If you have a weak stomach, you may not wish to read what lies below. It’s hard to be in the same cyberspace with the kind of overweening arrogance that seems designed to provoke a visceral response.
But not the response Sean Harris wanted, except for the faithful few who cheered his anti-gay diatribe this past Sunday as he joined other arch-conservative pastors involved in a statewide effort April 29 to get out the vote for a so-called “Marriage Amendment” to the state’s constitution. The amendment purports to protect the institution of marriage, but is clearly designed to prohibit same-sex marriage, and would have the effect of reducing domestic abuse protection to any who don’t fit the definition of a “domestic legal union” — a term that has no legal definition in North Carolina: hence, the potential problems. Here’s a website that supports the amendment, and one that opposes it, if you wish to read the opposing views.
But back to Harris’ Sunday morning rant, which has spread quickly across the web, and will no doubt draw many responses.
Harris is a former paratrooper-turned-preacher who presides over the pulpit at Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C. The church lists no affiliations on its website, so I presume it is independent. In a 55-minute harangue to his church (available on video from the church website), Harris twisted logic and prooftexted his way through a definition of marriage as he understands it. Along the way he misidentified Jimmy Carter (with whom he disagrees) as a Southern Baptist, blames America’s dependence on imported manufactured goods to a low birthrate that doesn’t produce enough American workers, and warns Christians to have more babies lest they be outnumbered by Muslims.
That’s child’s play, however, compared to the child abuse Harris hands out when he gets to the subject of homosexual behavior or perceived homosexual tendencies. Denying that homosexuality could have any possible roots other than wanton sin, Harris warns parents that they should “squash” any perceived homosexual tendencies in their children “like a cockroach.”
Harris says that parents should watch boys as young as four to see if they display “girlish” behavior such as a “limp wrist” and if so, they should “crack that wrist,” “Man up,” and “Give them a good punch” as a means of teaching them to act in line with the parents’ expectations of males. He doesn’t come out and say parents should likewise hit young girls if they start “acting too butch,” but insists they should “rein her in,” which could mean most anything.
Harris goes on to presume Pope-like jurisdiction to “authorize” parents in his church to smack their small children by giving them “a special dispensation” to “take charge” of such matters.
This notion would be laughable (members of the congregation laughed) if it were not so barbarous and alien to the gospel. (Here’s a short audio clip from that part of the tirade.)
It is truly frightening to believe that such vitriol is being heard — and welcomed — among people who claim to follow the Prince of Peace, the one who summed up his message in a call to love God and love one another.
It’s important, I think, to pause and point out that not every Baptist (certainly!), not every person who supports Amendment One, nor all who believe homosexual behavior to be sinful would endorse Harris’ over-the-top advice to beat perceived gay tendencies out of their children. Likewise, we can’t assume that Harris’ gung-ho military background suggests that such views are typical of ex-GIs.
At the same time, we must state unequivocally that Harris’ admonitions present a distorted view of scripture that is completely out of keeping with the teachings of Jesus. Harris clearly thinks of himself as an advocate for God, but his pompous and poisonous words are an affront to Christ and the people Christ loves.
Fulminations like this, parading as gospel sermons, are largely responsible for driving millions of Americans from church, people who simply have been hurt too much by the verbal whipping of ideologues who spread a dogma of intolerance beneath a veneer of Christianity.
Harris’ extremist views can’t be considered typical of those who support Amendment One, but their vehemence is a startling reminder of how dangerous a garbled gospel can become.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.