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. eroc

    I pray for that fake tough guy to slap me. Christians are evil and hats its nothing new

    May 12, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  2. Argle Bargle

    Why should it be a surprise? It's North Carolina...the people who hate.

    May 12, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
  3. buffalo

    "Speaks out"? I think we've heard everything we needed to hear. Pathetic, bigoted little people, hiding behind an imaginary figure.

    May 12, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  4. GOD

    I put gay people here to be punched (if your having a bad day)

    May 12, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • Argle Bargle

      You're not God. He at least knows the difference between "your" and "you're".

      You're too stupid to be God, and too stupid to be human as well.

      May 12, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  5. Elmeaux

    This guy is back-pedaling so fast he's going to drive himself right off a cliff.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • Qtips

      "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."

      Of course not. "Punch" is obviously a reference to the DRINK, and so the holy father's point was that Henderson county should repeal its prohibition era laws and stop being a dry county. Who could argue with that? Especially not the "punch" drunk gay boys who are still reeling from the pastor's comments (no doubt made when HE was deep in his cups).

      May 12, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  6. Elyse

    Can we hit Sean Harris because he is ignorant and stupid? I'm so tired of idiots quoting Leviticus as a reason to justify gay bashing. This pastor seems to conveniently forget the Bible also says that slavery is OK, we should stone adulterers to death,shun lepers and sell our daughters into slavery. So convenient to forget the other crap in the Old Testament., but sadly he believes we can scare or pray away the gay. Gay is not a choice. It's is a biological fact and God doesn't make mistakes. Shame on you reverend!

    May 12, 2012 at 12:15 am |
    • romans

      I you know your bible you cant for get Romans 1st chapter where Paul talks about man and woman leaving the natural use. God created Adam ans Eve not Adam and Steve. His word is for ever settled.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:54 am |
    • Elyse

      His word is settled for you. You actually made my point. Pick out the bible verses that say gay is wrong and ignore the other passages that don't make moral sense today. Sold your daughters into slavery yet?

      May 12, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  7. stevehc1

    Who CARES what this ignorant, crazy moron of a "pastor" has to say about this or any OTHER issue?! And shame on all of those North Carolinians who have the gall to call themselves "Christians" yet vote to deny ANYONE – including gays – the same rights that non-gays have! These people are no more "Christian" than was Hitler. In fact, this guy reminds me of a character in the movie comedy "Dragnet" (played by Christopher Plummer) who was a leader of the "P.A.G.A.N.S." but who masquerades as the "Reverend" Jonathan Whirley. I'm neither gay nor a Christian, but I'm beginning to think that if there were any "Christians for Gays" group out there that I – and just about everyone else in this country – should stand up and be counted as a supporter.

    May 11, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  8. Rob Worthington

    Someone should punch him for being an ignorant moron.

    May 11, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  9. Lulu

    So, how many times has the "bible" been rewritten?

    May 11, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • joe adele

      the quran has never been rewritten in its 1400 years. its preservation is a miracle in itself.

      May 11, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  10. PumpNDump

    He's a bigot and a nutjob, so what.

    May 11, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  11. Navin Johnson

    This man was made by God to be an idiot and so he is an idiot!

    May 11, 2012 at 2:18 am |
  12. JB

    North Carolina, if you're willing to hand over Asheville, you are more than welcome to take your knuckle-dragging beliefs and secede.

    May 11, 2012 at 12:18 am |
  13. Jennifer

    It makes me wonder how this pastor would suggest that parents "affirm the womanhood" of a girl who acts too much like a boy. I'm almost afraid to speculate.

    May 10, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  14. Josh

    Its 10pm. Have you sucker punched your clergy today?

    May 10, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  15. Mike

    He seems like the type that gets mad when you drop the ball in gym class.

    May 10, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  16. noizee

    It is high time that the churches of this nation were TAXED. They are politically involved, just like lobbying firms and DON'T PAY TAXES. If they want to continue to lobby for church doctrine, they need to follow the law of the land and pay up just like any other company or lobbying firm does. They use their facilities to host political events, then why are they not charged taxes like any other conference facility or hotel complex? There is something very wrong with this. Politicians are USING churches and the people in them to further their own goals on the cheap. They don't have to pay b/c it's all done under the guise of "protecting religion", but what it really is is political social engineering.

