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. Dude

    Its hard to type while my dad beats the gay out me......

    May 9, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • BoldGeorge

      Sorry to hear that.

      May 9, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  2. TJ

    I can't wait to raise my children to know that each person is different. Each family is different. Someone may have a mommy and daddy and someone may have two mommys and as long as they raise with unconditionl love, that's ok!! I pray for our generation to be the one that treats each human with love and decency. I'm also very proud of myself to know that I've evolved in both knowledge and practice a little more so than someone 2,000 years ago. It's kind of shameful and sad to know that with today's advancements in science and technology, people credit their knowledge no further than something that was written when people beleived that the earth was flat or existed no further than a few hundred miles for that fact. I'd think an all knowing God would be insulted to think that humans wouldn't use the brains he gave them to their full potential. Almost embarassing to listen to people like this.

    May 9, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  3. Dude

    @ Bold George – Go for it....correct my grammar. Show your lack of tolerance.

    May 9, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Dr. Howard

      Did you really mean to say that correcting someone's grammar is somehow an act of intolerance?

      Regardless of what your positions are, your writing is really bad. It is hard to understand you much of the time.

      May 9, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  4. Dude

    @ Bold George – what? If I understand your retort you have no tolerance for others. Wow, you must be angery all the time. By the way never read the bible "I think" is my way of saying I could be wrong. But thanks for letting me know that some like positive like tolerance is not taught in the bible it explains a lot of the double standard stuff I see and hear 'good christian people doing'.

    May 9, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Wayne

      Bold George should be paid by atheists because he promotes the hell out of it.

      May 9, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • BoldGeorge

      @ Dude & Wayne

      I once heard that a female college student became an atheist because she has studied many religions and mainly because she read in the Bible in Genesis where God told Eve that because of her sin, He will multiply her sorrows and pain in childbearing (Genesis 3:16).

      She became an atheist because she believed she had no place in any belief system that did not give her any worthiness. Little did she know that by choosing to become an atheist, she devalued herself to the lowest degree in the "worth-o-meter" scale. In atheism, where life originates from "primordial slime", there is no such thing as 'worth'.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
  5. J.W

    I used to actually like North Carolina, but not anymore.

    May 9, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  6. Dude

    Is this the manifestation of an untreated childhood trama. I have heard most child beaters come from the same.....and it also says in the bible I think to have love and tolerance of ALL. Not love and tolerance of all BUT....classic open mouth insert foot with a side of stupid.

    May 9, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • BoldGeorge

      @ Dude

      The Bible never teaches tolerance, never. Find me where it teaches this concept of tolerance and I'll definitely change my views of 'loving thy neighbor' which I believe is connected to what the Bible teaches believers regarding salvation: repentance, trusting & believing in Christ-only for our Salvation.

      May 9, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  7. W Kangas

    Gives "bully pulpit" a whole new meaning.
    On a lighter note...never take only one Baptist fishing with you, always take at least two. If you only take one, he'll drink all of your beer. There's three things these folks don't recognize, the Pope, the Saints, and each other at the liquor store.

    May 9, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  8. Tyler

    My brother is gay, and he's 6"2 190 pounds, built like a freaking MMA fighter. I'd love to see someone try to punch him or break his wrist.

    May 9, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • BoldGeorge

      @ Tyler

      I think this Pastor was referring to children who are being raised by God-fearing parents. You are right though, of course it's too late to correct your brother either by physical discipline or verbal. But I can tell you this, he still has an opportunity to change. It's not too late for him, but it is too late for your parents or anyone to try to make that correction.

      May 9, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  9. BoldGeorge

    This Pastor was not by any means promoting child abuse, torture, deprivation, molestation nor confinement. He was just promoting and pushing for corrective discipline and to be quite frank, he was promoting love.

    Ahhh, I know I will be bashed for this comment now. But think about it. I know most of you do not believe in physical corrective discipline, but then again, most of you don't believe in God neither (or at least the God portrayed in the Bible). God disciplines those he loves, and so should we. In regards to this topic, I, as a parent. would not allow my child to behave in a way that is contrary to what my God made him or her to be. My child was not created to be a thief, so I will correct him (or her) if she starts stealing. My child was not created to murder, therefore I will not allow him or her to hit, harm bully and much less hate anyone. Equally, my son was born to be a man or my daughter was born to be a woman, therefore I will not allow them to behave otherwise.

