Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sean Harris' Sermon About Punching "Effeminate" Boys Condemned

As discussed in a prior post, Pastor Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, NC drew condemnation for his comments about punching "effeminate" boys. Good As You posted an audio clip from one of Harris' sermons in which he told fathers to punch sons who act feminine and to scold daughters who act "butch." In the wake of the controversy, Harris has spoken publicly about his statements amidst criticism from secular and faith voices alike.

Following the firestorm over his sermon, Harris issued a retraction and participated in a filmed interview. On May 7th, blogger Justin Griffith of Rock Beyond Belief posted a video of his interview with Harris, which touched upon child discipline, political activism, and the impact of Harris' controversial sermon.

At the 1:44 mark, Harris tells Griffith that his church does not promote a violent environment for children.
"It's abundantly clear that we are not encouraging parents to beat their children. That is not the environment we have here. The statement that is on our website with regard to child discipline has been on that website for two years. That wasn't a statement that was manufactured in response to the incident. That is a defined paragraph to help parents understand their parental responsibilities."
During the interview, Harris stressed that he did not mean for parents to beat their children, admitting that he needs to be more mindful about what he says. However, at the 5:32 mark, he seemed to deflect attention away from his shocking sermon by suggesting that the audio clip was edited.
"I did not realize the degree to which someone could take a sermon, edit it any way they want, upload a portion up to the website, chop out the words that they don't like, and then present that to the world. I'd like to be more careful with my words, but I can't keep them from doing that in the future."
Harris was unwavering in his defense of traditional gender roles. At the 4:41 mark, Harris defended "gender distinctions" that were allegedly created by God, adding that fathers have a responsibility to foster "manhood" in their sons.
"I believe that the gender distinctions that God created must be affirmed in children. I do not believe that  children are allowed to pick a different sexual orientation for themselves. If they become adults and they want to act out that kind of behavior, that is their choice. All I was affirming is a father's responsibility to affirm and develop the manhood in their son. That's the extent of it, and with regard to the special dispensation, that was a joke. Yes, I was joking."
At the 9:29 mark, Griffith confronted Harris about his political advocacy for North Carolina's Amendment One, pointing out that Harris' church has pro-Amendment One signs above the bathroom urinals.
GRIFFITH: You're church is not a political action committee. I heard you say this.

HARRIS: That's correct.

GRIFFITH: Why do you have signs telling your members how to vote, even right at eye level at your urinals?

HARRIS: Oh, because we believe that this issue is not a political issue. We believe that this is a Bible issue. We're not endorsing any candidates. You didn't find that anywhere in the church, but this marriage amendment as far as we're concerned is a Bible issue, and so as the pastor of the church, I have a responsibility to instruct the congregation on that which I think is good for America and good for the state of North Carolina.
At his blog, Griffith admitted that some of Harris' statements about child discipline were "odd," and that Harris doesn't seem to think before speaking. (Hat tip to Unreasonable Faith.)

As Harris strives to defend himself in the public eye, other voices of faith are condemning his comments. For example, Rev. Dr. Cindi Love, executive director of Soulforce, penned a May 8th commentary on Sean Harris' tirade for Huffington Post. Love expressed disappointment that no mothers in Harris' audience said "no" to his hateful comments, noting that this may have been an effect of patriarchal norms in fundamentalist Christian circles. Harris' church, she observed, is part of the expanding Christian patriarchy movement which admonishes women to remain silent and submit to men. Christian fundamentalism and the Christian patriarchy movement have wronged both women and LGBT persons, thereby creating much suffering. Love urged mothers to "just say no" to homophobic rejection of their children.
"I would like to use this occasion to recommend a role reversal for any moms who are caught at the religious divide on this issue, or any home or church that espouses any part of its doctrine. Just say no ... Mother's Day can be a national coming-out day of love and reconciliation for families of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning children. Claim it, moms (and dads)! Just say no to rejection."
During an appearance on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, Rev. Dr. Cindi Love discussed the high ethical standards to which clergy are held. (Hat tip to Soulforce.)

"I think those of us who are ministers are called to a  really high ethical standard of what we speak to and about in our congregation. If I had heard those words and I were a young child, I would have felt that the perceived authority of my church, someone like my dad, was saying it was okay to punch or crack the wrist of another child who appeared to be effeminate ... Jesus wouldn't have preached that sermon. What was chilling to me was hearing the members of the congregation laugh and say 'amen' and really sort of be in concert with what the minister was saying."

Faithful America, an online community of believers devoted to addressing social issues, responded to Harris' sermon by creating an online petition that reads as follows.
"Faithful Christians are appalled by Pastor Sean Harris's hateful tirade urging violence against gay and lesbian youth. Violence and child abuse can never be justified by the teachings of Jesus Christ. All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, should be assured in church that they are beloved children of God."
The petition has already gathered over 14,000 signatures. (Hat tip to Gaystar News.)

People of faith are also reaching out to Harris' congregation. According to Huffington Post, Judson Baptist Church of New York, NY is creating "Cards of Hope" which will be mailed to Sunday school students at Berean Baptist Church. The article quotes Judson church school director Andy Frantz explaining that the project will allow the children to talk about discrimination and God's love.

Harris can apologize and backpedal all he wants, but the fact remains that his sermon was vicious, misogynist, and homophobic. His hateful rhetoric has left many people disgusted, including people of faith who reject bigotry and violent words. Kudos to everyone who is holding Harris accountable.


  1. Excellent reporting.

    I am so tired of these hateful cowardly folks who "apologize" by blaming the people who supposedly misquoted them and/or took their hateful words out of context (cough). I'd like to see them own their words for a change, take responsibility for them and admit they were wrong. Harris is a coward and a liar.

    1. Cognitive Dissenter -- You and me both. Would it be so hard to offer a genuine apology instead of a half-hearted one?

  2. Way to go Justin! (I love him.) Mormons claim they don't get involved in politics too -- unless it's a "moral" issue. Not sure if they put messages at eye level above the urinals though. Gosh how annoying is that?

    1. Donna -- I'm glad that Griffith did this interview. Interestingly, there's a comment at his interview blog post by someone signed as Sean Harris, angrily lambasting the interview.

  3. I think we'd all be surprised at how many churches harbor the truly psychopathic among us. It's not really a matter of being misunderstood or misquoted. They're nuts. They really are crazy. And the people that follow and support them have the tinge of crazy as well. It's not just a viewpoint. It's a serious psychological disorder.

    1. Snoring Dog Studio -- When it comes to the Religious Right, you might be on to something there.


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