    May 10, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Sue

      Strongly support what noizee said.

      May 10, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Josh

      There are several churches around here, who put up signs at election time, that are even larger then their own church sign. Such signs promote voting for specific issues or candidates.

      May 10, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • hillbilleter

      I agree that churches should not get involved in political matters. But taxing churches would take much needed funds away from the food banks, homeless shelters, childrens' school clothes and supplies, families' emergency utility funds, and the many other charitable assistance they provide to the millions of people who are in economic distress. I wouldn't trust the government to use any church taxation to provide those same services to the needy. Agree or disagree with the doctrine, but would you shell out to replace the lost funding for those in need? I thought not.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • hippie power 69

      amen noizee, they keep getting involved in politics then they should pay for that right just like we do. its called paying your dues, pay your taxes then you can speak all the sh-t you want. right now you don't have that right to speak about anything political. keep your opinion to yourself.

      May 18, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  17. bogalusa

    Lord please protect me from some of your followers.......

    May 10, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • luvUamerica

      And lord please protect me from this politicians who called themselves pastors!

      May 10, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  18. Lindsay

    Since when is being Gay mean you aren't a man? Also pretty sure that marriage has been around since before the bible, and that other religions have marriage not just Christians. Marriage is man made not created by "god"

    May 10, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • thinking clearly now

      The first man an woman were brought together by God to be inited as one. In that sense the first marriage was formed by God. It did occur before the bible however the bible is written on events from creation onward so ineffect those principles were established from the begining.

      May 10, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Sue

      TCN, so how come 'god' screwed up so many times with earlier models before he made the pair of hominids you seem to be referring to? And how come he didn't do a better job of hiding his mistakes?

      There's a fossil record, stupid, but Christian god doesn't exist.

      May 10, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • Binky is wrong

      @thinking clearly now: If only you could actually write clearly now. As it is, you're completely laughable as anything other than a troll.

      May 10, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • @TCN

      Yeah, and God first made Lilith who Adam tried to force himself on and God saved her or took her away, whatever. Does that mean all men should be rapist?

      May 11, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  19. Jesse

    HBR 13:4
    Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators & adulterers GOD will judge

    2nd CH 18:1
    Jehoshaphat had riches & honor in abundance; and by marriage he allied himself with Ahab

    May 10, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • JFritz

      Do you keep kosher? The bible says you should. Think we should stone divorcees? The bible says we should. Shop or work on Sundays–naughty, naughty. You don't get to pick and choose based on your prejudices and ignorance. Time to see this "good book" for what it is–a brilliant history, at times an excellent guide to conduct, and always a creation of committees who changed it to suit their own needs.

      May 12, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Phronsie

      So Jehosaphat and Ahab married one another - an acknowledged gay couple in the bible? Very cool! Of course the churches hate gays more than adulterers and those who committ divorce because so many of their wealthy contributors commit those acts, but funny enough the only group that Jesus really came down on ferociously were the Pharisees - the religious who were more concerned with laws and condemning others than with loving God and taking care of His children. Every single "christian" who voted for amendment one took a stand to set themselves very firmly in the Pharisee camp - wonder what Jesus would have to say to them? "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in." (Matthew 23:13 RSV).

      May 14, 2012 at 9:34 am |
  20. David Ellis

    You, who are leaders of your church, your community and advocate violence against others are abusers of your position of trust. You are the reason why religion has gone from being a guiding light, a force for good, to a tool to spread hatred and evil, all over the world.

    May 10, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Kris

      Well said. I completely agree!

      May 10, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • hillbilleter

      And the media blowing these things up all out of proportion serves only to cloud all those quiet Christians who try to be loving and kind to all people. Just as mouthy, holier-than-thou atheists do no represent all nonbelievers who quietly go about their own business.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • JFritz

      Why? Because as long as religion is based on fear it will be used as a tool for the power hungry. How else to establish control if there is no punishment for real or imagined wrongs against the dogma? Imagine promoting individual, pure faith n something other than oneself for no onther reason than to learn and grow. No committees of those who would tell us what to think, believe or fear.

      May 12, 2012 at 5:15 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.