    And please, please do not bring up the Bible stories like where God "commanded" parents to stone their children, for this is not at all true as it has been taken waaaaay out of context (aside from it being overused to discredit the Bible).

    May 9, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Jackson

      If you have children yourself, social services should be at your doorstep right about now for advocating the kind of hate and violence that you are speaking of.
      And yes, the bible does say a lot of stupid things about stoning people. You can't take out the book of Leviticus and say, "oh we don't follow that part..." Hypocrite.

      May 9, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Jesus paid the penalty for all sin of believers, so we no longer have to stone folks to death.

      May 9, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Huebert


      I know that your boyfriend says that he only hits you because he loves you but violence is never love.

      May 9, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • BoldGeorge

      @ Jackson

      Out of respect for your comment (which it doesn't deserve), I will reply to it. I can GUARANTEE you that if Soc. Servs. removes any of my children at any given time, that in itself will most certainly mark the beginning of their future delinquent lifestyle. My wife and I are the only ones that have been appointed by God to raise them, teach them, CORRECT them and discipline them. No one else has been appointed to that task. Or else they wouldn't be born under our watch. And we are the only ones that will be accountable to God when the time comes to give an account to Him about the raising, caring and loving for HIS little ones.

      May 9, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • just sayin

      My wife and I are the only ones that have been appointed by God to raise them.
      Nope, you have the right granted by your government. You can also lose this right when you start getting delusional and abusive. Your delusion has no bearing on rights.

      May 9, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  10. Jerome Horowitz

    Can I hit him? Please?

    May 9, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Huebert

      Think about it. Would you really want to lower your self to the level of a pastor?

      May 9, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  11. mark fausnaugh

    this guy just does not get it. Hit, shove, it makes no difference, it's all the same sermon, hate. So typical of how distorted the interpertation is among these secs/cults of christianity. Ahhh, freedom of speach, gotta love it.

    May 9, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  12. Rebecca535

    Jesus had long hair, wore a dress and hung out with a lot of guys. Should someone have punched him?

    May 9, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • myweightinwords

      In point of fact, Jesus probably DIDN'T have long hair, that's just a comfortable representation of him created by artists in the middle ages. Chances are he had short hair, dark and curly like the rest of the people around him at the time.

      And, he wore the same clothing as the rest of the men of his time, so you can't claim that his clothing was effeminate.

      I'll give you your last point however, he did seem to hang out with a lot of guys. But then, so do I and I'm a female.

      May 9, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  13. blam0h1@gmail.com

    So a man that preaches peace and love likes to hit people that doesn't believe in his views. Such a lovely pattern of hate you Christians have. I'm sure God is very happy that you hide behind his name for justifying violence.

    May 9, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • tek

      Yep, It is bullying.... Why isn't the bullying police all over this. Did CNN not have an article about a girl that just hung herself?

      May 9, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  14. asdf

    "You know, it's amazing how 'punch' has been equated to inciting violence against gay youth."

    For someone who thinks an old book written by imperfect humans is the literal word of God, this guy has pretty low standards for amazement.

    May 9, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  15. Dumbledore Vs God

    I wonder who is the greatest wizard of all, God or Dumbledore? It iall about magic, ain't it?

    May 9, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • asdf

      Could Dumbledore cast a spell so strong that he, himself can't break it?

      May 9, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Huebert

      Dumbledore no contest. God was outsmarted by a snake.

      May 9, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  16. Just Incredible

    Incredible how these pastors who are supposed to be emulating Jesus Christ do just the opposite. Jesus said to Love One Another, to show Unconditional Love! He did not say however, to beat male children who show effeminacy, something they more than likely cannot help. This is just incredible how someone could have such a mean spirit and try to pass it as being in the spirit of Scripture. You don't find that kind of heinous thing in Scripture against children. God Loves ALL Children! He should learn from that already!

    May 9, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      The fictional character of Jesus in that book did say things similar to this. However, if your Jesus is the same as your god, and this god is unchanging and eternal then this is the same evil god that did all of the nasty stuff in the OT as well.

