FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — A Fayetteville pastor said Wednesday that he was joking when he told parents in a Sunday sermon to punch their sons if they acted effeminate.
Rev. Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church said he's been overwhelmed with angry emails and phone calls after comments he made while preaching about marriage. The sermon was tied to next week's vote on a state constitutional amendment that would make marriage between a man and a woman the only legal domestic union in the state.
The group Vote For Marriage NC urged church leaders to preach a marriage-themed sermon last Sunday and encourage church members to vote early this week in favor of the constitutional amendment.
Berean Baptist Church posted a video of the sermon on its website, and the congregation can be heard laughing when Harris tells fathers to "crack that wrist" if they see their sons "dropping the limp wrist."
"Man up. Give them a good punch. (Tell them), 'You're not going to act like that,'" he said in the sermon.
He also suggested that parents should be "squashing that like a cockroach" if their children are cross-dressing.
On Wednesday, Harris said he regrets his choice of words and doesn't advocate hitting children.
"If I had to do it again, would I say it differently? Yes, I would," he said, noting that he was talking off the cuff. "Sometimes when you do that, you say stupid things. For that, I am sorry. For all of those I offended, I am sorry.”
Harris said he was only trying to make the point that parents have a responsibility to ensure that their children act like their gender, and he said he wouldn't apologize for that.
"Everyone in the congregation on that morning understood that there was no intent in any way, shape or form that I meant to break a wrist," he said. "I was using hyperbole to strengthen the argument that parents have responsibility to maintain the gender distinction that God created in them.
"The Bible makes no compromise on effeminate behavior," he continued. "God created you a male; God created you a female. If you were created a male, you are to act like a man."
Yet, Harris closed the sermon by preaching tolerance.
"If you have a person in your house who is gay, you love them with Jesus Christ. Your job is not be homophobic," he said.
No one in the congregation complained about the sermon, he said, but gay and lesbian advocacy groups called his language hateful and inflammatory after finding the video online.
Kathryn Royal, who heads a ministry called Diversity in Faith and describes herself as bisexual, said Harris crossed the line with his sermon.
"There could have been a child in that congregation, and you know kids, they have a short attention span, and all they heard of that sermon was that," Royal said.
Chuck Fager, who heads the Quaker House in Fayetteville, said he doesn't think it's funny for people to even joke about hitting a child.
"Maybe he intended this thing about smacking your kids around if they don't act like ideal little boys and ideal little girls – if they don't smell like girls – as a joke. I'm not laughing," Fager said.
Tony Cartledge, a divinity professor at Campbell University, wrote in an email to The Fayetteville Observer about the sermon that, "Harris' position presents a distorted view of scripture that is completely out of keeping with the teachings of Jesus."
Earlier this week, a Cabarrus County man posted a video to YouTube that depicted him shooting a rifle at an anti-amendment lawn sign in his neighborhood. The video went viral but has since been taken down.
Political analyst David McClennan said Wednesday that these examples of impassioned rhetoric against the gay and lesbian community could backfire.
"For people on the fence, it really pushes them in a way that these folks – the minister or the guy in Cabarrus County – don't want them to go," he said. "They (might) see it as so extreme and such an emotional response to the issue."
He warned that extremism could push potential voters away from the polls.