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.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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. boocat

    Another bigoted hateful Jesus freak...get in line....

    May 9, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  2. Kornelia

    Jesus said "What you do unto the least of my brethren, you do unto me"?
    What a hypocrate this pastor is. He's a disgrace to the faith.

    May 9, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • TR6

      So are most christians

      May 9, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  3. Mickmeister

    Just another instance demonstrating how religion is causing its own extinction.

    May 9, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  4. Nat Q

    "It's amazing to how 'punch' has been equated with inciting violence against gay youth."

    Yeah, it is SUPER weird how some people took a statement to punch children who are acting effeminate as a statement that people should punch children who are acting effeminate. Why does everyone rashly jump to the conclusion that this man supports punching children who are acting effeminate just because he decides to tell his congregation in no uncertain terms that they should punch children who are acting effeminate?

    Seriously. What is wrong with this man?

    May 9, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  5. Clyde M

    The most amazing part of this story for me is how this tool manages to to broadcast his sermons over the web from 200 years in the past.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  6. keith0702

    The guy should be arrested for inciting hate crimes. He advocates hitting children for doing nothing other than not acting the way he thinks they should act and there are now parents and others who will do this becasue they have his blessing. i'd like to punch him for being a moron.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      The first amendment covers hate speech: which is GOOD. Free speech should be paramount. The people who should be arrested are those who act like this idiot preaches.

      May 9, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • Nat Q

      Sort of.

      First Amendment protects hate speech (as in you can say that you hate black people or that you think black people are inferior or that you don't think black people should marry white people, etc). It does NOT protect actual instigations of violent acts. You do NOT have a free speech right to give a call to action to harm other people.

      You can give a speech saying you hate black people and that is covered. But you cannot end it with "you should all go out and beat, kill, or harm black people."

      May 9, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I think you're right actually Nat, which is sad. Whatever happened to land of the free?

      May 9, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • Nat Q

      And that's why I'm no longer a member of the libertarian party...

      May 9, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Why, because we support free speech?

      May 9, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  7. Kurt

    Doesn't this guy realize that negative reinforcement will only push the child further away from the parent and cause them to rebel by pursuing the very thing the parent is trying to stop. And punching or not, its obvious that this pastors advise is to cause fear in the child. Fear as a presumed motivator is a method for dictators and terrorists. All this pastor has done is to show the world how unintelligent and unspiritual he is. Just watching his tone and body language belies his true feelings of hate, an emotion that should be found nowhere near a man of the cloth. And shame on the congregation for being sheeple and blindly following him without thinking. Is it any wonder that a congregation is referred to as a flock.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Nat Q

      It's religion. Fear is it's primary, default motivator.

      May 9, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  8. wcb2001

    Whats religion got do with gay people creating a legal partnership that enables them to do things like get family plan insurance, etc.? I dont think the gay and lesbian community cares much for a "marriage" that is recognized by the church...
    So, bible bangers can have what they call "marriage" as it is defined in the bible and Gay/Lesbian couples can enter into legal partherships. No need for conflict. Unless of course church goers just dont like gay people and want to latch on to this to make some hate noise. Which, BTW, is why my family stopped going to church back in the 70s.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • momoya

      If the christards who speak out against g.a.ys weren't hypocritical they'd be having anti-divorce parades and conferences a couple of thousand times a year while only speaking against ho.mo. se xuality only a few times a year.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  9. pfranckly

    Did he actually say this? Why, yes he did: "You know, it’s amazing how ‘punch’ has been equated to inciting violence against gay youth." Amazing.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:24 am |
  10. dotheflippinmath

    What's the difference between an Evangelical zealot and a fundamentalist Muslim? Apparently, just a book. Otherwise, they're the same. What's next, cross worshippers? Stoning the gays?

    May 9, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I guess we won't be able to show images of Jesus either in the future. Let's face it though, the chances of the real Jesus (if he existed) looking anything like the six foot tall, fair haired Jesus favoured by most Christians is pretty close to nil.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • Just Sayin'

      RationalLibertarian: You wrote: "Let's face it though, the chances of the real Jesus (if he existed) looking anything like the six foot tall, fair haired Jesus favoured by most Christians is pretty close to nil."

      I do absolutely believe Jesus existed for reasons that aren't necessary to tout here, but I MUST AGREE with your assessment of the preferred artistic renderings of Jesus! LOL... Most so-called Christians forget their own Bible history – Jesus was Jewish, born of generations of Jews / Hebrews. Although groups change throughout history, it is doubtful, from a Biblical perspective, that Jesus was light-haired, -eyed or -skinned. It is also highly, highly unlikely that he wore a long, stringy hair style, since the Bible clearly states that 'long hair is a dishonor to a man.' Not to dictate what men can decide to do with their hair, but Jesus is introduced to us in the Bible, and the apostles were HIS disciples and he taught them, and the writings, largely, in the named NT are of him and his teachings – so how likely would he have been to wear a style is direct followers condemned? The locals would have called him a hypocrite! His words would have carried little weight and meaning! ALso, I doubt he was the skinny, frail-looking man protrayed that is so beloved. He was PERFECT, according to scripture – perfect health, weight, strenght, stamina, skin, eyes, hair, thoughts, actions.... Nope, doesn't fit the modern (that is, 15th Cent on) view of him.

