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. Bea

    Is anyone else's gaydar going off?

    May 25, 2012 at 1:24 am |
  2. jamessavik

    hitting effeminate children is one matter. Try it on me hero.

    May 24, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  3. NW&antichristian

    Morality is doing what is right regardless of what you are told.

    Religion is doing what you are told regardless of what is right.

    May 24, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  4. Thlix

    i fail to understand why anyone gives a flying fig what this guy said? he's not a government offical. he is a freaking priest.. no power, no athority.

    he leads his "flock" in thier begging and pleading to the great invisible sky wizard. i mean its not like he's a bastion of sanity and rational thought to begin with!

    May 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  5. IkoIko

    Remember the name, folks. We'll be reading about his illicit affair with some guy in the near future...

    May 23, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
  6. rousch15

    I wouldn't be surprised if this pastor is in the closet.

    May 23, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
  7. Tom

    I'll bet the pastor's farther beat the gay out of him

    May 23, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  8. NationalForestHunter

    Pastor Shawn Harris – men know what you were trying to say. Teenage boys need a man to give them guidance about life. Teenage boys need to be challenged to live according the the Word of God. Don't feel ashamed Pastor Harris. Don't cowtow to the per_vert-led media.

    May 23, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Sumo

      "Real men" don't seek the approval of some make-believe "god" character...

      May 23, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • flagguy

      I know what he was trying to say too. If your son's gay beat it out of him.

      I'm sorry, but this man is a flat out liar. That's one of the 10 biggies you guys got from the mountain isn't it? False witness and all? Being gay didn't quite make that list did it. A "good punch" to the shoulder is just that – a good punch. When someone takes a good punch to the nose, there's blood involved, nothing friendly or well intentioned.

      Oh, and I never thought I'd hear the Southern Baptist Convention called liberal by anyone.

      May 23, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  9. carol

    Religion,should not be equated with faith. Faith is the belief in that which cannot be proven. Religion, on the other hand, regardless of sect, is a man-made belief system used in the past to encourage moral and ethical behavior. Given our past history, it is somewhat debatable as to whether or not it has succeeded. .Spiritual evolution seems to be a very slow process .

    May 23, 2012 at 2:37 am |
    • Wildfawn

      Carol, that is the best definition of the way I feel that I've ever seen. I have complete faith in a higher being and a purpose to our lives beyond merely living out our years, but all these doctrines created by humans, and invariably policed by someone who wants to prove their superiority, lack something.

      May 23, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  10. Christian

    All Judeo-Christian(Catholic,Jewis,Muslum) based religions depend on gaining more power and controller from increasing their populations. The gay movement threatens that. At times, these religions grew very slowly and a small percentage of people could affect how their number grow in the future. They also depend on a pyramid type model, where 1 person goes out and converts a handful of people, then that handful of people go out, and each person in that handful converts a handful. Then all those people have 1-6 children, their number multiply again. Then those children go out and convert others. Over a few generations these number can get enormous. The gay population threatens to stunt this growth.

    May 21, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • It's a cult

      Most of the Christian religions are cults that grow by intimidation. They're as bad as the Taliban and should be taken just as seriously.

      May 22, 2012 at 7:10 am |
    • pockets

      People should be totally embarrassed to say they believe in the supernatural. god does not exist and religion poisons everything. RIP Hitch you were right about "All of it".

      Its just nonsense, we are not long out of the cave.

      May 22, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Michael

      Kindly read the history. Gay life style was a part of humanity since long time. Judeo- Christian faith denounced based on the Scriptures and history as marked in the Bible. So the issue is not new. However, Obama using it for his political advantage to divide and rule is new to the country.

      May 23, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • Laura

      How can he rest in peace, pockets, if he's annihilated?

      May 24, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  11. hmm

    He's only backtracking (slightly) b/c he got caught out. He doesn't regret his words one bit.

    May 20, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • steveinmi

      Is he even backtracking? I read that he's claiming he didn't advocate beating the gay out of kids; just beating the sissy behavior out of boys and beating the tomboy behavior out of girls. He's *not* walking back his instruction to break the wrists of kids who don't conform to *his* gender norms.

      He's still straddling the border between the deeply immoral and the overtly illegal. I'm just not sure which side of the line he's coming down on.

      May 22, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • carol abaray

      Dear Hmm, It would seem to me that the pastor is a little more intimidated by the concept than he would care to admit. I second your hmm1

      May 23, 2012 at 2:16 am |
    • Doodlebug2222

      Love is not beaten into our children, nor respect, nor teaching them – anything. We are not meant to hold our child as they grow, and yes, when they are young we walk before them to ensure a safe path but slowly we fall back to walk beside them. Not to carry them, but to be there if they stumble and fall. How a person is, how they feel, everything they are - is a personal decision and choice. This is freewill, something even God gives to us. So then, why are we so sure it is ours to beat – or take away? It is not – less we think ourselves greater than God. Love, care, listen, communicate – and show an immeasurable amount of understanding and support for your children. They will make bad decisions, they will make mistakes and most of these we will not like – but these are all theirs to make, theirs to sort out an work through.

