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. Marcnj

    I loved the Southern Baptist being liberal thing.

    May 9, 2012 at 1:00 am |
  2. chippy1

    Amen. The Lord sayith smithe, smithe, smithe. At least that's what "loving" christians will say he said. Hey, wait, we're just standing our ground!

    May 9, 2012 at 12:57 am |
  3. Enigmatic1

    Sad.... just plain sad.

    May 9, 2012 at 12:57 am |
  4. Ben

    Wow, the bible is such a wonderful book. It has such great stories as an elderly man who is able to gather up 2 of every animal in the world and build a boat large big enough to accompany them. Make believe stories are so cool. By the way if you want a great laugh feel free and read the book of Mormon. Wow. Isn't religion fun. So by the way southerners can you explain to me if you have ever heard of the separation of church and state.

    May 9, 2012 at 12:53 am |
    • Balls McGhee

      Noah made a mistake. somehow he allowed gay people on the boat. how else can you explain why we have gays here? i mean, c'mon, it is IMPOSSIBLE for two straight people to create a gay child, right?

      May 9, 2012 at 1:02 am |
  5. Mike

    From the article: "Churches across the state have taken opposing sides on the issue." Excuse me but, this is "Caesar's" business. If the churches want to take a public position on the business of the state they had better pony up to the bar with Caesar's nickle. Revoke their 501(c) status now. That'll shut them up.

    May 9, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • kateslate

      Here! Here! Revoke their status already! They have taken their bully pulpits too far.

      May 9, 2012 at 12:59 am |
  6. mickey1313

    He has the right to spew whatever hate he wishs. Im glad he did, people need to know how vile christianity is. Remember more murders in all oh history have been commited for god, mostly jeusus christ. many millions of native americans, the holicost (because yes hitler was DEFINATLY christian as was musilini.

    May 9, 2012 at 12:48 am |
  7. NGA

    What an idiot!!

    May 9, 2012 at 12:44 am |
  8. keyser

    Another intolerant self appointed religious nut who thinks he can impose his so called moral views on everyone else in a free country. He would be more at home in Iran.

    May 9, 2012 at 12:30 am |
  9. ep tor

    Is there a route from Ontario to a "normal" sunny state without having to drive through these bigoted places? They seem to be more Godless than even Cuba or the old USSR. Funny how Graham and these pastors they've managed to pervert the word pastor. As soon as I hear the word pastor, I think of words like UnChristian and hypocritical (half of them get caught banging the church secretary of alterboy). What disgraceful little men they are.

    May 9, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • mickey1313

      Um you need to read the proclimations the christians read to the indians, and then tell me the bigotry and hate are new. For the entire 2000 years of christianity, they have slaughtered anyone who was not a believer. Christians are all ignorant and evil.

      May 9, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • Marteeni

      Perfect! Absolutely hit it on the head.

      May 9, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  10. Adam

    Anyone remember the whole "Separation of church and state"...? GRRRR

    May 9, 2012 at 12:24 am |
    • mickey1313

      what about it. This is the media, not the state, he can say what his evil bigoted heart tells him. Im glad to expose the evils of christianity.

      May 9, 2012 at 12:51 am |
    • leehan


      May 9, 2012 at 3:22 am |
    • leehan

      The Bible is clear – God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman.
      -> Make this country a Christian country first and talk about this issue. Before that, who cares what a christian god thinks?

      May 9, 2012 at 3:25 am |
  11. VonDoom

    What a hypocrite. Yes, those were your words. You said to literally beat the snot out of boys for showing any effeminate behavior and those listening to you were given a "special dispensation" to do so. To try and tip-toe back on your words is as absurd as what you said. Unfortunately, your flock who also belongs to a church that became independent during the civil rights movement (and we know why) will just believe what you say and you can take the leading role in the victimizer playing the victim because someone called you on your victimizer garbage. You are only a generation removed from preacher saying that interracial marriage was also an abomination and if gay marriage were not the issue right now, you'd still be singing that song from the pulpit. Thank you for being a beacon of light for the ways that disgust the rest of the civilized world. In all seriousness, go buy some property south of Texas, take your flock there, make your red cool-aid on Sundays and have your own little utopia where the constraints of the real world won't be such a burden; you have my special dispensation to do so.

