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. ReligiousGuy

    Founding fathers wanted to keep church away from controling the government and here we are merely 200 years later promoting the exact opposite thing......church trying to control govt. and people like republicans wanting to support it.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
    • mandarax

      ...complete with Taliban-style attempts to rewrite history so as to appear to support them all along.

      May 8, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
  2. pastor

    Gays are still the minority in America. Praise God!!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 8, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • GaySupporter

      You sick SOB. That's all.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
    • edwardo

      Once, people who thought the earth was round, were a minority too. Praise God!

      May 8, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
    • sherry

      Someday soon, nut jobs claiming to be doing the work of God will be a minority in America.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • Dave

      Evangelists – the American Taliban. And just as evil. Religion should be treated like your penis. Don't wave it around in public, and don't shove it down your childrens' throats. (That goes double for Catholic priests.)

      May 8, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • ReligiousGuy

      You do not know God......God does not want people to control others.....thats not God's words.........your duty as God's man is to preach what is good but not ask others to enforce it as law. You tell what you feel is good for other but leave them to decide for themselves what to follow. The moment you try to enforce it, you start moving away from God......look at Christ......He did not go and condem the people who were not folowing him. He said what He believed in and left the people to decide what to follow.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  3. nodat1

    look at the video and other from local news his body language and mannerisms suggest that he may have a "little sugar in the tank"

    May 8, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  4. CEL1

    this guy needs to be punched and I would love to be the one to do it. his god won't do anything so he feels compelled to do and say stupid things to try to prove he represents god. well, thanks,, this guy obviously doesn't know the god he claims to serve.stupid baptists.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • sherry

      Amen to that!

      May 8, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  5. nodat1

    would not doubt that this guy supports that kidnapper from Miss, after all he is doing God work by punishing that unclean mother of three

    May 8, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
  6. Sad

    What an evil human being to be in a position to influence people.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
  7. pastor

    Most gays grow up in a Christians home. God has given them over to a reprobate mind.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • daveo

      maybe they should send them to pres hopeful wack job bactmans husbands practice for some reprograming

      May 8, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • eagander

      I guess those "good Christian homes/parents" and their churches failed in their God-given responsibility to bring up their children in the ways of the Lord. Send them to hell!

      May 8, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
    • edwardo

      "God gave them over".. Guess he can't be trusted !

      May 8, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • MadGOPer

      The censors are at it again.... Worried about truthful and polite facts apparently.....

      May 8, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
  8. Stacey

    Churches should only concern themselves with those within their flocks. They should be held within the bars of each of their religions and allow the rest to be held within their own beliefs. Freedom of religion is ALL religions not just Sean Harris' or any other.

    Religious tolerance should be taught. All religious books say you should not judge and should not involve yourself in others beliefs. Those who say anything else, do not know GOD/Allah and never will.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • peter shaffer

      Oh, you know God/Buddha/Allah? Interesting.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
  9. pastor

    Has anyone noticed the anti-gay marriage law passed. Score 1-0 for the good guys.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • peter shaffer

      Are you sure you're not closeted?

      May 8, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • Andrea

      YOU and your like are NOT the good guys – just sayin'.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • pa jesseson

      score one for the intolerant, anti-christ's love, bigoted, know nothings whose minds are on vacation while their mouths are working over time. and, by the way, pastor, how about you try something new: go to your spouse, your children, your church, your office and tell the truth for once about all the lies you've told, all the sins of commission and omission you've committed, all the hurtful things you've said, all the harm you've caused as the 'good little christian busy body know nothing' you are. and then get on your knees and beg and plead that they are more understanding than you are. in fact, go on twitter since that's where twits belong. loser.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • MadGOPer

      Another sad day in America... Regression back into the Dark Ages while the rest of the world moves ahead.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • mandarax

      Yeah, the Ku Klux Klan think of themselves as the good guys too, pastor.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
  10. MadGOPer

    I grew up in a very conservative area and I don't recall coaches punching players good or bad. If a couch punched me during a practice or a game, 1. I'd be outta there and 2. My father and / or grandfather would be punching the coach.....

    May 8, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
    • mema

      I dont advocate what this preacher saying but you must be awefully young. I remember them coaches, boy do I. They didnt play...and very few students challenged them. Kids however in general were much more respectful and followed directions. So the pops didnt happen often but they were memoriable when they did. Too many overly protective parents that allow their kids to run amuck are now the norm. "Dont touch my child" Really thats what kept us in line. It never killed any child to have disipline. And now look at what this generation has to offer as far as morals and respect, none!

      May 8, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • pa jesseson

      correct! gotta love these christian preachers who think it's god's law to punch children. this guy is driving with his head someplace real dark, but close to his heart.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • MadGOPer

      I grew up in PA Dutch country and I didn't need "beaten" to respect my elders. Granted, this area isn't know for being touchy feely we're very stoic around here.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  11. ATLmatt

    God, please protect us and our children from your followers.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
    • MadGOPer

      It's tough being a Christian when all these "want-be's" keep making us look bad. I challenge these fundamentalist Christians to actually read the New Testament part of the Bible and refer to the words spoken by Jesus who preached love and acceptance of all, regardless of status or path in life. They forget the Golden Rule. Do on to others as you want done to you..... Shameful.. And they wonder why folks are leaving the Church

      May 8, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • sherry

      Well said.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  12. Jeanne57

    Well that's NC for you.Stupid to the last. My Aunt and her family went there to live and work at ALCOA and were called Damm Yankees and they fefused to except my coisin because he was MR. They are so backward they should all be born with their feet facing back and their noses.They are also very down on blacks. Few were allowed to work at the plant.They even believe in TRAINING their women. They don't come any lower.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
  13. Simeon Namore

    Crack his limp wrist? How 'bout we crack your thick skull?

    May 8, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • stfu112

      hell ya

      May 8, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • edwardo

      I like that comment!

      May 8, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
  14. Don Keys

    Your country doesn't need more jails, they need more asylums, to include Billy Graham.
    What an embarrassment on the world stage.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • sherry

      As is much of our behavior in this country.............

      May 8, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • edwardo

      I plan to leave this hateful country. 5 more years, I get SS checks (if the repugs don't find a way to steal it). Australia... Here I come. CAN'T WAIT. BYE U.S. !!

      May 8, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
  15. MadGOPer

    I hate spell checkers.....

    May 8, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
  16. Ax

    What an AH. A "man of the cloth" advocating child abuse and assault and battery. I'm sure his god is proud...

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

    I think Christianity has fallen down pretty bad when a man like this can get up and say what he does and gets encouraged. I look forward to a day when the Muslims or any other religion gain the majority and shove their religion down his throat.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • mema

      Really John Muslims!? Thats fine because then there would be no need to vote on the issue of marriage definition. Gays would be hung in public or stoned. Say something more educated and though out!

      May 8, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • nodat1

      This guy is preaching the bible and calls himself a christian, much like a terrorist would quote the Karon and call themselves Muslim

      May 8, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  18. aurelius

    He's a personification of religious influence and bigotry in America.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  19. daveo

    i wonder how the state would fare if a bussiness boycott for any company that located to this backwards state ?

    May 8, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
  20. Liberty Queen

    Sean what's-his-face advocates "punching" children and forcing girls to wear a dress and be "pretty". That's the christian taliban for ya.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:20 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.