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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. Joe Dawn

    Someone cut the last 4 seconds out, up yours CNN. STOP MANIPULATING THE PUBLIC! VIVA LA REVOLUTION!

    May 8, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
  2. he is in the closet

    Yep, still feeling all guilty about his gay desires... but he will chose wiser words in the future.. like... your bathroom cubicle or mine?

    May 8, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
  3. David

    If Christians practiced love, maybe I would reconsider Christianity. But they don't.

    Conservative Christians = Bullies

    May 8, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
  4. Jimmy

    "But do I think that dads ought to wrestle with their boys? Absolutely! Do I think that we ought to have that physical contact between dads and their sons? Yes!" – spoken like a true closet pedophile

    May 8, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
  5. Jack

    What a very evil person.

    May 8, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      I am so glad you can see it, seriously, isn't just so blatantly wrong, yet this guy is still standing, go figure!

      May 8, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  6. Oodoodanoo

    "What did I learn this week? Confiscate all cell phones at the door."

    May 8, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  7. Slim Straight

    Whether it's cutting off a nose, or stoning, or hitting what appears to be an effeminate child, it's all in the way some folks interpret their religous book of choice. Can't remember where in the Bible it stats to beat your child if you think their gay. Maybe someone can kick Pastor Harris for being ignorant, and narrow minded.

    May 8, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  8. toydrum

    "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.

    Seriously? This is the lamest apologetic I have ever heard and TOTALLY contradicts everything else he said. So let's see, when he says to punch your child, he means like coaches or fellow athletes do as an affirmation, that means you approve of what your child just did. So in his own lame, backhanded way, he is actually saying that when your son shows signs he might be gay, you should give him a brotherly pat to signify solidarity.

    I am sooooo glad he explained his position. And here I had taken his meaning as completely opposite.

    May 8, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  9. Jose Antonio

    This guy must be a Romney supporter. Right wing conservative Republican.

    May 8, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • Bill E. Bob

      Rev. Harris left the Southern Baptists because they were too liberal. That would make the Religious Right a bunch of libtards to him. I think it's pretty safe to say he thinks Romney is a commie traitor.

      I can't imagine who he would vote for.

      May 8, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  10. Jon S.

    This guy is a showcase for the paucity of organized religion.Jesus would have nothing to do with someone who espouses hate and violence. This man is an embarrassment.

    May 8, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • Bill E. Bob

      Jesus advocated leaving your wife and children and following him. He's also going to torture most humans for the rest of eternity. That pretty much sounds like a guy who would be okay with this guy.

      May 8, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • mema

      Jesus never advocated leaving wives and kids. And Hell is a perception depicted by Dante. Hell is Sheol, sheol is the common grave. This Hell fire teaching is a missconception by several religions. No where in the original text does the word hell exsist. Eternal death is called gehenna and refers to fire but this simply represents total destruction or cutting off. Educate people!

      May 8, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      @mema
      "Jesus never advocated leaving wives and kids."

      I guess you never read the bible then? Quit the crap and educate yourself dummy!

      May 8, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  11. raffa

    This pastor should be prosecuted, if there were real laws in this country. I hope all his kids turn gay, and the flamboyant party animals ones.

    May 8, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      If there was ever a hate crime this is it. Yes, someone should put this guy away!

      May 8, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
  12. jack

    the idiot is a bad yet accurate example of an domestic terrorist.

    May 8, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      jack, you are so spot on, we call it terrorism but it is actually religious intolerance.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  13. Darryl

    As a christian/catholic, All religions have evil in their beliefs and religion is exactly what controls sectors of poeple in this world so there is conflict and the killings of men,women and children innosently. Religion is MONEY and lots of it. The Christians and the Muslums ect....Evil and the pope SATAIN. Keep your personal religious or higher power, spirituality to yourself and stay away from extreme religious people.They will try to destroy your life and eventually you will not have a life of free mental thaught or the will to happiness. Religion was set up to control the mind and convince you of FEAR. When that is accomplished then you will see all things like they do.And your life is NO-MORE yours to cherish.From the heart and soul of our deepest feeling, people are NOT born to judge,hate,condem,rule,concor,or poison life.Thoese things are taught and it is wrong and it is EVIL. Be careful and keep your precious soul intact and always guarded.Your life belongs to you and NO-ONE else on this earth.

    May 8, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  14. lamck

    Hey Sean, your a bully dude, Come challange me! Your teaching is bully based, not christain based. Challange me!!!

    May 8, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  15. Jim

    This guy is the American versino of Taliban.

    May 8, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Spot on!

      May 8, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  16. Shalla

    I'm going to go with some good, old-fashioned Word of God advice here and suggest that any child who is smacked for having a limp wrist be allowed a few minutes with me while I teach them how to throw a decent punch and then allow them to give an eye for an eye right back to whoever smacked them.

    It's amazing what you can find support for in the Bible.

    May 8, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      I think the better advice would to be dial 911 and get the f*ucker locked-up for some good old beatings!

      May 8, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  17. lamck

    Such a good christain Sean. People like you cause more problems in this country then we already have.

    May 8, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  18. Emdub

    When your son starts showing signs of Christianity punch him, squash him and crack his wrist when he picks up a bible.

    May 8, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      From my understanding he has a son of college age.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  19. phillip raney

    what a filthy excuse for a human being. Religion destroys EVERYTHING!

    May 8, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Spot on again!

      May 8, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  20. lamck

    Sean you make me sick. Who do you think you are? Someone should kick your a–. Hopefully it will come real soon.

    May 8, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      If only prayer worked!

      May 8, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
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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.