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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. Cooze

    What a backwards, hate-filled piece of crap. Ah, religion.

    May 9, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  2. PhilG

    I guess the preacher would beat the gay out of his son.

    I guess you keep going until he's either not gay or dead.

    Praise Jesus.

    Just hope your gay son does'nt grow up to be bigger then you.

    May 9, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  3. spockmonster

    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."

    In other words,when your message is evil, then lie, cheat, be hypocritical, deceive your flock, whatever you need to do to deceive the innocent into following you.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  4. Mike

    Wasn't Billy's darling little girl in the paper for beating the crap out of her husband? Obviously marriage isn't for everyone...

    May 8, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  5. casper

    I hear him. He wants to retain that strong America of 1960. He's nostalgic. But there is too much fear in his heart for him to preach to others.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  6. Miss Thang

    NC is a POS state

    May 8, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • Cooze

      As is most of the South.

      May 9, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  7. religionreformer

    Don't you know that everything is ok as long as it is done in the name of Jesus. Jesus would be turning over in his grave if he was in one. give me a break.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  8. IUjock1974

    He's a pos.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  9. Lisa A. Johnson - - San Francisco, California

    "He who screams the loudest ..wears the pinkest dress .."

    May 8, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • Agreed

      I do wonder about that. Somewhere deep in his psyche must be doubts, questions, curiousity.

      May 9, 2012 at 12:23 am |
  10. Mark

    What a sad little man you are, Pastor Sean Harris.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
  11. Image

    So if someone whacked this guy over the head every time he acted like a str8 guy, would he eventually turn gay? Jus' asking... Frankly, I think they should hit him over the head with a 2 x 4... just cause. What a jack a$$

    May 8, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
  12. pastor

    Does anyone want to hear my rendition of twinkle twinkle little star" gay style. Hey,hey, hey, hey,hey, hey,hey, hey hey hey, hey. sorry kindve forget the rest of the song.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
  13. a bro

    this guy will go to hell for having hate in his heart. if there is a heaven, this will happen.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  14. I takeitFromtheBACK AND IM A MAN!!! SAY SOMETHING

    Can anybody not denie this is not goin to become a southpark episode i mean comeon, comeon, its in north carolina for peak sake ppl u just kno matt stone and trey parker are prob already thinkin about putting this in their new season XD!!!! cant wait!!

    May 8, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
    • Cooze

      In English, please.

      May 9, 2012 at 12:05 am |
  15. There. Are. No. Gods!

    This doesn't matter as there are no gods, so why are we even talking about things that do not exist?

    May 8, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
    • mema

      Um its being talked about because this is a belief blog. Do you have a degree is stupid??

      May 8, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
  16. Observer

    The FAKE pastor's site is a p-orn site.

    Ignor the troll.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  17. pastor

    Why is everyone taking this personal, its almost like I'm surrounded by gays.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • jaintn

      Honey, the gays wouldn't have you. I doubt the heteros will either. More than likely that's your problem. Well, one of them anyway.

      May 8, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • OUTRAGOUS

      because basic human liberties are personal

      May 9, 2012 at 12:06 am |
    • Cooze

      You wish!

      May 9, 2012 at 12:06 am |
  18. Peter

    The Pastor is clearly repressing his own feelings. He loves men. Hypocrite on many levels.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
  19. pastor

    Our new gay military motto: Retreat

    May 8, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • Observer

      There is a word for ignorant people who don't appreciate the sacrifices of troops (including gays) for the safety of us all:

      INGRATE.

      May 8, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • Cooze

      If anyone is ignorant, it's those who continue to prop cannon-fodder up on a pedestal.

      May 9, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  20. pastor

    I am still trying to figure out what was wrong about what this pastor said. I found it to be funny, almost fell out of my chair laughing.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • Observer

      You aren't really a pastor are you?

      May 8, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • MadGOPer

      May Jesus have mercy on your soul.... Closed-minded hypocrite....

      May 8, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • pastor

      Yes, here is our church website. http://www.nogays.com

      May 8, 2012 at 11:27 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.