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. SherBear

    Since God's bottom line is LOVE, Respect, forgiveness and acceptance, perhaps this is a test to see if we humans can honor God's true word.

    May 29, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  2. rtbrno65

    Religion needs to go. Humanity needs to ween itself away from it's addiction to this archaic cancer. We are standing on the verge of throwing away 300 + years of intellectual progress. We now we have Muslim terrorism, corruption and decadence in the Catholic Church, and Protestant ministers advocating violence against children and concentration camps from the pulpit. Religion has become malignant as it struggles to maintain itself and remain relevant in this modern age. It needs to go.

    May 29, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • jaybird

      I agree. Religion is just humans' feeble attempt to interpret the mysterious spirit of our origin. Accept that it's a divine mystery. Respect one another in peace and love, knowing we should not ever judge one who loves another.

      May 29, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  3. Anita

    Even if you believe this to be a sin, Christ died for that sin. He did NOT preach words of hate. These people need to read the whole bible, not just the parts they can twist around to justify their evil words.
    Romans 5:8, "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

    May 29, 2012 at 8:58 am |
  4. asm_ith

    Billy Graham says "The Bible is clear – God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman." That makes it clear that they are pushing a religious view of marriage, which the government is not required to accept. The solution is to totally separate legal rights from anything that any religious group defines. There should be a form of marriage that is only performed by government officials and is the ONLY way to get any legal rights associated with marriage, such as inheritance, visitation, tax status, etc. If a religious organization wants to bestow its own blessings on a union, people can go to their clergy and get that. But if the only thing they do is go to clergy, they are not considered married with respect to any legal rights until they get a government license and ceremony performed by a government official.

    May 29, 2012 at 8:11 am |
  5. BilCat

    Looks like the Berean Baptist Church is remaining true to form. They were busy spewing hateful messages 30 years ago and it sounds like they're still doing it.

    It will be interesting to meet their pastors at the judgement bar when the Savior asks them if they loved their brother and sisters.

    May 28, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
  6. Larry L

    This validates my view of Christianity – and most other religions. Hate and bigotry wrapped in a false covering of love and compassion. I hope my grandchildren grow up free of this evil mythology.

    May 28, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • jaybird


      May 29, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • MrAnonymous

      Don't allow the worst of a group to define the group. Those that truly understand Christ's message would never condone such a message of hate. They would stand up and walk out of that church on the spot and never look back.

      May 29, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  7. RD

    What a blatantly insincere apology. This bigot meant everything he said, he's just making this self-serving statement to try to save himself from the backlash.

    May 28, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  8. jaclyn

    I feel so sorry for all the people IN North Carolina who know the calendar reads 2012 and have to put up with this closeted whackjob and all his buddies. It makes your state look so utterly backward. I'd have to move. I couldn't handle being associated with uneducated creepy people.

    May 28, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  9. NOAH

    was he abused as a child,some one needs to slap some sense of compassion in him.

    May 28, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  10. Guest

    I think we should hit bigoted preachers

    May 28, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  11. Brett

    North Carolina. Where it's okay to marry your cousin (just not your gay cousin.)

    This guy isn't sorry at all for what he said. He's sorry he got caught.

    May 27, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  12. Jethro

    Yes, don't beat them, punch them. This guy is a bigot, a moron and a bully.

    May 26, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  13. Donna

    And people wonder why bullying in rampant in schools...

    May 26, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  14. Kevin

    Can't wait until one of his kids or grandkids shows up at the hospital with a broken wrist.

    May 26, 2012 at 12:55 am |
  15. KenS

    Disgusting! Keep your religious rants and beliefs to yourself! To advocate violance on a child because of their orientation, just disgusting!

    May 25, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  16. Alan Johnson

    I guess it is OK to marry your cousin in North Carolina but not for gays! This guy must not be much of a minister if he has to focus on social issues instead of preaching the word of God and the Gospel of compassion and love in Jesus Christ.

    May 25, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  17. Pat

    If he feels that marriage is a issue for the church and not for the state to decide then all tax cuts and benefits for married couples should be removed and hospitals shouldn't allow their spouses to see each other when ones admitted, for a start

    May 25, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • jalek

      The state could save a lot of money dropping official marriage. Insurers could drop spouse coverage as well and with no automatic survivorship, if one spouse dies, their estate can be grabbed by the state. Fixes many problems in one swipe.

      May 26, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  18. Ruby Thames

    Abuse of any kind against a child should never ever be tolerated. Period!!!
    And, he is supposedly a "Man of God"?

    May 25, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  19. pooflingingmonkey

    This is a very dangerous man. Please keep him in North Carolina, and away from people with tolerance.

    May 25, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • phil mccanless

      What makes you think we want him here? How about someone else take him for awhile.

      May 26, 2012 at 12:27 am |
    • Rob

      C'mon, guys. There's plenty of hate and bigotry to go around...

      May 28, 2012 at 7:39 am |
  20. Haupt

    I love his comment!

    "You know, it's amazing how 'punch' has been equated to inciting violence against gay youth. That's not what I meant.

    Please don't try to sue if I punch you.

    May 25, 2012 at 10:08 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.