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. Kebos

    Harris is an idiot.He reflects the shallow thinking and the intolerance that is crippling the USA to the point where it is becoming a joke country among the nations of the world. Evangelism is a disease and America is infected.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:16 am |
  2. hal9thou

    This piece of crud can apologize all he wants, but it is too late. He has shown how he thinks it is OK to beat a child who doesn't conform to his belief system. How evil.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:04 am |
    • Kate

      Sadly only after death and then we are dead. I don't want to go where these intolerant people are anyway. 🙂

      May 9, 2012 at 6:18 am |
  3. Jason

    It will be a so much better world when religion is finally understood to be the complete mythology that it is. We should 'beat' the religion out of these people. Sickening.....

    May 9, 2012 at 5:55 am |
  4. Jazzster_1

    The pastor is only sorry he said it because of the uproar but...I'm sure he really believes this is what needs to be done. Beat those that do not conform to Christian doctrine! Legislate Christian morality! Tell women what they can and cannot do with their bodies.

    Apparently, the frightening similarities between Christians and the Taliban are lost on most. Religious extremism is alive and well in the good 'ole US of A.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:49 am |
  5. johnny

    God loves the Christian. It's the Christianity He hates.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:41 am |
    • Truth

      and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hadesd will not overcome it.e 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will bef bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will beg loosed in heaven

      May 9, 2012 at 5:53 am |
  6. energizedat50

    Wow. Please define a mainline church. Catholics and Evangelical churches are not mainline churches? Does CNN have an agenda here? What happened to mainline objectivity in reporting?

    May 9, 2012 at 5:36 am |
  7. Colin

    Dear Christians:

    Any chance you could leave these kids alone? Growing up in the Bible Belt knowing you are different and widely despised by the religious majority must be very difficult as it is. Having your pastor encourage your father to belt you must be devastating. I can't even imagine what these kids are going through.

    If you must disdain these childen for who they are, please at least have the human decency to do so silently. I don’t believe it is too much to ask that you subordinate your desire to punish and inflict pain on those you do not like to a little compassion and understanding.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:30 am |
    • 4shizle

      F you were beating the gay right outa dem happy little bastages. That will teach them little peter puffin pillow bitters.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:47 am |
  8. Max

    He's a vile creature. I hope he doesn't eat shell fish and that he treats his slaves well.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:29 am |
  9. Vumba

    Hitting is never right end of story.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:07 am |
    • Gwoman

      Wow! So the song we sang in Sunday school was a lie....."Jesus loves all the little children of the world"

      May 9, 2012 at 5:46 am |
  10. Faith

    Wow, Please don't call yourself a Christian. Jesus would not like you.

    I guess if your Dad smacked you around for not being manly enough at the age of 4 that would explain it.

    May 9, 2012 at 4:50 am |
  11. slickteigkc

    He needs a good knock upside his head for being a violent man, Jesus was not violent, violence spreads violence, you will not ever make a human better by being violent to them. I know I've worked with too many children who have been hit, beaten, they're angry sick children. You talk to your children, you love them, you "show" how to be a good human, not by physical violence, ever. It only makes the "hitter" feel in charge and in power, not a good way, again look at Jesus, who said turn the other cheek and loved children. He did not hit them ever as far as I know. That's how to follow Christ, act like he did, not how your animal behavior wants you to act, be a real "Christian" and love others.

    May 9, 2012 at 4:34 am |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things,

    May 9, 2012 at 4:32 am |
    • SHAME

      Oh what you think a fish should pray too? idiot.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:00 am |
    • SHAME

      At least Prayer shuts you annoying christians up for a few minuts. THAT is a godsend

      May 9, 2012 at 5:01 am |
  13. SHAME

    what a discusting human being. And I love how now he acts the victim because he receive threatning emails... you just advocated child abuse, nothing new for a priest, but seriously how can these people think they are fighting for what's right? They are so confused by the conflicted messages in the bible they dont really know what to think. Poor stupid sheep.

    May 9, 2012 at 4:28 am |
    • shamis

      Please explain conflicted message.

      May 9, 2012 at 4:34 am |
    • SHAME

      Hmmm... LOVE thy neighbour, do not JUDGE others – wait a few pages then it's back to judgement, punishment and death – not by the hand of 'god' but my mere mortals like you and I. Not to mention the confliction of its message towards non-believers. Are we evil or not?

      May 9, 2012 at 4:48 am |
    • SHAME

      How can you certainly say that the bible is not corrupted by the hands and writings of mortal men who simply wantedmore control and power? Hard to believe? No it's not, that's human nature, to WANT, to JUDGE, to HATE. Just like I am starting to HATE christians

      May 9, 2012 at 4:50 am |
    • truth

      If you open your eyes and think without blind hate you will get it.