      Wish more people could see that – one good reason why images and pictures and such do us no good in worship! Who's to say they're even remotely correct? What's the old saying.... "It's in the details..." Same with Bible truth.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:34 am |
  11. rockysfan

    Man of God? I seriously think not! Anyone that professes to be a pastor that would advocate ANY type of violence against anyone else is pure evil. Would be interesting to see you jusitify this at the pearly's 'cause I do not believe God will buy your sorry answer.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      No True Scotsman

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

    A righteous man would tell his son to keep all the laws of the bible including don't steal, don't murder, and don't lie with a man as you should only lie with a woman.

    If ANY bible law is up to repeal then all could be. That would make us above the creator's law. No law = anarchy.

    Wake up people, bible law isn't restriction, its FREEDOM.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • momoya

      False dichotomy: Rejecting the bible's "law" doesn't mean that the resulting legal code sans bible is "anarchy.".

      It's the "bible's law" to sprinkle diseased pigeon blood on skin conditions; it's the bible's law to only wear garments made of one kind of thread; it's the bible's law to k.i.ll disobedient children by throwing stones at their heads..

      Are you really following god's law or were you just a little hasty, there?

      May 9, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • crazypete

      We'll need to outlaw divorce then. I remember what Jesus said about that. Also, the ten commandments clearly state "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" so we'll need to outlaw ALL other religions. Also, NO work on Sunday, no graven images, etc.
      Is this what you are advocating?

      May 9, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • Rational Libertarian


      Biblical law is the most constricting and anti freedom code of law out there, along with Sharia.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • crazypete

      @momoya: Although I sympathize, your examples are all from the Old Testament, which is not necessary for Christians since Jesus said that all those laws (with the exception of the 10 commandments) were fulfilled by believing in HIM. So they don't really count.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • momoya

      @crazy pete

      Christians want the 10 Commandments on every square foot of the USA, but they're found in the OT.. It's only on the uncomfortable OT scriptures that christians whip out that "no OT law" argument.. The rest of the time they don't bring it up.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • Just Sayin'

      @Momoya: Maybe those are NOT really "Christians."

      Because it is true that Jesus said that the Mosaic Law (a portion of which was what is now called "the 10 Commandments" along with 100s of other laws) was fulfilled through him, and that afterward, the 'Law of Love' would reign. So posting the 10 Commandments all over would, in fact, being choosing ONLY the portion of law desired (less the other 100s, which did include the sacrifices and such mentioned) and ignoring the role Jesus played in fulfilling the law – and since "Christian" means "Christ-like" or "In the manner of Christ" then ignoring his role and relying on the 10 Commandments, which were fulfilled (completed, no longer needed in worship of God because He replaced them with the more elegant and all-emcompassing 'Law of Love'), is to dismiss Christ. How could that be "in the manner of Christ?" Tantamount to saying" "I dismiss my role in life, therefore, I follow in my own footsteps and am like me." ??? Yeah, kind of awkward.

      True Christianity is quite different from nearly anything written in the newspaper (or onine, or touted in most churches)... Sadly, many prefer to post unnecessary laws and ignore what Christ called "the greatest" and "second" commandments – simply properly-displayed love for God and neighbor. Doesn't mean we all have to agree. But it does mean that if one claims to be Christian there is definitely a certain amount of reprehenisiblity if that one fails to uphold what Christianity really is. Therefore, you make a valid point – Falling back on scripture just for convenience is, indeed, un-christian.

      The named OT is NOT invalid, just fulfilled. THe principles and what we learn therein are extremely useful; but the laws are not required of Christians. The higher law is.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • crazypete

      @ momoya: OK, I was wrong (geez, does that ever happen?). Jesus said to keep 5 of the ten commandments (Matthew 19:17-19) only. Still, adultery is out.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • Primewonk

      @crazypete – Your Jesus himself said several times that the OT laws and rules would remain in effect until heaven and heath pass away. As far as I know, earth is still here. Ergo, all of this god's bizarre rules and laws still apply.

      Fundiots better get busy – your god has lot's of people who need stoning.

      May 9, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • momoya

      @just sayin'

      Of course, just rationalize the scriptures to mean what you want them to mean, and those who disagree aren't "true christians.". You've managed to put the two most popular christian positions into just one post.

      May 9, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • crazypete

      @Primewonk: Yes he did. But he also said that those same laws would be fulfilled by believing in him (Romans 10:4 for one example, there are more). This is at the heart of the New Covenant: the laws are still in effect, but are fulfilled by believing in Christ, not by obeying the actual laws.

