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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.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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. Realdirect

    It may come out later......that the pastor is gay himself.

    May 8, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  2. Morris Wilburn

    Un-Christian statement. Stupid as well.

    May 8, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Beyond the concept of stupid!

      May 8, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  3. Paul in Atlanta

    This is the kind of good christian love that convinced me to walk away from the church. The average christian can find at least one bible verse to justify their inability to love almost any one of their neighbors.

    May 8, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • Terri

      Yep me too. I wouldn't walk back in a church for anything. I have never been happier either.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • Orto

      Beautifully put.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  4. Kiss

    This guy is crazy that is child abuse. I believe marriage should be man/women but thats not were talking about. people for traditional marriage say we want gays to have civil unions and then try to make it illegal. I don't get it. let them have civil unions in all states and we can keep marriage

    May 8, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      You are nuts, right?

      May 8, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • mandarax

      Exactly, who is "them" and who are "we?"

      I'm straight but I'm pretty sure you are not part of my "we," so why don't "we" keep marriage and let them (you) not be allowed to have one? How's that work for ya?

      May 8, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • Dana

      So make gays equal in everything but name. That denies another human being equality. I am old enough to remember men in my neighborhood marching with signs that read "I am a man". They were considered equal in everything but name. Separate but equal is not equal. That's one tradition the Tea Party and I disagree upon. You can't put people back into a ghetto, and you can't put someone back in the closet. It's time to move forward, not back.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  5. kentuckyscience.com

    Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:28)

    What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees? Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are! (Matthew 23:15)

    Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God. (Matthew 15:9)

    May 8, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
  6. Scott

    The irony is that he thinks he's better than a gay man. I'm not gay but I think most gay men are of better character than this pastor.

    May 8, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      It doesn't have anything to do about being gay.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • Scott

      No it has to do with think you're better than others.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
  7. puckles

    It is common sense that the butt hole was not made for the weiner.

    May 8, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • Sir

      Neither is a mouth.. hope you dont like BJs...
      Grow up...

      May 8, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • Terri

      So you think straight people aren't going there?

      May 8, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • ohYeah

      Oh Yeah? Then why does the anus have a "g-spot?" ????? And your statement doesn't have a damn thing to do with the issue at hand. Doesn't matter whether you agree or not. Not asking for your permission, not asking for your blessing. Don't care if you don't like it. Gays in this country are going to be an equal group whether you want it or not. Every group in America has always had to TAKE their civil rights. Women, blacks, hispanics, and now gays. America is the land of equal opportunity, but some people are more equal than others.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
  8. mcmorin

    Philosophicallly, I try to remain pacifistic, but I would consider smacking this "pastor" dude.

    May 8, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      It is tempting isn't it?

      May 8, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • Terri

      Indeed, "punching" the holier than thou right out of him definitely sounds good.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
  9. seedenbetter

    Tell me again why these political christian organizations are tax exempt?

    May 8, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      You scratch my back I'll scratch yours.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  10. spm

    Oh the ignorance of those caught up in religion!

    May 8, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • Everett Wallace

      I tell you. religion gotta HATE! it.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • Amy Zucker Morgenstern

      There are plenty of religious voices for justice on this issue. Mine, Unitarian Universalism, is a leader for the full dignity and participation of LGBT folks, not only as members and ministers of our congregations, but in society at large. Our congregations in North Carolina have been outspoken against Sean Harris and active in urging a no vote on Amendment 1.

      The media still frequently portrays these battles as "religion vs. gay people," but the picture has been more complex than that for a very long time.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      @Amy Zucker Morgenstern

      How is that voting going there?

      May 8, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  11. Everett Wallace

    Tell me pastor you speak about punching boys or toughening them up or young girls looking butch , I call them tom boys they grow out of the tom boy stage. So how many times do you PUNCH! your self cause you are weak and limp wristed and WE know what cha been doin. Tell your buddies you can't straddle the fence and at the last minute Think you can cross over NOPE you missed it had since 2005. I have the authority to save or condem. I'm the KEY to the PIT! 6 billion saved 1 billion condemed, final number.

    May 8, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  12. chaz8181

    One thing we do know is that this guy is NOT a Christian.

    May 8, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • Scott

      He seems fairly representative to me.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • logic is your friend, use it, for f@#* sake

      So, just jumping straight to "no true scotsman" fallacy, huh? Fail.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      He's not even a distant relative!

