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. Liberty Queen

    God is coming and She is pi$$ed!

    May 8, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • Voice of Reason


      May 8, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
  2. Liberty Queen

    Adam was a rough draft.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
  3. pastor

    What do you guys think about Israel? I'm getting good sermon illistrations for Sunday thanks.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
  4. Tortfeasor

    What a loaded headline. "Pastor who urged hitting gays speaks." That's a misleading characterization of the facts. Great objective journalism, cnn!

    May 8, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Really? How so?

      May 8, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  5. Liberty Queen

    Sean Harris is a limp-wristed F. A. G.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
  6. Techsupport

    If his god is real, he will know that he's lying.

    Also, he seemed pretty convinced that what he was saying was the right thing, which is why he was shouting "can I make myself more clear?"

    Not at all.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      That is the scary thing about this whole religion thing, they actually believe it to be true. For example; young children wanting to be a suicide bomber so they can be with Allah. I know that's extreme but true.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  7. Dave

    Just what the world needs – another hate group wrapped up in Christian clothes. The Berean Baptists, with Head Gay Child Abuser Sean at the helm. Only those with IQs below 80 would believe this idiot's drivel. I'm not sure who is worse – the Catholic child molesters or the evangelist gay-child haters. Both should be in prison for child abuse.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Dave, it truly is mind boggling isn't it? I am dumbfounded!

      May 8, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
  8. pastor

    Why is everyone so happy tonight?

    May 8, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • KidZoloft

      perhaps it's your trolling.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
  9. pastor

    The heart of the issue is not preachers or Christians but the God they serve. It's clearly revealed in scripture.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Take your god and your scripture and shove it up thy a*ss!

      May 8, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Get a grip, clown. There is no God anymore than there are unicorns or Santa Claus.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • CA Liberal

      I was raised Christian but I am gay. Not because I wanted to be or chose to be gay. I just am and that is that. As far as being "manly" if that pastor come up to me and smacks my not so limp wrist, I'll just break his nose with it.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Please, when you do, tape it!

      May 8, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
  10. Bob

    Because churches have such a great history with the development of children...

    May 8, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  11. pastor

    In the beginning God....... Might want to talk to your creator before it's to late.

    May 8, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      What if the Creator is an exploding star? What makes you think it's a magical being called God?

      May 8, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • Phosphorus

      There are ancient texts that reveal Abraham had a sock puppet, and it was through this sock puppet that the word of god was spoken.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • Phosphorus

      There are ancient texts that reveal Moses was not talking to a burning bush, but rather his burning bush. He likely acquired genital crabs (pubic lice) or jock itch (Tinea cruris) after spending a great deal of time in the hot desert, wearing the same undergarments, and not having a shower. He became delirious and had a conversation with his itching rash. So, he wasn't talking to a burning bush, but rather his burning bush.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • Nah

      pete: "What if the Creator is an exploding star? What makes you think it's a magical being called God?"

      Aww, not very well acquainted with philosophy, are you?

      It's ironic that atheists think they're intelligent and informed when they say things as absurd as the things you do.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
  12. Brian

    I'll bet he believes in physical contact between Dad's and their sons. There's a molestation case just waiting to come out!

    May 8, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
  13. Larry L

    This is why those of us who were raised in Christian homes grow up and reject Christianity. Modern Evangelicals are the American Taliban – bigoted, evil and ironically, living lives which should guarantee them a place in the very Hell they describe...

    May 8, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • crazyvermont

      lol....all six of my children were raised in an evangelical home and none have left the faith. They obviously are somewhat adjusted as four already fall in that evil $250k group

      May 8, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • Voice of Reason


      Putting a $ figure to success is pretty empty isn't it? You are lost and delusional.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • Bob

      Lots of people are born into Taliban families and fail to leave as well. That's called brainwashing. That's how kids learn to hate, from watching their elders spout it or when those elders feel impotent and need to beat up on a defenseless child to feel powerful again.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Larry, I couldn't agree with you more!

      May 8, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      You got it right, Larry.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  14. Wanda

    If marriage was strictly a religious bond then bible quotes would be appropriate, but they are not, they are a civil union and only tied to religion by choice. Quoting snipets of the bible, chosen to serve you own purpose, does nothing to advance your argument.

