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. Jesse

    JER 23:16
    thus says the LORD of hosts; do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophecy to you, they make you worthless, they speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the LORD

    May 10, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  2. Jesse

    LEV 19:18
    you shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself

    May 10, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  3. Jesse

    DUE 13:3
    you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your GOD is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your GOD with all your heart & with all your soul

    May 10, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  4. You call that Faith?

    Beatings are the tool of weak Faiths. Who did Christ beat? None- Who did Christ demand to be a Man? None- Christ was attacked for embracing the outcast. Pastor Harris and Congregants of this Church-Who are You? The Ones who agreed that a weak Savior should be a Crucified Jesus . If you could ask them today. I sure They felt that such a weak Savior could not be God's Son. That's fine Just dont claim to be a Christian.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  5. Boisepoet

    "Ignorance and prejudice and fear walk hand-in-hand" Neil Peart

    May 10, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  6. Devil Says

    When anything is not understood people turn to the book of myth. The only good is knowledge and the only evil ignorance. Just another cheap trick to divide this land of freedom.

    May 10, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  7. Heather

    This is the sad thing most christains do do what dog and the bible says.
    We are called by God to help people, not to judge them. Mercy is greater than judgement! (James 2:13)

    May 10, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  8. EqualForALL

    Hittinq Your Kids Will Not Solve The Problem..There Is No Wat To #CURE Your Kids Of GAY.Youre Gonna Do nothinq but drive your kids away frim you OR they may commit suicide.

    May 10, 2012 at 7:26 am |
  9. Bad

    The world has gone mad! On the gay thing

    May 9, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • mar

      Remember America your founding Fathers established this nation based on the truth of the bible but now you are abandoning the principles and instruction of the bible – wake up – look at the sign of the times -you are turning away from the path of truth and Godliness – fear God and His Judgement

      May 10, 2012 at 1:04 am |
    • Adrian

      @mar, what if I don't share your beliefs or your god? why should the government make laws "inspired" by the bible that affect me? what if suddenly the u.s. became an "Islam" nation, and you who are a Christian were forced to follow laws inspired by Islam? Hmm...so much to think about. Don't forget, the founding fathers were also slave owners, should we revert back to that as well?

      May 10, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • sam stone

      mar: you worship an vituperative, petty punk. now, get back on your knees

      May 10, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  10. Bad

    Bible Says Man and Women! Not man and man or women and women!

    May 9, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • Fvck em

      Bible is bullsh!t

      May 10, 2012 at 12:14 am |
    • FU

      The bible is a book written by man... Just like Aesop's Fables... Gotta love bedtime stories.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • sam stone

      Bad: Well, bully for the bible. Our laws are not based on the fantasies of iron age sheep lovers

      May 10, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  11. danielwalldammit

    Someone ought to tell this idiot to listen to his own sermons. Apparently he has no idea what he said in them.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  12. Robert Hagedorn

    Free choice? Google First Scandal.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  13. Reener

    How does this pastor translate the statment in the book of Genesis that 'God is everywhere and everything'. That sounds pretty all encompassing which goes without saying for an omniscient being. I definitely do not believe that this pastor has any direct connection with God even through the bible.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  14. Honey Badger Dont Care

    That jack hole needs to speak out alright. Like screams of pain when someone is "straightening him out".

    May 9, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  15. womens leggings

    Somebody essentially assist to make severely posts I'd state. This is the very first time I frequented your web page and so far? I amazed with the analysis you made to create this particular post amazing. Magnificent process!

    May 9, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  16. shootmyownfood

    Once again, some people have decided that we all need to abide by their religious beliefs. My religious beliefs do not address gender preference in any way, and yet I keep getting told by people that "God" wants it this way, or "God" said it should go like this. How can anyone possible know what an omniscient being we cannot see or have two-way communication with wants? Those who say they DO know what "God" wants are can follow those rules, but since "God" hasn't told me anything, I'll live my my rules, thank you very much.

    May 9, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  17. harviele

    Don't say what you mean unless you mean what you say. Never apologize for your religious beliefs because in doing so you are being a hypocrite. If you are not willing to stand up and defend what you say then don't say it in the first place.

    May 9, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Thinker

      Religious beliefs created out of bigotry are trash. Thats what this is about. A minster on a power trip. He is probably a closet case. Me thinks he protest tooooo much.

