Your Daily Rage: Pastor Sean Harris Promotes Beating LGBT Kids

It sounds like an inflammatory headline, I know.  Like it must be condensed and exaggerated.  But no: if your children are not 100% cisgendered — if your male child plays dress-up, or if your female child does not adequately play dress-up — Pastor Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church, Fayetteville, NC, gives you dispensation to give that kid “a good punch.”

Jeremy Hooper of Good As You provides the audio and transcript (which apparently I can’t embed for some reason:)

“So your little son starts to act a little girlish when he is four years old and instead of squashing that like a cockroach and saying, “Man up, son, get that dress off you and get outside and dig a ditch, because that is what boys do,” you get out the camera and you start taking pictures of Johnny acting like a female and then you upload it to YouTube and everybody laughs about it and the next thing you know, this dude, this kid is acting out childhood fantasies that should have been squashed. 
Can I make it any clearer? Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch. Ok? You are not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male and you are going to be a male. And when your daughter starts acting to [sic] Butch you reign her in. And you say, “Oh, no, sweetheart. You can play sports. Play them to the glory of God. But sometimes you are going to act like a girl and walk like a girl and talk like a girl and smell like a girl and that means you are going to be beautiful. You are going to be attractive. You are going to dress yourself up.” 
You say, “Can I take charge like that as a parent?” 
Yeah, you can. You are authorized. I just gave you a special dispensation this morning to do that.”

Where to even begin?

The call to violence is, obviously, the most glaring aspect: if a young male child, too young to even know of the stereotypical affectation of the limp wrist, happens to make this gesture, the father should break the child’s wrist.  And punch the child, for good measure.  I’m going to repeat that: Pastor Harris encourages parents to punch children and break their wrists.  That is unacceptable for any infraction.

Boys, to Harris, become men by performing physical labor, and by not wearing dresses.  One cannot, apparently, be a man who wears a dress, despite all evidence to the contrary.  Boys can also become men by being physically acted upon, presumably because this “toughens them up” and keeps them from being “soft.”  (I can only guess that, in the Pastor Sean Harris Super-Slim Guide to Science, pain makes the body produce androgens.)

I’d contrast this with how Harris thinks girls become women, but he says nothing of the sort.  He only addresses how girls should act like girls.

I think that this aspect of his screed might get lost in the completely-justified outrage surrounding the “beat your children” part of the sermon, and I’m not sure I’d have anything more to add to that anyway — the hideousness and indefensibility are self-evident.  Instead, I’d like to dig into what this little rant of his reveals about his overall assumptions about gender, and more specifically his assumptions about femininity.

While I’m sure he means “act” in the sense of “behave,” what he’s describing is the “act” of a performance.  Yes, he implies that girls can’t dig ditches, and can only play sports sometimes.  But he mainly implies that, regardless of how a girl might naturally walk, speak, or smell, she must put on a show of femininity.  Not all women naturally walk heel-to-toe and swish their hips.  Not all women speak with a breathy voice and end every sentence in a high rising terminal.  If there were any doubt that Harris is talking about performative femininity, it would be shattered by his statement that a girl should “smell like a girl.”  A girl who plays sports, who gets dirty and sweats and has any amount of body odor, would indeed smell.  Logic would say that these scents would obviously smell like a girl — specifically, the girl they are coming out of.  But no — one only smells like a girl when one does NOT smell like a girl.

Moreover, all these factors combined “mean you are going to be beautiful.”  Any girl who clomps around when she walks and uses declarative sentences cannot also be beautiful, no matter how she looks.  It’s not even enough to be beautiful, however — “you are going to be attractive.” A point which is even more uncomfortable when one remembers that he’s saying nothing of women, just of girls. The purpose of being beautiful is not to delight in aesthetics as an end in itself, but to appeal to the male gaze.

To delight in aesthetics as an end in itself is stereotypically appealing to the male gays, too.   But also to young people, males and females alike, who may or may not even understand gender yet.  All the polemics of “sin” aside, what could Harris be seeing as so very Wrong about boys enjoying beautiful things, or engaging in the same performative femininity as girls?

