybird

      You are an absolute fool.

      May 18, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  13. Troll Time

    He shoulda beat the gay outta them.

    May 18, 2012 at 5:36 am |
    • jaybird

      Moron.

      May 18, 2012 at 8:35 am |
  14. calvin

    kiss me

    May 18, 2012 at 12:26 am |
  15. Simeon Namore

    Hey. Did Romney hold you down and cut your hair like that? Really awful. I would sue.

    May 17, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  16. Christy

    I was raised from 6 weeks of age in church....My mom Catholic. My father Baptist. I have 3 children. I have raised them in the church . I have a GAY son. Is it by his choice? NO. He has been picked on, allienated etc. He fought it so hard!! Does he wish it were different? YES. I love MY son unconditionally as God loves his children....US. God needs too too wash your mouth out with LYE SOAP! Wait until one of your children break this HEART BREAKING news too you. You can not throw the first stone Mr. Preacher Man! May god forgive you!

    May 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • jaybird

      Preachers are just ignorant. Religion has a tendency to produce such ignorance, much like Islam.

      May 18, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • Trent

      Loved your message Christy! Beautiful!

      May 18, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  17. 0rangeW3dge

    American Taliban are not (ev)Angels, they are Satan's Storm Troopers. Men who pretend to be God are sinners.

    May 17, 2012 at 4:13 am |
  18. Mom of Three

    He's a monster.

    May 17, 2012 at 3:44 am |
    • jaybird

      He IS the embodiment of the evil he pretends to oppose. This is religion. It is evil and breeds ignorance.

      May 18, 2012 at 8:31 am |
  19. B.K.

    Ok, cool, so someone needs to go and beat the ever-lovin' crap out of this backwoods, inbred, sorry excuse for a human

    May 16, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  20. Joshua Kricker

    "Be more careful with your words." So he doesn't have a problem with WHAT he said, just the way he said it.

    May 16, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • cm

      sounds like rush limbaugh...

      May 16, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • 0rangeW3dge

      ...be more careful with words>>>>>when the cameras are on.

      May 17, 2012 at 4:15 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.