      May 9, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • Primewonk

      @ crazypete – That was Paul speaking in Romans, not Jesus.

      Jesus said – "It is easier for Heaven and Earth to pass away than for the smallest part of the letter of the law to become invalid."  (Luke 16:17 NAB)

      You folks have got to get busy killing. All the gays. All the women who weren't virgins on their wedding night. All the women who were ràped and didn't yell loud enough. All the unruly kids.

      Dàmn! I think I'm going to buy a rock quarry! I'll make a fortune!!

      May 9, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • crazypete

      @Primewonk: You're a little thick, aint cha? Again, the law is STILL VALID, but is fulfilled through Christ (in fact Jesus says just that before your quote in Matthew). This was the point of his coming: We could not obey the laws due to our weak nature therefore we sinned. Jesus died so that the law could be fulfilled through him and free us. This isn't that complicated.

      May 9, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • crazypete

      @Primewonk: Sorry, you were quoting Luke, not Matthew, but same difference. Also, Paul was an Apostle of Jesus, and therefore spoke with his Authority.

      May 9, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Robert Brown

      Jesus speaking on the law:
      Matthew 23:23
      Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay ti.the of mint and anise and cu.mm.in, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
      Luke 16:16
      The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.
      Luke 24:44
      And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.

      Paul on the law, Romans 3: 19 – 28, Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

      Jesus has paid once and for all for all the sins which are detailed in the OT and that nonbelievers enjoy reminding us of.

      May 9, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • TR6

      @Tod:” and don't lie with a man as you should only lie with a woman.”

      But if he comes home and tells them he is sleeping with his girlfriend they will tell him that is a sin too and he is still going to burn in hell for doing it.

      May 9, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • sam stone

      this is not the creator's law. it is the law of people theat died a few millenia ago.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  13. Al

    Too bad we can't shove the ignorance out of good old Pastor Harris, but there is as yet no cure for stupid.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  14. Steve the Atheist

    Are we surprised, another bigot caught and now he is backtracking his words. He'll try to hide behind his myths now and start spewing that fake bible garbage.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:08 am |
  15. KWRegan

    After hearing the clip, I'm even more appalled. This pastor needs to meet with the families of gay youths who have been bullied, some into suicide.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • ilvpitz

      I totally agree. I'm sick of people STILL saying that being gay is a choice. Really???? Some great choice. You have to deal with people like this that tell your parents to punch you because you're being the way you were made. You have to deal with society hating you, people hurting you, losing your job in some places, losing your health insurance in other places and over all meanness and hatred from society. Yeah, some great choice. This pastor along with all the other hateful commenting people have their heads stuck under the sand. Why don't you try a little reality please? Do you really think people choose to be gay? Did you choose to be straight? I don't think so. Quit being so mean. You have no idea what it's like to live and grow up in a society that hates you and wants to hurt you. How would you like it if it was you that was being treated that way? I bet you wouldn't and it would even scare you. But NO, since you're on the other side of it, you just join in with the mob of people and continue to be mean-spirited to gay people. And that pastor's (i use that term loosely) choice of wording "limp-wrist" shows that he really is a hateful man inside and has something against gay people. He shouldn't because allegedly he is supposed to love all people. Limp-wrist is a derogatory term against gay people.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:16 am |
  16. Match-Maker

    This guy and that huge C____ Shirley Phelps Roper from Westboro Baptist would make a great couple. Both insane.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • ilvpitz

      Awesome comment!!!

      May 9, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  17. badlobbyist

    Yet another fantastic demonstration of the love and compassion taught by modern Christianity. God loves everyone.....well except probably you 'cause you didn't donate to my church.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  18. Rational Libertarian

    Murder isn't a consensual act you cretin. Two men engaging in consensual s exual acts is in no way relatable to murder.

    Also, while I don't condone bestiality, if a cow could talk, I'm sure it would tell you it would prefer to be f ucked than to be turned into burgers.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      That post was for Mark from Retard River.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  19. Bruce

    A real man would gather his child in his arms, tell them how he loves them more than anything else in the world, let them know he will be there for them no matter the need, will support them always, and will always stand in unity with them.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • badlobbyist

      I can't think of a more perfect reply.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • momoya

      As loving parents know!! In fact, that is often the best thing you can do for your children (for me, grandkids!). You just be there for them, and let them know you will always be there even if things go wrong or the truth hurts or whatever.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • PRguy

      That's perfect. I would always hug and kiss my son and daughter, even if they turn out to be gay. My love is unconditional.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • ilvpitz

      Thank you Bruce. What a beautiful comment.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • CosmicC

      Yes! THANK YOU.

      May 9, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  20. maria

    Real men beat their children and crack their wrists to show them god's love.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:43 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.