      I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 11For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.b

      May 9, 2012 at 5:22 am |
    • SHAME

      don't spew your sermons at me – it has absolutely no effect because I was not brainwashed as a child as you probably were. I was taught moral values for the sake of respect for other humans not only ones who are from the same religion. So disrespectul of you to push that on to me.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:27 am |
  14. steve w

    As a child I was called a Sissy Yes One of the boys this pastor would not have approved of liked as many did not.I can tell you it was just my natural inclination Different.I grew out of it in time and I can bet you im a stronger man than this so called pastor My heart goes out to those who are different They will spend a lifetime proving they are worthy.GOD BLESS THEM. As for this man he gives religion a bad name

    May 9, 2012 at 4:27 am |
    • edge360

      closet sissy?

      May 9, 2012 at 4:32 am |
    • azDave

      Religion gives religion a bad name.

      May 9, 2012 at 4:43 am |
  15. neguys

    actually lets hit all Straight kids, B lack kids, Green Kids, girls, etc etc etc....WHAT A MORON from a MORONIC state

    May 9, 2012 at 4:05 am |
    • jim

      You dont even know him so how can you judge him? You have never said anything stupid before? If you said what you just said without hiding behind your screen name you would probably be fired from your job and hated by some of your friends to. So grow up and shut up.

      May 9, 2012 at 4:30 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      jim: Anyone who advocates child abuse based on inaccurate information deserves the ridicule and criminal prosecution. He is basically telling parents to beat the gay out of their children...force them to be afraid of being who they were born to be. If your child came out as being gay, would you beat them?

      May 9, 2012 at 4:52 am |
    • Kate

      Why can't I judge him? He judges all boys who "he' thinks are perhaps 'someday' gay as being able to be abused, if that isn't judgement what is? I PRAY for the day all religion is erased, it will happen, this horrible fear mongering evil people will die. Tolerance. Tolerance. Caring. Love. Christians wouldn't know these thoughts if they were smacked upside the head with it. Go away christians.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:22 am |
  16. neguys

    a horrible horrible man and a gutter useless religion....my Christian GOD loves me.........

    May 9, 2012 at 4:05 am |
  17. Al

    'Dads should wrestle with their sons. Continue to have physical contact'

    I think this guy's tighty-whities wrestling matches with his boys might get a little carried away. Harris is in the closet.

    May 9, 2012 at 4:02 am |
    • Kate

      Of course he's gay why else this hatred? sad.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:23 am |
  18. er1998

    I would like to hit the gay guys on that Afraid of the dark game show. Put your hand in the tank already for crying out loud you sissy!!!!!

    May 9, 2012 at 3:49 am |
  19. Herby Sagues

    Funny. If I said "whenever you see a priest teaching nonsense to children, beat the cr*p out of them" in public I would be facing a lawsuit (or worse).
    So abuse is protected speech, reason is not.

    May 9, 2012 at 3:49 am |
    • what reason

      There is no such thing as reason as there is no such thing as truth. Truth and reason are delusional chemical reactions within your feeble brain.Reason and truth are only what you want it to be.

      May 9, 2012 at 3:53 am |
    • Nathan

      I was abused for 13 years by a father who went to church, but what people did not know for many years thanks to science was that he was bi-polar but sadly it was a bit late because he committed suicide as a result of his disease.. Praise God I am not bi-polar! I have all the right in the world to be angry at Christians I have seen more bad stuff in it in my life than most...I have even had my own share of mess ups. However, I chose repentance for my sins, even for the hatred I had as a child towards my dad as well as God. I did not understand as child being abused why my Christian dad was abusing me, now I know thanks to science. I did not understand as a youth why God let it happened and why He did not strike him dead with lightening of something, but now I know though God's heart desired and burned for justice on my behalf; He was showing mercy towards my dad because He alone knew the real state of his heart and as the Bible points out that He delights that none should perish. Before the question starts up concerning why he had a disease or why people die or do harmful things to each other, please remember it is a fallen world. My dad was influenced by the disease but he still made the choice. I was influenced by my pain to hate and even want to do other things that were bad in my teen years I had to make the choice and I did. But now I make the choice not to. People cause the problems not God. He desires mercy and justice. God brought forth justice in some manner by my mom delivering me from it through divorce, He showed mercy to my dad by revealing to him the disease. He showed justice to my dad when after other attempts of suicide this time it worked. But God showed mercy because now my dad could hurt no one else. I say all of that to show God is merciful and just and I have right to be angry because I was wronged but instead I chose to forgive and be forgiven as well. That sadly is not even the worst I have seen, and I say that not to boast but to help you out. I hope I was clear because it is late and I am tired.