    May 9, 2012 at 12:23 am |
    • Marteeni

      Mine, too.

      May 9, 2012 at 12:57 am |
  12. Kferg

    Having not followed this story I'm not the least surprised which denomination the preacher is from. I was a member and currently have family members in that denomination and I get so tired of their "bully pulpit". In my opinion it sure seems it's always fundamental baptists that are hateful. I know there may be other churches in their organization that may not be as bad but I personally doubt it. I left this denomination because of their views on divorce years ago but I don't see other faiths pulling this crap. It's just shameful IMO. Having said this, I wanted to state I have friends and family that still belong to this faith but it's a personal choice whether to adhere to tenets of segregating others with this "bully pulpit" retoric which is something I couldn't tolerate anymore.

    May 9, 2012 at 12:20 am |
  13. Jessica

    "A pastor who advocated hitting boys who display effeminate qualities is expressing regret for the sermon he delivered" The only thing, the one and only thing he is regretting is that someone recorded it and he got caught saying it. This tool believes that violence cures all and is in fact a wicked man.

    May 9, 2012 at 12:20 am |
  14. Chris

    Who creates Athiests? STUPID CHRISTIANS DO!

    May 9, 2012 at 12:18 am |
    • Larry

      While stupid christians certainly help a lot of atheists are created simply by people applying logic to the bible and realizing ti doesnt hold up and knowing how the bible was written helps too

      May 9, 2012 at 12:24 am |
    • Jay

      Should we beat people for other things, being ignorant, being poor for not believing in similar beliefs. Where does it stop.

      Throwing acid on Afgan girls for learning. It is no different.

      May 9, 2012 at 12:27 am |
    • mickey1313

      Reading the bible, and understanding what it means, that creates athiests. The bible is a vile work of pure and poor fiction.

      May 9, 2012 at 12:53 am |
  15. RickBangkok

    These type of Christians quite simply have blood on their hands. The current Pope was head of the Inquisition. These Christians want to control other people even before they are born. This pastor is as perverted as the Crusaders who ate the Muslims they killed in the so-called Holy Land.

    What will this pastor do when the LGBT community near him fights back. Does he really think that all Gay boys are limp wristed? Wait to the Pink Avengers have a come to Jesus talk with him.

    When all you have in your message is violence, then I know that you have no connection to God.

    May 9, 2012 at 12:17 am |
  16. alpeaston

    "Humanity will not be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest!' – 18th century philosopher

    May 9, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • mickey1313

      That would be great, lets strangle Q. Elizibeth witht eh endtrails of the pope, 2 evil monsters down.

      May 9, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  17. Chris

    When will these delusional morons be lifted up to the heavens and leave us normal, rational people alone. I can't believe people buy into this Christian BS

    May 9, 2012 at 12:14 am |
    • Adam

      SUPER AGREE!!!

      May 9, 2012 at 12:18 am |
  18. sara

    Why is it OK for churches to take out ads in newspapers urging people to vote one way or another, "may God be with you when you vote". Do they want to be part of the process? Well OK, PAY TAXES!

    May 9, 2012 at 12:14 am |
    • Kferg

      Totally agree with your comment , Sara!

      May 9, 2012 at 12:23 am |
    • Marteeni


      May 9, 2012 at 1:02 am |
  19. Ronnie Harper

    Makes me want to vomit.

    May 9, 2012 at 12:13 am |
  20. redseca2

    This man is certainly not a Christian. Jesus would shun him as we all should.

    May 9, 2012 at 12:10 am |
    • mickey1313

      You must have never read the proclimations the pope sanctioned against the native americans? christianity has been about ra-pe murder and torture from day one.

      May 9, 2012 at 12:55 am |
    • airforce1990


      Don't confuse Catholicism with Christianity. Two different things.

      May 9, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
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About this blog

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.