      You cant have it both ways.

      May 9, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Look Around You

      Yes, that's true. Children/People are Born with certain traits. There are many male children born with an effeminate nature as well as females born with a more masculine nature. One can see those traits many times. Of that, there can be no argument.

      May 9, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • TR6

      And Moses said unto them “Have ye saved all the women alive?... Now therefore Kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known a man by lying with him, but all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves” Num 31:1-2, 9-11, 14-18

      May 9, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Scriptures Speak Differently

      TR6, there has always been a quest for power in the ancient world. Even Moses, as a baby, was sent off in a basket on a river in order to save his life from the ruler's rule at the time. The Midianite women were involved with Balaam which brought shame to them for that sin and he died consequently because of this. So, this is an apples to oranges comparison of yours. Scriptures referring to this incident do not ever mention "effeminate males" as the reason for them to be killed. You should know and understand that!

      May 9, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Primewonk

      @ scripture – TR6 was pointing out that your god had his people kill everyone but the young virgin girls. Those they got to keep for themselves as sèx slaves.

      May 9, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • jimjam

      @ Scriptures

      So the penalty for shaming someone is death, unless you’re a virgin female?

      May 9, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Acknowledging Truth

      H.B.D.C., this gives you good food-for-thought obviously, as it does Primewonk. So, in acknowledging God and what He orders in order for Justice to be done in certain situations, you should also be wary of the fact that without becoming Born Again, that is, Saved through Jesus, a non-Believer is in effect condemned. That is why many atheists have Converted during their lifetime and are now glad they did to become Christians! They obviously realized that whether they care to openly acknowledge God or not, it's "Better To Be Safe Than Sorry!" when it comes to saving their own soul as no one else is going to die with you to defend you on that but yourself. And what a small price to pay for Salvation! That is why they finally acknowledged that there is a God and many more non-Believers and atheists will eventually follow even in their stubborness.

      May 9, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Acknowledging Truth

      Yes, they finally Openly and Verbally Acknowledged that there is a God by proclaiming that They Come to Jesus Christ as a Sinner and ask forgiveness for their sins; that Jesus is the One and Only Son of God; that Jesus died for their sins, and that on the third day He resurrected from the dead to give us Eternal Life; and they promised to serve Him from that day forward. They said these things and by saying them they gave their life to Jesus Christ and became Born Again in Him! It's just that simple for Salvation when you go to God with contrite heart for your sins and decide you want to save your own soul! They may have been stubborn at first with non-acknowledgement openly but in the end they did acknowledge Him openly thereby, saving their own soul. And again, it is a small price to pay for the *Assurance* of Salvation. God welcomes everyone to join Him in this open acknowledgement.

      May 9, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Primewonk

      Apparently Acknowledge Truth doesn't understand that Pascal's Wager was refuted long ago.

      May 9, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • just sayin

      "God welcomes everyone to join Him in this open acknowledgement."
      So says men who speak on behalf of Gods. lol

      May 9, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  17. Adam

    He's just spewing his internalized hatred onto everyone else.

    May 9, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Any proof?

      May 9, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Steve the Atheist

      @Rational – Religious people don't require any proof, why does Adam require proof?

      May 9, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  18. str8vision

    Perhaps the great sky fairy should have put forth more effort when designing mankind. Instead of "smacking" children who for many are living out a predetermined genetic disposition, you should "smack" the great sky fairy for failing the expectations/requirements of earthbound religious types. After all, he even forgot to make the world "old" enough to account for the fossil record....ooops!

    May 9, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  19. worldthinker

    This guy reinforces why I am proud to live in the great state of Iowa, and not somewhere in the backwoods South. Folks, its 2012, get with the times and stop letting hardline interpretations of some thousand year old book dictate how you treat people who are different from you.

    May 9, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Great state of Iowa. Never heard those words in the same sentence (joke).

      May 9, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • str8vision

      Well said Iowa.

      May 9, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  20. bold

    Back to the stereo types. All gay men have a limp wrist. I guess we should sucker punch the tomboy girls too.

    May 9, 2012 at 10:15 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.