      May 9, 2012 at 4:16 am |
    • rcflyer8410

      Well, first, sorry to hear you were abused. This is a horrible thing. However, what does this have to do with god? Your dad had a disease, which unfortunately, many others do as well. Some are fortunate to get treatment or have mild versions of it. Yes, I agree, god had nothing to do with it – any of it. Bad things happen in this world to good people. It's just reality. All we can do as people is be compassionate and try to comfort those going through these horrific things. But the so-called god intervention, I hate to say, is a false way of dealing with it. Heck, if god wanted to help him and did justice, why not just prevent him from getting the disease in the first place?

      Heck, I was riding my motorcycle a month ago, and decided last second to stop at Circle K. A few seconds later, a horrible wreck occurred a few hundred yards away. If I had not turned last minute, I would have likely been in that wreck – and possibly killed. I don't look to divine intervention to explain it – I just had to pee really bad!

      May 9, 2012 at 4:35 am |
  20. rcflyer8410

    You won't win arguing or debating religion – trust me. Typically, an argument or debate is based on facts, evidence, common sense, and reason. Religion is void of all of these attributes. And this is why religious is the most divisive and violent ideology ever invented by man. Honestly, most so-called christians are just "fans" either way – they have likely never even read the book of horrors they hold dear, and make no honest attempt to live by the teachings. While the Old Testament was a truly horrific piece of work, anyone has to admit that the fictional character jesus was ahead of his time in some areas of moral thinking. However, the very thing most of these christians – especially the right wingers – stand for, is 100% contrary to what jesus would have upheld. Instead, these religious nut jobs use religion and their fictional deity as a means to justify hate and bigotry. Hatred of gays... demoralization of women.

    With or without religion, good people would do good, and evil people would do evil. However, it is religion that advocates – and justifies – good people to do the most evil and horrific things!

    Again, not arguing as to whether or not your imaginary friend is real. I wouldn't dream of starting a debate of intelligence, reason, common sense, or just plain old factual evidence. I can argue these points with insanity. Now perhaps I will add a post later, arguing for the existence of the infamous "spaghetti monster", who has every bit as much basis in fact, reason, and common sense as your fictional deity. Perhaps then, we can argue and debate on equal terms – both from a position of ridiculous insanity.

    May 9, 2012 at 3:41 am |
    • er1998

      You have a lot of anger issues, you should see someone about that.

      May 9, 2012 at 3:48 am |
    • mema

      Wow so many words to say absolutely nothing of any substance. Maybe next time save yourself some time and keep is simple stupid.

      May 9, 2012 at 3:49 am |
    • Herby Sagues

      After two thousand years of being prosecuted, murdered, burned at the stake, seeing children indoctrinated with very strong beliefs that are counter to what we know and to what science tells us, after countless wars started in the name of imaginary beings or even minute differences in the vision of those imaginary beings, after genocides of all classes done in the name of "a benevolent and forgiving god", after being forced since childhood to read books and waste time in rituals that made no sense to us, after seeing the world is a thousand years behind in scientific achievements due to bans on all thing science during the medieval ages (for fear of discoveries that would weaken our beliefs)... OF COURSE MEN OF REASON ARE ANGRY! We've had enough!

      May 9, 2012 at 3:54 am |
    • rcflyer8410

      Well, the religious nut jobs didn't disappoint – the 'intelligent' responses flowing. I wouldn't call my position one of anger – just frustration. Frustration that people lack the will, common sense, and reason to simply ask questions of reason – and if they don't jive with reality, ask more! Of course, your pastor says thats a sin – not believing. A nice defense mechanism religion has incorporated. This is common in many cults – asking questions or challenging anyone in authority is looked down upon. And then issues like this arise... hatred of gays. Banning of gay rights on religious grounds. I love the response that "we were founded as a christian nation". Perhaps the people who say this should study history – in particular what our founding fathers thought of religion. While you can find similar comments from Adams, Franklin, and several others – Jefferson is my favorite:
      Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. – Thomas Jefferosn

      Whatever our founding fathers may have been, they were secularists. And they would be rolling in their grave to see where religion has advanced today, and how it has influenced our politics and laws.

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

      actually i liked your argument !!!!

      May 9, 2012 at 4:06 am |
    • ngo

      It's unfortunate that people can't think for themselves, and need a 'church' to think for them.

      May 9, 2012 at 4:07 am |
    • The Damocles Society

      I agree rc, you can not argue with religion. You can, however, argue with what is done with, or in the name of, religion. People use religion to cover their own prejudices, hates, and fears. This guy seems to fear gays so much that he is willing to advocate punching kids. Now my guess is that he has always had this fear and probably always will, but in the guise of religion he now feels justified in his hate. So now we have to deal with the possible outcomes of such talk. What happens when a parent beats his or her kid to death trying to get them to not be gay? Will fellow believers protest at the trial because they feel the parent was justified? Its a little scary on where this could lead.

      One last thought: If he would punch his son in the face to reaffirm his manhhood, what would he do to reaffirm his daughters womanhood?

      May 9, 2012 at 6:55 am |
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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.