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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. pastor

    I make a prediction, every young preacher will look up to this pastor for spiritual guidance.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • Observer

      Forstering hypocrisy and hatred is not a good influence on any decent human beings.

      May 8, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • MadGOPer

      Most young people are WAY more open-minded and accepting then you could ever be.....

      May 8, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
  2. Jeff Cox

    Another example of how some of the least-Christianly people are those who say they are followers of Jesus Christ.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • MadGOPer

      Sad isn't it..... We had a family of 6 as neighbors that seemed real nice but it was hard to relate to them. The father was a Baptist minister who did all the "talking". I remember one day the wife and kids actually came over to our house so the kids could play with ours. The kids all played well together and behaved wonderfully. However the wife seemed squeamish, apparently she couldn't wrap her head around the fact that my wife worked full time and that we were equals relatively speaking. Didn't do any thing with us ever again. Very sad to be controlled and confined like that....

      May 8, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
  3. dginkc

    I went to their church website and found the "Contact Us" link to be down. How typical. Bunch of cowards. However, if you go to the "Donate" link, there's a link to send an e-mail directly to them. Feel free to use it.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  4. the gimp from pulp fiction

    Yes, hit me; please hit me. hard.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  5. Aardie

    I hope the Pastor finds Christ soon. Though he thinks of himself as Christian, he missed the message of Jesus.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • MAX

      While a nice sentiment religion and belief in God is adsurd in the 21st century. Really, these ideas came from people who enslaved others, hit their wives, sent women to the kitchen, and though the Earth was the center of the universe. How could anyone continue to believe and profess the Bible or Christianity, or any other religion for that matter. I understand death is a scary thing, but to create while instiutions around our fears is unbelievable. This man will not find God as their is none. He is just another power hungry person who uses fear to gain control.

      May 8, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  6. pastor

    I wish this pastor sean harris lived closer, I would love to attend this church. A generous donation of 1 million would not be out of the question.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • Observer

      A million what? This man is a world class HYPOCRITE.

      May 8, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • Julie

      Please change your name to Pastor for Satan. I know Satanists believe in deceit and dishonesty, but you can give the Lord's word a chance at honesty this time anyway.

      May 8, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • D Lazarski

      Yeah, I wish he lived closer to me also...he sounds like he needs a million cracks upside his head.

      May 8, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
  7. Skipper

    I advocate hitting pastors.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
  8. Aezel

    This guy was a piece of s*** long before this. Just more confirmation of what any sane person already knew.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
  9. Julie

    Sadly, all this person learned was to "speak more carefully". He didn't learn anything about the Message of Jesus that he supposedly speaks. He didn't learn to treat his fellow man with kindness, he didn't learn that child abuse is wrong. He just learned not to say it in public. He is right about one thing.... you can't stop him preaching his religion. It doesn't suprise me that he isn't honest enough to admit he is a Satan Worshipper though. Matter in fact, he makes the other Satanists look bad... they are even more honest about preaching hatred, cruelty and deceit than this person is. Beware the false prophets... here is one trying to become one of Satan's Army and drag innocent but uninformed people with him into hell.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  10. James Leigh

    I think this preacher is secretly gay. He is just another one of those trying to deflect the attention from himself just like many of those who vehemently blasted and blamed gays for tornados and then turning out gay themselves (ex. Pastor Tom Brock, Ted Haggard...just a few).

    May 8, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
    • DW

      Good Point James, wouldn't be a bit surprised.

      May 8, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
  11. rob

    The Bible says you reap what you sow. Anyone coming into contact with this bigot should physically assault him.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
  12. MK

    Sounds like someone is clearly fearful of his own feelings and thoughts.... and likely gets head in back alleys and dark corners.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • dginkc

      I can tell he's gay just by looking at him.

      May 8, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
  13. Sheepleherder

    If you are going to spew hate in front of your "flock", at least be man enough to stand by what you say! I expect religious fanatics to pander to their own but they should at least have the courage to stand by their words. Mealy mouthed hypocrite!

    May 8, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  14. pntkl

    What charity this man has! Rather than giving hope, let's do likewise and offer hate. Opposing faith, let's reciprocate it with fear. Denying charity–let's take the truth from the Word of God, and pass on lies. Are these the teachings of my Father, who is our Father, or are they simply the interpretations of the Sons of Belial? Cast a stone, be my guest.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  15. liz48

    "Let God arise; Let His enemies be scattered" – The Bible

    As those who are true disciples of The Lord Jesus arise and do His Will – to heal the sick, raise the dead, pray in other tongues and cast out demons (Matthew 28, Mark 16); no one will want to support the devil. The Presence of God will overwhelm all darkness – people will not know how to support darkness and ungodliness – they will have a "memory lapse!"

    May 8, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • trumod

      And Jesus said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

      May 8, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • Observer

      Why doesn't the Golden Rule apply?

      May 8, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  16. GaySupporter

    Did anyone really think it would be a surprise that discrimination would continue to exist in the racist white southern state such as North Carolina? This isn't news...just an announcement confirming the hate that still exists in our communities. The lack of tolerance. The reason why the world hates America!

    May 8, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
    • liz48

      I am sorry...the last I knew, NC elected a democrat for governor!

      May 8, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • dginkc

      Both houses of their legislature are Repulsive controlled.

      May 8, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
    • Julie

      North Carolina has the right be to be a hateful, cruel and uneducated populace as they see fit. If they chose to follow the path of the greatest evil, that is their choice. I however, have the choice to no longer bring my family there every summer to vacation. I have the choice to not allow my child to apply to university there. I have the right to no longer suport its industries. They have made their choice, I have made mine. After that, I can't help them. If they chose to turn away from God and run straight into the arms of Satan, I can't stop them.

      May 8, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • DW

      @liz48 – obviously you can't read in North Carolina either. No one said anything about any particular party. I did see where someone said both parties are Repulsive. Maybe you think that word is Republican, hince supporting my comment on YOU CAN'T READ.

      May 8, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  17. pastor

    All Children's Books being recalled!!! The ending will now state, "I now pronounce you man and man!"

    May 8, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  18. GaySupporter

    Treating gays equally is just the right thing to do.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  19. GUIDO AMBROSI

    anyone who preaches the word of god should remember that god only judges us. and any preacher that calls for any violance against anyone should not be tolerated by his followers in his church.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  20. ja-coffalotte

    When you say "hitting", are you using the parlance of our time?

    May 8, 2012 at 10:52 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.