      May 8, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  13. TommyTee

    A preacher preaching violence against children...and what a dragonian law! You can oppose gay marriage, I can understand that. But to deny two people a common law "marriage" and then to make it illegal is bordering on criminal. In fact this type of thinking is in line with places Afghanistan and Kenya...third world countries.

    May 8, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      @You can oppose gay marriage, I can understand that.

      Well, aren't you special?

      May 8, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • Terri

      Sure you can oppose gay marriage but you have no right to stop it.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
  14. Mark Sailors

    Who gives a rats ass what the "bible" says....

    May 8, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • Scott

      People with violent tendencies.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • TommyTee

      Scott,

      I don't undeerstand your comment. Are you saying that people who dont care what the bible says are prone to viloence? Or are you agreeeing with the original comment? Because the only one advocating violence was the man of cloth...obvioulsy a follower of the bible. So whci one is it?

      May 8, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • Scott

      Following religion and violence have gone hand in hand for some time. I'm agreeing with the comment.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • mema

      Actually a large percent of the population. Atheist are in the minority both in the US and world wide.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  15. effelbee

    What a loving and compassionate Christian. Roughly 12% of all vertebrate species are attracted to members of the species who are of the same gender. "Born to be a man" indeed...it is not a life style choice, or nobody would choose it.

    May 8, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • mema

      Lol. Animals react from instinct not attraction. What has happened with animals is unwittingly occuring. Not so with humans. Humans can think and reason through their choices!

      May 8, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • Scott

      So was this pastor thinking and reasoning through his choices? Furthermore what evidence do you have of this enlighten behavior? I think the OP's statement makes much more sense than yours.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      LOL .. mema. Instinct IS what drives human choices. Attraction is not a choice, we don't control it, it controls us. when was the last time you thought .. hmmm I think I'll be attracted to that person?

      May 8, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
  16. Pete211

    I agree with this pastor. If more dads did their jobs like they are supposed to we will have fewer gays to worry about.

    May 8, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • TommyTee

      What kind of 'father' would beat his son for being who he is. A real man would embrace his son or daughter for that matter. This preacher is a dinosaur...oops wait dinosaurs don't exist in this dummies world as the earth is only six thousand years old according to the good book. Then he is creep who advocates violence...

      May 8, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • Heather

      Then, what's your father's excuse? Had he been a real man, he would have worn a condom!! Or not procreate at all.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • Terri

      If more Dads were like this guy we would have more teen suicides, I am sure that would suit you just fine though.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • TommyTee

      Gee Heather you a bit uptight or what?

      May 8, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • gdub44

      "fewer gays to worry about"??? Worry about what? Shopping at pottery barn or getting nice haircuts?

      The only gay acts we ever read about in the paper are done by lying men of faith who preach hate yet like men. I'd bet my house and car that this idiot wants to get some man action and doesn't know what to do about it, so instead he just spews rhetoric. Yeah, he wishes his own daddy was rough with him, but for reasons he doesn't quite understand.

      "Worry" about gays. LOL. You've never met a gay person in your life, caveman.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
  17. Me

    Separation of church and state!!!!!!
    It doesn't matter what the bible says because it is irrelevant in matters of the state!
    (supposed to be)
    Keep your religious views to yourself and in the churches where they belong and out of our government!!!!
    Oh, and this guy is a hypocritical lunatic for sure!

    May 8, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • uh huh

      the current definition separation of church and state is dumb and used out of scope. What your asking is for a voter to lose their entire moral framework and then vote. There is no logical explanation for what that would even look like.

      Separation of church and state simply means that the church does not have final say in matters of state. It means that one religion cant overturn the vote of the majority. THATS IT.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      @uh huh

      Do you even know what the 1st amendment says?

      "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to peti.tion the Government for a redress of grievances"

      Tell me what does that have to do with voting?

      May 8, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      @uh huh

      What definition of seperation of church and state are you using?

      May 8, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      @uh huh

      Dude or dudette! Please educate yourself on the first amendment and the establishment clause then speak,thank you!

      May 8, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  18. ug

    You don't hit kids if they are gay! and you don't need to treat them like dirt either...just avoid them...

    May 8, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • TommyTee

      Duh...

      May 8, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  19. joesix

    Why would anyone think "punch" means a physical strike? Who doesn't know "punch" means affirmation?

    May 8, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Pure insanity isn't it?

      May 8, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  20. Tim

    Someone needs to walk over to Sean and crackhim aside his mouth the next time he spews hate against someone.

    May 8, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Gary

      ...you wouldn't be "cracking him aside the head", you'd be "affirming"...

      May 8, 2012 at 9:28 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.