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. Harnell

    After reading this article- what is to distinguish radical Muslim clerics from fanatical Christian wingnuts?
    If we let idiots like this speak, we are no better than the Iranians or the Taliban.....

    May 9, 2012 at 3:28 am |
    • ed1234

      Another free speech hating fascist. they are everywhere today. What ever happened to just not listening? If I dont like something on TV I just change the channel. Funny how liberals are all about free speech and choice unless its not there free speech and choice. What a bunch of hipocrites.

      May 9, 2012 at 4:08 am |
  2. Merc

    "You know, it's amazing how 'punch' has been equated to inciting violence against gay youth. That's not what I meant,"

    Unless he meant 'holiday punch,' I fail to follow this man's "logic"....

    May 9, 2012 at 3:28 am |
  3. sada

    Man Should be "A M A N"

    May 9, 2012 at 3:17 am |
  4. EternalFlame

    He urged people to commit child abuse. "Just joking," doesn't begin to cut it.

    Why isn't he explaining himself before a judge? He sure would be in Canada.

    (He might get off, but he'd have to convince a judge he was joking, first.)

    May 9, 2012 at 3:15 am |
    • ed1234

      Thats why you arent a free country. In America we have the right to say what we want and not have to be dragged before a judge like the Fascists in Cannnadaadadda. Stay on your side of the boarder you bear bangging bacon eating nazi.

      May 9, 2012 at 4:04 am |
    • EternalFlame

      Yeah, but sadly, Canada scored significantly higher than the U.S. on the recent UN Happiness index.

      You people are drowning in your hate speech, and you're miserable because of it. Karma.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:06 am |
  5. Kane

    Marriage is sacrosanct, only a man and a woman should be allowed to get drunk in Vegas, get married an hour after meeting, and get it annulled the next day. Only a man and a woman should pledge their lives to each other so that they may sleep with everyone else but each other. Only a man and a woman should get divorced after 30 years of marriage when the husband runs off with a twenty-year-old waitress. Only a man and a woman should get married purely for practical economic reasons (as was common practice before the 20th century; seriously, it's only been in the past 100 years that people have consistently gotten married for purely romantic reasons).

    May 9, 2012 at 3:10 am |
  6. Rodney

    What does effeminate have to do with GAY? Nothing. There are a million gay guys out there that have no feminine tell whatsoever. This guy is no different than the people that supported Hitler during world war II. Because of people like him I thank god that there is a seperation of church and state in this country. If you look at people from other cultures you will see what Americans would think are effeminate behaviors so should we go around slapping foreigners because they "Seem" like they "might" be gay? If this guy was a politician he would be out of a job. Unfortunately for us he is part of the "Church" and will probably be going nowhere. Again thank you god that lunatics this him do not run this country we already have enough idiots to deal with.

    May 9, 2012 at 3:09 am |
    • Rodney

      This man is not preaching the word of god. He is preaching his own word of hate. Follow him to hell.

      May 9, 2012 at 3:13 am |
    • 13monkees

      The sooner everyone realizes god is a myth, the better off we will all be.

      May 9, 2012 at 3:16 am |
  7. nik green

    What would Jesus do?

    May 9, 2012 at 2:57 am |
    • Rodney

      Exactly!!! Thank you.

      May 9, 2012 at 3:14 am |
  8. SLW

    Wait a minute...he teaches the "literal" interpretation of the bible, but he didn't mean the literal meaning of the word "punch"? Am I missing something here?! Oh, I see, twisting interpretations to suit your needs...Huh. What a bunch of ... hooey.

    May 9, 2012 at 2:55 am |
  9. Peter

    this guy is a knuckle dragging Neanderthal.

    May 9, 2012 at 2:47 am |
  10. pattysboi

    fr the article:

    >..."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."<

    God NEVER said to beat a child for who they are. This "preacher" needs to be defrocked, and fired, with NO pension or benefits, IMMEDIATELY.

    May 9, 2012 at 2:38 am |
    • Greg

      The last I read the bible Glutony was a deadly sin but christians dont like to condemn there selves.
      Its always easy to find sin in others but not yourself . I guess i'll have to over look my (fat) over weight christian friends
      and turn my cheek. Is typed 2 diabetes from over eating God's wrath too My christian friends say AIDS is gods wrath.
      Maybe the minister will clear these things up for me.

      May 9, 2012 at 2:57 am |
  11. Jim

    "God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman."
    Pretty pathetic that this pastor who is *supposed* to know about the bible ignores the fact that there were many cases of men with more than one wife. In fact, the twelve tribes of Israel were founded by the sons of Jacob from four different women, two wives and the two servants of his wives.

