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. yahmez

    I have zero tolerance for intolerant jerks.
    Gay people are still people. They do not deserve to be abused by ID10TS that claim the bible justifies bigotry and violence. The bible was NOT written by god, it was written by men. Intolerant, bigoted, violent, and sometimes crazy men. If you do not believe me, read Ezekiel. It is the testimony of a hate spewing nut case. If you advocate hitting gay children, you deserve to be beaten TO DEATH! Our world does not need this brand of hate.

    June 4, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  2. silentfades

    what did Jesus say about being gay - not one word.

    June 3, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • bob

      maybe thats why he hung around with lots of men

      June 3, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  3. Jim

    Punch the pastor. Continue to punch the pastor until he understands violence is not a Christian act. Then pray for forgiveness.

    June 2, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • bob

      Violence is a Christian act

      Burning At Stake
      Sacrificing animals
      Going to Hell

      June 3, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Leo

      Bob, How many people have professing Atheist leaders killed in this century alone?

      June 3, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Leo

      The Twenty Worst Things People Have Done to Each Other:

      Rank Death Toll Cause Centuries

      1 66 million Second World War 20C
      2 40 million Mao Zedong 20C
      3 40 million Genghis Khan 13C
      4 27 million British India 19C
      5 25 million Fall of the Ming Dynasty 17C
      6 20 million Taiping Rebellion 19C
      7 20 million Joseph Stalin 20C
      8 18½ million Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C
      9 17 million Timur Lenk 14C-15C
      10 16 million Atlantic Slave Trade 15C-19C
      11 15 million First World War 20C
      12 15 million Conquest of the Americas 15C-19C
      13 13 million An Lushan Revolt 8C
      14 10 million Xin Dynasty 1C
      15 10 million Congo Free State 19C-20C
      16 9 million Russian Civil War 20C
      17 7½ million Thirty Years War 17C
      18 7½ million Fall of the Yuan Dynasty 14C
      19 7 million Fall of Rome 5C
      20 7 million Chinese Civil Wars 20C

      June 3, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  4. A Different View

    I hear a lot of Christians reference the Old Testiment. In truth, Jesus established a new covenent with the people. The laws, rules and regulations of the Old Testiment were a covenent between God and the people of Israel. Through the new convenent, Christ made salvation available to all people, Jews and Gentiles....straights and gays. The strict rules established in the Old Testiment were set aside with the comming of Christ and through him alone is salvation possible.

    June 1, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • wd40fan

      i agree. . . . Christ is definitely comming......

      June 1, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • Seth Hill of Topanga, California

      If you read Matthew 5:17-19, it's really clear that Jesus said just the opposite: every bit of the Old Testament laws have to be obeyed by Christians.

      June 3, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  5. Christian God a FAILURE

    "He always has a little levity into it and that's why we all laughed."

    Yeah, beating a child for "acting gay" to toughen them up and be a man – THAT sure is funny. HA ha ha. See how funny I think it is. Hey – ya know what else would be funny? Setting fire to Christians. Yep, pouring gasoline all over them and lighting them on fire would be a truly funny thing.

    When can we start?

    June 1, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Kelly

      You just gave the devil a giggle, you ignorant fool.

      June 2, 2012 at 3:47 am |
  6. Susan

    The only reason he's back-tracking and trying to explain away his noxious words is because his sermon went viral. Speaking of viral...wish there was a cure for this poor excuse of a human being. Absolutely disgusting that he is preaching this crap to people. What a bunch of hopless, short-sighted morons in this congregation. Can't wait for the day when they stand before the "Man" and He says, "go straight to Hell, you'll get along fine down there."

    May 31, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  7. nemesis

    You will live in the image I have for you or I'll beat you until you do.

    Wow!! How's THAT for parenting? Does this guy have kids? Probably read about them being serial killers in a few years.

    May 31, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  8. pdxmum

    Well, he was partly right about the bible's definition of marriage...from the several times I've read the bible cover to cover it's mostly been one man and as many women/girls as he can afford to collect.

    May 30, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • spar0056

      Awesome responce.....love it!!!!

      June 1, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • wd40fan


      June 1, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • Kelly

      You must have read it upside down then, because that's totally false. If you're make a joke about the Bible, be a little more accurate... and funny.

      June 2, 2012 at 3:48 am |
  9. imho44

    The Bible did not create marriage. The problem with most that are against gay marriage is that they are actually against gay people. If it was on their hands then being gay would be a criminal offense, but is not on their hands so they keep fighting to make gay's lives miserable in any other way.

    May 30, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Michael

      You hit the nail right on the head!