    May 8, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Wanda, that is so true, they pick and choose the stuff that works for their agendas.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  15. pastor

    Satan will bring peace for the first few months of the tribulation. Then the world is in for a war unlike all the rest.

    May 8, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • Mirosal

      yeah, that's been said for 2000 years now. We're still waiting. There will be no second coming, because there was never a first coming.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • mandarax

      You are badly infected with comic-book notions of how the universe works.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • KB

      Satan is a hoax. This is reality. The world will continue as it is....doomsdayers are manipulators and freaks. I can't wait for 12-13-12 so I can laugh my a$$ off at all the sad doomsday nuts.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Listen pastor f*uck face, you are satan!

      May 8, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Really? And just when is this supposed to happen? You haven't a clue. Who is fighting whom? Are the Christians taking on everyone, or do have someone specific in mind?

      May 8, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  16. cdpete

    NC – last in liquor – last in human rights – SHAME!

    May 8, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • Tex Gritter

      The only shame that I can find is that there was ever even any "need"to HAVE to interpret what real marriage is. I guess it all just goes back to people wondering what the meaning of the word "IS", is.......

      May 8, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • cmc

      To Tex Gritter: I think people who think like you expected gays/lesbians to act like they did 50 years ago.....riddled with fear of being found out and complacent that they should just accept that they are American citizens who pay taxes but who don't get the same rights as everyone else. You're honestly surprised that people got sick and tired of that? Do you also think it's a shame that women and minorities got sick and tired of their unequal treatment as well and stood up for their rights?

      May 8, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  17. pastor

    One day we shall all appear befor the judgment seat of Christ, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.

    May 8, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • OOO

      I was told he wouldn't be seated at that time. Standing, for sure!

      May 8, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • Mirosal

      quit believing the mythology. Stop begging people to support you with "donations". Go out and get a REAL job.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      One day, One day, One day, One day, yeah right! The time is now not later you moron!

      May 8, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • Larry L

      It will be better for you if Jesus doesn't turn out to be a gay person... Single guy... sensitive... very kind... artsy job... could be...

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

      Jesus is not omnipotent. He is impotent. He is a figment of the imagination of conniving men. He is not a lord, he is a mythical creature, much like a fairy or a leprechaun.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • Dr. Robert Brant D.C

      You are right Christ will judge us all. So why don't you and your people leave the judging up to him and get the hell out of people's lives.

      May 9, 2012 at 1:33 am |
  18. zafrogzen

    Why don't we ever hear from these so-called Christians in reference to the words of Jesus, who they claim to follow, when he advocates turning the other cheek and giving to anyone who asks. They are all for killing and war - what hypocrites!

    May 8, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      I'll tell you what. I don't give a flying f*uck what jesus said about turning the other cheek. We have these insane religious zealots that are pushing and shoving their agenda on us and I am not going to turn the other cheek.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  19. pastor

    Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve

    May 8, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve"
      You have to be a very special kind of fucking stupid moron to believe that Adam and Eve actually existed.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      There is not a creature on this planet that can be lower than you my friend. And I love all creatures but I think we found a new species that someone can hate.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • KB

      Yeah, right....Adam and Eve....what role models! Epic fail. That "good" book is better used as kindling.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Pastor, you only wish it were Adam & Steve. I think you are actually gay yourself–not that there's anything wrong with that. Make us all proud and come out of the closet.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • Reality Check

      Pastor – why do so many of your breathern molest little boys?

      May 8, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • AGuest9

      "Adam and Eve"? There were no two such people.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  20. pastor

    What happened to Soddom and Gomorah? Answer Fire from Heaven: Why not blame God for his act of judgment.

    May 8, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • Voice of Reason


      May 8, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • Peter

      Don't believe everything evangelicals say, the sin that was punished in that story was a violation of guest rights.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • plucky

      I 2nd that. What?

      May 8, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • MadPOPer

      Last I heard it was an air-bursting meteorite that caused the fire and brimstone at Solomon and Gomorrah. You gotten love when science proves the Bible right and wrong at the same time...

      May 8, 2012 at 10:29 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.