    May 9, 2012 at 2:31 am |
    • Bill P


      That is a lopsided analysis to say because certain individuals in the Bible had more than one wife that that was what God had intended. The bible has many examples of folks doing what they wanted to do instead of what God wanted. In fact, King Solomon had hundreds of wives and, as a result, fell out of favor with God. When God created man, He made it very clear that "a" man shall leave his father and mother and join unto his wife and "they two shall be one". Two. Not three or four or what-have-you. Two.

      May 9, 2012 at 3:02 am |
    • Softship


      If God is omnipotent, he would make anything happen that he wants to happen, it would prevent anything from happening that he doesn't want to happen. Do you really think that if God didn't want gay people to exist, they would?
      Either God doesn't exist, or he's not omnipotent, or he doesn't care about who is married to whom.

      May 9, 2012 at 3:46 am |
  12. Joe

    Haha...everyone talking about gay guys beating him.. Haha gay guys couldn't beat him if they tried. what are they gonna do...run and make sure their nail polish is on before they attack?

    May 9, 2012 at 1:56 am |
    • Observer


      Not too bright. There have been gays playing in the NFL.

      May 9, 2012 at 2:04 am |
    • Toy

      Joe, without a doubt your the dumbest person on this site...You must of been dropped on your head....numerous times as a child.

      May 9, 2012 at 2:51 am |
    • Truth

      Joe: You must be pretty ignorant. Gays are in the military, police departments, sports.. they are everywhere.

      May 9, 2012 at 2:58 am |
  13. Terry Campbell

    As if young gay people don't have enough self-image issues–this moron STILL encourages parents to make these young people feel even worse about themselves than they already do. How about encouraging the parents to be non-judgmental and loving? Oh no–he still thinks parental disapproval will "cure" them, even though he's trying to move away from his comments about physically abusing these kids. Pathetic.

    May 9, 2012 at 1:49 am |
  14. JR

    At a time when our country should be united to help everyone from unemployment, hunger, abuse, and foreclosure. We still have some that wish to be close minded and prejudice, it is sad. People sure do have there priorities set wrong.

    May 9, 2012 at 1:46 am |
  15. Rob

    Total idiot. And people actually follow this clown. There is not a person on this planet that can absolutely explain our existance or consciousness. The only thing you should remember in life is to respect all off it because something or someone went to a lot of trouble to create it.

    May 9, 2012 at 1:45 am |
  16. begreen3850

    Lying is a sin, Harris.

    You should be speaking out against second marriages as well.

    But I don't expect that from a liar.

    May 9, 2012 at 1:41 am |
    • 13monkees

      There is nothing in the bible that says you can't have more than one marriage. The better point would be why isn't this guy trying to get the bald eagle removed as our nation's symbol or get red lobster shut down. Shellfish and eagles are detestable.

      May 9, 2012 at 3:19 am |
  17. Mike

    That's only fair I've been urging Gays to hit Pastors.

    May 9, 2012 at 1:38 am |
  18. Corwin7

    Translation..."God made you gay but you will act like you aren't to avoid embarrassing me" . Typical Christian self rightiousness.

    May 9, 2012 at 1:20 am |
    • wes

      Whatever, dummy. God doesn't make us gay, murderers, theives...etc...what you call self righteousness is actually selfless faith....but you don't seem too concerned with what God thinks...

      May 9, 2012 at 1:42 am |
    • cronewinter

      Wes you are wrong. I understand that one cannot reason with a fanatic but you really are wrong.

      May 9, 2012 at 1:47 am |
    • Observer


      It's all pick-and-choose hypocrisy. Christian hypocrites could have chosen the Golden Rule but instead chose to foster hatred.

      May 9, 2012 at 1:49 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      @wes: Why be concerned with the what your imaginary friend says? People are born gay, this is a scientific fact and your bigotry will not change that. I guess equal rights means nothing to you unless of course those equal rights fall under the category of 'my god says that's okay'. 21st century here, not 2000 years ago or did you forget?

      May 9, 2012 at 3:40 am |
  19. Gina

    All this tells me is that the pastor is most likely gay. Obviously, he's ignorant, because he hasn't come face to face with those gay men who work out and will beat the living crap out of him. Also, the thing about punching your kid, well kids grow up and parents grow old. Guess he never heard of elder abuse.

    May 9, 2012 at 1:13 am |
    • begreen3850

      Harris will find that out as his kid leaves in him in a third rate old folks home.

      May 9, 2012 at 1:42 am |
  20. DolphT

    Consider the source: he's a moron.

    May 9, 2012 at 1:06 am |
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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.