      May 31, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • Kelly

      Thank you for telling us what most people think. You must be a genius. (eye roll)

      June 2, 2012 at 3:48 am |
  10. jake

    .... there are no such things as 'gay children'.

    May 30, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • bob

      There no such thing as intelligence on cnn forums.

      June 3, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  11. the_dude

    If you went out in nature and observed animals.....wild dogs perhaps. You would notice that when a cub is born and is not quite right the mother will abandon it or kill it. This is just nature at work weeding out the misfits.

    May 30, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • scrambolo

      I believe I would abandon you for ignorance if I were one of your parents!

      May 30, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • thinkforyourself

      @the_dude...get out of the gene pool, you're making the pool too shallow

      May 31, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • wd40fan

      i agree Dude.... in the wild, you'd definitely be assaulted and killed by your own.

      June 1, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
  12. Charlie

    Do you ever think God tells these "Preachers", get off my side?

    May 30, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Christian God a FAILURE

      There is no god.

      June 1, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • Momof3

      There is a church in a community near ours that was destroyed by a tornado recently. When they were partially rebuilt, another storm came (no tornado, just strong winds) and blew the partially re-built structure down again. When the news team asked the pastor "What do you think this is telling you?", he replied "god works in mysterious ways.". I think god is trying to tell them something, and they're not getting it!

      June 1, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  13. Kevin Konicek

    It is the end of organized religion as we know it. and I love it.

    May 30, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  14. Gale

    Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. Where did the living Word ever advocate hurting children? This pastor is the servant of the Devil himself.

    May 29, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • Mark

      See Deuteronomy 21:18-21 When they refer to 'stoning', I assume they don't mean in the 'Cheech and Chong' fashion.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  15. Serving Him

    Thank God for Pastor’s Like Pastor Harris who is stand by what he believes. The problem with Christians’ is you can’t tell them from the rest of the world!!
    Our living God set the standard, and those who claim to be Christian are required to follow what is stated in the bible. One can rewrite the bible to exclude the gender references but that will not change what our living God expects from His people! If this offends one, they need not attend, simple! No one is forcing them to be members.

    May 29, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Michael

      It must be nice to have a direct line to God. I think God wants to throw up when He hears and sees comments such as yours. I am a Christian, and a gay man. This preacher and you need an education and therapy! That's my opinion.

      May 31, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Kelly

      Michael – as a "gay" Christian (oxymoron) you sure are judging. Have you read the Bible?

      June 2, 2012 at 3:52 am |
  16. Susan Tetewsky

    He'll tell you to turn the other cheek and slap it too. This guy perverts Christianity to his own wants and needs. Disgraceful.

    May 29, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  17. 7Pillars


    He's not only Anti-Gay, he is Anti-Women and obviously sees their ONLY role as that of pleasing men. Smell must be pleasing; Looks must be pleasing (plain girls are NOT girls?); Appearance must be pleasing – dresses and high heels.


    May 29, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  18. 7Pillars

    HE IS ALSO ANTI-WOMEN. Listen to how he defines 'being a girl'.

    FUNNY HOW NO ONE has yet taken issue with exactly HOW he defines what it means to be a girl / woman: "You must reign her in! You're gonna walk, talk and SMELL like a girl! That means you're going to be beautiful, you're gonna be attractive, you're gonna dress yourself up!"

    HUH!?! His real message is "Women must be pleasing to men or they are not real women!" Every aspect of his definition is from the perspective of how a man views a woman, not how a woman IS in the world, not her achievements, her views, her dreams. The man is from the 1950's. He's not only Anti-Gay, he is Anti-Women and obviously sees their ONLY role as that of pleasing men. Smell must be pleasing; Looks must be pleasing (plain girls are NOT girls?); Appearance must be pleasing – dresses and high heels.

    JESUS, above all things, preached AGAINST HATE AND INTOLERANCE. Why, then, do so many so-called Pastors preach the opposite?

    May 29, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  19. Recovering Republican

    The only reason this hate filled Nazi is apologizing, is due to the backlash for his reprehensible actions. Hate filled Christians do more to hurt Christianity, than they do to support it. Christ is about love, not hate. A point He made clear while nailed to a cross. Real Christians cannot hate, and still claim to do God's work, because it goes against a direct order from Christ Himself.

    May 29, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  20. Shammy


    May 29, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Kelly

      You just gave the definition of "gay"

      June 2, 2012 at 4:03 am |
    • BK

      Damn straight, Shammy!

      Kelly, stfu until you manage to grow a brain

      June 3, 2012 at 4:48 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.