Maybe it’s exactly that: the fact that it IS such a blatant reminder that all these “feminine” behaviors are an act.  If Pastor Harris and his ilk only acknowledge women – pardon me, girls – as beautiful or attractive when they’re wearing the right things and speaking the right way and moving the right ways, why, they might momentarily be attracted by a passing transgender female who wears, moves, speaks, and smells like a girl, too!   The fear of even fleeting and inadvertent homosexual attraction is so strong that they must maintain the clearest possible distinction between the sexes, starting by instilling fear into even the youngest children — by any means necessary.  The sooner one is taught to associate a “lapse” or “failure” of heteronormativity with physical pain, the better society will fare.

Also note his language: he encourages parents to “punch” and “crack” boys, and to “reign in” [sic] girls.  Essentially, Harris believes children should be taught about gender norms the way one would (badly) break a horse: for the boys, apply the whips and spurs to goad them in the right direction. Flog them when they misbehave or follow the path their nature impels them to follow.  For the girls, make sure the bit is good and tight in her mouth so you can keep her reined in, such that she can’t even try to follow her natural path. Note that, purely coincidentally, she’d be less able to speak.  All these violent and restraining actions are nothing more than “taking charge.”

There is, frankly, no way I would ever subject myself to listening to Harris’s past sermons to find anything that reveals his attitude toward women overall.   I did find a sermon about female deacons, however, where he states that female deacons can be acceptable in churches whose structure of governance is exclusively led by the church elders, and wherein the deacons are no more than a figurehead.  He does also say at the 4 minute mark that “If you see on the church website that they have female deacons, that should serve as a red flag to you. You should not just go ‘Okay, that’s fine;’  you need to be concerned about that.”  Clearly, he believes that women should not serve as leaders in the church, and that males and females should serve God in different ways.

Moreover, I’ve not bothered to find anything more specific to his attitudes toward sexual immorality than this sermon on how sex outside of marriage is never safe.  Which I’ve not listened to in full.

However, I don’t doubt at all that Pastor Harris believes there are “immoral” women who flaunt their sexuality.  Women who prey on the lusts of men by dressing imprudently, wearing too much makeup, wearing short or tight skirts, and so forth.  Though, again, I cannot find any specific statement to this effect, I also cannot imagine – knowing what I know of his conservative Christian ideology and beliefs on the acceptable roles of women in the home and in church – that Pastor Harris would find such sexualization acceptable.

So, a woman must act like a woman, and walk like a woman, and dress like a woman, and smell like a woman, and must be beautiful and attractive — but, surely, if one acts too attractive and shows off too much of her God-given womanly attributes, that’s an affront.   I suppose this, again, is why girls need to be “reined in,” to make sure they’re neither too “butch” nor too “slutty.”  Neither too passive to follow God’s supposed will, nor too willful on their own.   A boy becomes a man by, basically, doing masculine things and NOT doing feminine things.  It’s probably impossible for a boy to act too manly.  But a girl only lives properly as a girl by being neither too masculine nor too feminine — a balance which, you’ll note, should be moderated by the father: Pastor Harris specifically encourages “dads” to exercise these punishments.  The role of the mother in family discipline, or in anything else, is unclear.  Given the apparent analogy Harris draws between children and horses, perhaps a mother’s role is as little more than brood mare.

“Where to even begin?” was one question.   “Where can it be ended?” is another.

I’m not sure what could be said to counteract this sort of rhetoric.  What wouldn’t immediately be filtered away by a misdirected fear that is interpreted as self-preservation.   I’m sorry to say that I hold no hope that Pastor Harris will ever see anything wrong with his statements.  As Senior Pastor, he has been living an entire life predicated upon this certain set of beliefs, indoctrinated indepenedently of logic. For the rest of his days, he will accept others’ homosexuality or being transgender no more than he would accept them committing murder or arson or infanticide.  All too likely, he himself was given a few lashes for playing dress-up.  All too likely, he has fears of loving or lusting after someone who is secretly a male, accidentally dooming himself to Hell forever.  All too likely, whatever children he has or teaches have been given this same anxiety and revulsion, and one can only hope that they come to think independently and with compassion in the course of time.  But, here and now, he believes to the very core of his being that he speaks God’s own truths, the only truths that can save the souls of the impressionable.  He believes to the core that he is a spiritual guide and protector.  He will never comprehend how he is hurting his community.  He will never comprehend how he is driving them away from the church, and from any sense of trust in adults.  Nor could he ever care, because he believes

Pastor Harris is right on one basic assumption:  not that physical or emotional abuse can affect one’s sexuality or gender expression, but that it can affect what one learns to fear.