      May 23, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • HPN III

      As disgusting as his comments may be, lets not forget this is a country of free speech and religious tolerance. We have the right to challenge those statements but after that let it go. We don't need to intimidating everyone for there expressing there opinions.

      May 24, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  12. Pained 1

    I bet I could get you to beg for gods mercy

    May 20, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • HaHa

      Which would only prove how sick you are, not that god exisits.

      May 24, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  13. michaelatx

    Simply more evidence that there isn't a god and that he doesn't work through people and that religion is destructive.

    May 20, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • JPX

      Word. One more reason I'm a proud, educated atheist.

      May 20, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Rob

      Most people just can't deal with reality. That's all there is to it. They need a crutch. They're ignorant. And stupid. It's quite comical to listen to a religious person talk. I always want to say, "Um. do you HEAR yourself?" Grown adults holding fast to fairytales....and, excuse me, WHO is the one that needs psychological help? I hope I'm around to see religion crumble.

      May 22, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • AL

      How is it in any way proof of the existence or non-existence of God or gods? I'm Christian. And I've not found any evidence in the Bible to support Harris or his ilk. And by the way, nonbelievers disparaging believers are no better than the Believers who disparage nonbelievers. Believe what you want to believe if it makes you a better person. I don't understand what's to be gained by belittling someone else's beliefs.

      May 23, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Bea

      Amen Michael. I became an Atheist when I realized this kind of nonsense, among things, was the logical result of adherence to the Bible.

      May 25, 2012 at 1:28 am |
  14. TLWiz

    Is that really what God is about, physically assaulting people who are not just like you because they are not just like you, but as God made them? Too many do evil in the name of Christianity. I doubt Jesus went around advocating violence. People like this put the mental in fundemental...

    May 20, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • AL


      May 23, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Doodlebug2222

      As I said above – God even gives us freewill to make our own mistakes.. who are we to take that freewill away from our children – are we then putting ourselves above God?

      May 23, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  15. Maureen

    Simple – He is not a man of God........a very sick individual is what he is

    May 19, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • steveinmi

      Apparently he's both.

      May 22, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  16. Christy

    Jaybird....... and Matthew....... I admire your posts! Ty. That makes me feel there is going too be somewhat of a normal life for my son. As too Troll Time......You make me saddened and sick. We should not judge. Karma will turn back on you....somewhere @ some point in YOUR life.

    May 19, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  17. Sandra

    It is NEVER OK to "punch" a child, any child for such a meaningless perceived violation like "dropping the wrist." This is so backwater, ill-informed, and ignorant– by choice –that it is, in fact criminal child abuse.

    This "pastor" should be brought up on charges of inciting violence. Disgusting that he should call himself a religious person. He may be a preacher, but not a man of God. Anybody who can speak can be a preacher, that word carries no authority. It just means you can get someone else to listen to you. And in this case, that is so far too bad that anyone would even allow him to finish the sentence, before walking away from him.

    May 19, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • pattysboi

      I totally agree with you, Sandra. This "preacher" is full of hate, and that is not what God teaches.

      May 19, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  18. Jessame

    So, it's okay to "punch" people as long as you mean it in a friendly way? The way coaches pat boys on the butt as they pass by on the field? I'm sorry. I'm a little confused. Keep your hands to yourself. Period. Why is it okay to hit boys to eliminate effeminate behavior. I noticed he didn't tell Moms or Dads to punch their daughter when she acts like a tomboy.

    Jesus gave us a couple of commandments. One was to love the Lord, our God with all our hearts, soul and might. And the other was to love one another as we love ourselves. We are all sinners. All our sins are equal in the eyes of the Lord and all equal death. I love Jeus and God and being a Christian, but sometimes, I am very ashamed of what my fellow Christians espouse.

    May 19, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • Polysammo

      If Only More people were like you.

      May 23, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • AC

      Jessame : Actually not a couple of commandments, if you read history you will know there was more than 900. The ten was selected by church. Sines were added by the 13th pope...(?) Like the bible with time was "adopted" to the church needs. Many were burned as a heresy.

      May 24, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  19. Jeffision

    I wish the ignorant and violent religious people would put down the bible and read some science and history. Gay people are born gay...it isn't a choice. The idea that it's a choice is ridiculous in light of the science. History and anthropology tells us clearly that gay people were an integral part of the community and enjoyed many leadership roles in elder cultures around the world, prior to Christianity's ascent to power and domination starting a mere fifteen hundred years ago. I'm embarrassed for this "pastor" and his congregation.

    May 19, 2012 at 2:07 am |
  20. Joe

    What do I say to this? Is Jesus an angry ticked off old man ready to bludgeon anyone who steps out of line?

    May 19, 2012 at 12:33 am |
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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.