      May 10, 2012 at 12:51 am |
  18. just sayin

    What I find interesting is when gay people bash their own acts???? Shocking when you consider Pastor Sean Harris is gay.

    May 9, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Got it all wrong

      This whole thing is a misunderstanding. He was just explaining that he and some other gay men he knows like it a little rough sometimes. A wrist crack here, a punch there, and lot's and lot's of shoving...

      May 9, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  19. Primewonk

    BoldGeorge wrote, " it's too late to correct your brother either by physical discipline or verbal. "

    Apparently BoldGeorge thinks it's OK to beat the cràp out of someone in order to make them straight.

    Please post the citations to peer-reviewed science that shows you can literally beat someone straight.

    I've asked you (personally) this numerous times, and so far, each time you have refused – please post the citations to scientific research showing gays choose to be gay.

    May 9, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • GodPot

      As recently as the 1960's there were schools spa.nking children for writing with their left hands. I guess BoldGeorge is "old school" and thinks we should go back to when he felt America was great, when women stayed at home, bla.cks couldn't vote and children were beaten for just being left handed let alone g a y.

      May 9, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • BoldGeorge

      1) Scientific research does not qualify as an analyzer of moral laws nor does it define (nor can it ever) what is good and what is bad. So, if you want me to offer you an answer through this venue, it's a lost cause.
      2) I never stated, whether verbally or written, that gays do or don't choose to be gay. As matter of fact, I candidly believe that a child may be born with the inclination to be attracted to the same gender, no doubt about that. But (here is where I will rest my case) that is not the only inclination a child may be born with. That's just one of them. Have you observed children? I'm sure you have. Notice that you do not need to teach them how to do bad or how to steal, or how to lie, or how to be rebellious. They start from very very young. They will lie, they will steal, they will curse, and they will be violent. To me (not sure if to you), that is the sinful nature that is in us from birth.

      Therefore, we cannot just stand back idly and say, "Oh, they're just kids, what do they know? They'll probably grow out of it." This form of response and way of thinking is the very reason why our kids are growing up without structure, discipline, moral values and the wisdom to choose right from wrong...because parents believe children will "grow out of it."

      May 9, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • momoya

      1. Of course scientific research can have value in making a moral decision.. Science provides more information and the more information the better informed the decision.

      2. There is no "sinful nature.". Some societies regulate roles very rigidly, and children may have no choice whatsoever in what they "become," be it a castrated servant or queen; some societies allow children to adopt from a wide range of "acceptable" options.. In our current society there is no harm in allowing people to marry who they wish and it's senseless to only allow certain people that license when it can be open to all.. Society has seemed to come to the conclusion that it doesn't negatively affect our experience (especially with population out of control like it is).. Society has evolved past any use for millennia-aged, desert war gods that evolved in drastically different cultures on the far side of the globe.

      May 9, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
    • BoldGeorge

      @ momoya

      Understand your point. Seriously, I totally understand your point, but like anything in life, points, arguments and even serious questions can come with flaws. Let's take your point for example:

      "Of course scientific research can have value in making a moral decision."
      With your statement here, it would seem that moral values would be forever changing because modern science changes all the time as well. What we may know about science today may not be so ten years from now; sometimes for the better and even sometimes for the worse. So, can we base moral values to go parallel with scientific research results? Besides, modern science promotes the evolutionary theory and promotes it as a die-hard fact, so with that, what moral values are we talking about???

      Another one of your points:
      "In our current society there is no harm in allowing people to marry who they wish and it's senseless to only allow certain people that license when it can be open to all."
      Who sets up these limits (and why?)? So, will there come a day when humans can marry little children (actually, some cultures do this already–is this morally right?)? Animals? Trees, plants, etc.? Sounds far-fetched but according to your view(s), this might seem likely. And to be quite frank with you, I wouldn't be surprised this all comes to pass.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  20. just sayin

    Sean Harris, the pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville is rumored to hav ehad relations with other men when he was younger.

    I find it interesting that he is so anti gay.

    May 9, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • just sayin

      To clarify the rumor was involving male masseuse.

      May 9, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • Roger the Shrubber

      That's John Travolta. Harris' homoerotic tendencies are a deeply repressed force surging around way down there, battled for years, oozing out in perverse ways like finding the Southern Baptists too liberal. It's like watching self-flaggelation.

      May 9, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • just sayin

      Got my rumors mixed up. oops

      May 9, 2012 at 4:43 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.