If I were a young person in Fayetteville, NC, I would fear Pastor Harris and the members of his church.

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8 thoughts on “Your Daily Rage: Pastor Sean Harris Promotes Beating LGBT Kids

  1. Kira says:

    I grew up under a man like Pastor Harris and I can tell you that fear is the first thing you learn. Every day it is what you eat, drink, and live. It was defines you.
    That “be a man ” mentality lead to broken bones, beatings for poor grades, mental and emotional abuse.
    It nearly lead to the grave after I couldn’t deal with it anymore.
    I was lucky, I survived. Many more aren’t.
    People like this need to be stopped. They need to put some place where they cam’t hurt others, and they should never ever be allowed near children or to have kids of their own.

    • Gant's Rants says:

      Thank you for sharing your experiences; I’m sorry you had to go through them. It’s harrowing that all of this could be obviated by asserting that God made all kinds of bodies and all kinds of souls in all kinds of combinations, and all are fine because it’s the work of God. But to argue the way Pastor Harris does only gives a young Christian person two clear options: to believe that the omnipotent God made a mistake in creating their souls or their bodies, or to believe that there is some kind of evil or satanic influence corrupting their souls or their bodies from God’s design. As if all Armageddon is being fought over who they have a crush on, or the kind of underpants they want to wear.

      And they wonder why someone would leave the church — or leave life itself?

      Though it’s a pale comparison, the idea that LGBTQ identity is a choice that can be enforced/corrected by force reminds me of nothing as much as an absurd-but-true story my grandfather told me. Back in the old days, teachers used to try to turn left-handed kids into righties — by smacking them with a ruler every time they even picked up a pencil in their left hand. If it even worked, it only affected what hand they chose to use, which was good enough for the teacher. However, those students would never write as naturally or as fluidly as if they were allowed to use their left — and I’m sure that the association with fear and pain silenced many from writing at all. I’m sure many of them who have their own kids try to validate what was done to them, too, by passing it on — much like how my grandfather offered to “correct” my own handedness when I was in preschool. (My mother mercifully declined the offer.) It’s not like handedness is a purely social construct — some people really are righties, some really are lefties, some really are ambidextrous, some really can barely hold a pencil in either hand. But it gets social attitudes applied to it, for no clear reason — like the ancient Romans who thought all lefties bore ill luck and latent evil: the Latin word for the left hand was “sinister.”

      I think we’re living in a particularly strange time, now — where the older people in our society consider LGBTQ identities as unmentionable, while the younger people consider them so mundane that they’re not worth mentioning. Social attitudes do change over time. Even my grandfather didn’t think left-handedness was evil, just inconvenient. Unfortunately, too many of these older people are still teaching the young. And too many of those young will grow up in guilt, remembering pain, never expressing themselves as fluidly or fluently as they could, never interacting with the world as easily as they could, possibly wanting to hurt others or hurt themselves. It’s truly nothing short of abuse, and it does endanger lives.

      I’m not sure what, if anything, we could do to stop people like Pastor Harris, though. He believes he’s doing God’s work; to try to compel him to change his message, or not teach the people he thinks need to hear it the most, would be infringing. But emotional abuse doesn’t become okay when it’s draped in religion.

      Maybe, ultimately, all we can do is remind others, and remind ourselves, of everyone’s common humanity, and just keep doing what we do. Keep living and expressing and loving, and wearing whatever dang underpants we please, so long as we’re not causing anyone harm. More people, like you, will be able to break the cycle. Others will never see the sense in perpetuating it. It may take another generation or two, but I think it can only get better.

  2. thorin25 says:

    I fully agree with you about how disturbing and wrong the things he said are. My frustration is that churches like his get all the media attention in our country and other Christians and churches get falsely prejudged. Non-Christians in our country slowly start to think of all Christians in our country being like him. I’m not at all saying you are doing this. I just wanted to throw in my 2 cents to any of your readers and say – Not all of us Christians and pastors and churches are like him! Some of us openly deplore what he says.

    • Gant's Rants says:

      Oh, I concur. It’s always easier to focus on the few most terrible people of any group, and to extrapolate from that — accusing everyone else in the group of being the same, or at least of somehow colluding with them or creating an environment that fosters or implicitly condones those outrageous attitudes. But it’s my understanding that one of the hallmarks of the Baptist denomination is that each individual can come to their own understanding of the Bible, and that each church can run independently without any greater structure or hierarchy, like what’s found in the Catholic Church for example. This guy’s screed doesn’t reflect Christians as a whole, and doesn’t even reflect Baptists as a whole — just himself, and just his congregation.

      But thank you for speaking up and saying you find it deplorable. It sucks that you even feel social pressure to say that — and I imagine that, in any discussion about faith, you find yourself spending most of your energy just on driving wedges between your beliefs and the fringe beliefs of people like Pastor Harris. It probably leaves very little time or energy for actually talking about your own faith. Still, words of acceptance and compassion can never be heard too often — especially if someone’s hearing words like Pastor Harris’s every Sunday.

      • thorin25 says:

        Reading some of your other comments besides this one, I’m thinking perhaps you would still have some pretty big disagreements with me, but you’d probably find me less noxious than the pastor mentioned in your post. I do have some firm beliefs about what is right and wrong, what things are healthy or not, and live my life by the Bible. But I try to still listen to me, and think through things intelligently, and treat people with love and respect. I disagree with this pastors’ stupid gender stereotypes that are not even biblical. And I disagree with his attitude. It’s one thing to think its wrong to commit homosexual acts, or wrong to get sex reassignment surgery, it’s something completely different to speak about people who do those things with hatred and disdain.

        The lack of accountability you mentioned is really a huge thing. We always should be reading the Bible in community, holding each other accountable not only in doctrine but also in practice and character. I get nervous about any churches that govern only themselves with no accountability from other churches. That’s why denominations are really a helpful thing, churches keeping each other accountable. I”m not sure how to hold accountable someone like him when he would probably not listen to someone like me. I hope it is enough that I speak out in disagreement in places like your blog here.

      • whatever77 says:

        Wow you were able to agree and do in such a condescending way. I say screw social pressures. What people feel is right morally and ethically within theirselves is what they speak. I don’t think society makes us voice wrongs. Since you don’t know people on here except for the few lines they write. It ignorance to assume whom they are.

      • Gant's Rants says:

        Whatever77, I can’t seem to reply directly to your comment, so it looks like I have to reply to my own.

        I’m honestly unsure what point you’re trying to make, and I think you may have misunderstood: It’s not condescending to hypothesize that Thorin feels some social pressure to defend Christianity against its detractors and against people like Pastor Harris. He IS defending his beliefs. He apparently DOES feel the need to “throw in his two cents” to remind readers that Not All Christians Are Like That. But, again, it sucks that he feels he has to. It should go without saying that you can’t make blanket statements about all Christians or assumptions about any individual Christian.

        Nowhere am I saying that there is a social pressure, on him or on anyone, to “voice wrongs.” I’m not even saying that he is voicing any wrongs. Like he says in his response, it’s altogether likely that we’d have fundamental disagreements on many issues — and that’s fine by me.

        I’m uncertain what you find “ignorant,” to be honest, Whatever; the boldest thing I assume is that, as Thorin’s taken the time to drive a wedge here between his beliefs and values and those of people like Pastor Harris, he’s had to do the same in many other debates — and that he’s quite possibly weary of it.

        More to your own point, Thorin: I think there’s no clear way to hold Pastor Harris accountable for his hatred and abuse. He’s almost certainly aware of the unpopularity of his opinions, and it’s possible that these “worldly” concerns wouldn’t faze him, if he’s sincere in his belief that these are God’s commandments. (Maybe that’s why humans in so many cultures are so tempted by the idea of an afterlife and of some great objective judgment – the idea that someday, somehow, these people we just can’t reach in life will finally see how they’ve affected other people, and will finally “see the errors of their ways.”)

        I think all anyone can really do is be accountable for yourself — think about your beliefs, consider new information, and speak your piece to others with respect and without hatred or violence, even in the face of disagreements on deeply-held values and ideals. That’s all anyone could rightly expect. You can’t change anyone, no matter how hard you try — all you can do is share information and ideas with them, hope they choose to change on their own, and deal with it (even if you have to avoid the subject or person entirely) if they don’t.

  3. thorin25 says:

    sorry, “listen to people” not “listen to me”

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