Right now there is a boy cowering in the corner of his dark closet. His cheeks are stained with tears, just as his face and body are stained with purple and blue bruises. He didn’t mean to make his father angry. He didn’t know that playing dress-up in his mother’s closet instead of digging ditches outside was wrong. His daddy screamed at him. His daddy hit him.
Right now there is a girl sitting in front of her bedroom mirror. Her arm aches, maybe it is broken. She looks at herself and wishes she liked lipstick and high heels. Instead, she likes getting dirty and playing baseball. She didn’t mean to make her father angry. She didn’t know that being strong and active instead of wanting to look attractive and lady-like was wrong. Her daddy screamed at her. Her daddy hit her.
Why did he do this? Why would a father (or mother) abuse his child because of the way they look or behave? There are fathers (or mothers) right now who are doing just that because it is what their pastor told them to do.
Sean Harris, pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, NC spent two minutes (of a fifty minute sermon) instructing the parents of his congregation to physically and emotionally abuse their children in response to their seemingly homosexual behavior or acting outside of their prescribed gender roles. He goes so far as to give parents “special dispensation” to “crack that wrist” or “give a good punch” to boys who are girlish. The girls don’t escape his instruction, as parents are told to “rein them in” if they “act too butch”. Girls are to be “beautiful and attractive”, says Harris.
Though one could easily spend hours sifting through the hate-filled and violent rhetoric of his sermon, it is hard not to speak to the danger of what is wrapped up in these two short and painful minutes. It is placed in the larger context of a sermon preached in support of Amendment One, which will come to a vote on May 8th. There is no doubt where Harris stands on the issue, though he supports his argument with a heinous distortion of the gospel message. However, my mind is burning with the words of these two minutes, which have recently gone viral.
As I write, I sit only steps away from my two year old son’s room. He is sleeping peacefully, probably curled up with his favorite matchbox car and elephant blanket. My heart breaks at the thought of children like him who will not sleep peacefully tonight, or for any night to come. They live in fear of what their parents will do, and ultimately, of how God feels about them. After all, if their parents and guardians are meant to teach them the ways of their faith, to serve as the tangible expression of a Holy Parent in their lives, how can they not feel that God hates and hits as vigorously as daddy (or mommy) does?
What is disturbing to me as an ordained, Baptist pastor is the way in which Harris hijacked his pulpit for the promotion of what could only be referred to as “his gospel”, since it stands in stark contrast to the gospel of the one who called him out for service. His abuse of pastoral authority makes my stomach churn, though it seems that abuse is his preferred mode of operation.
My prayer is that the voice of Harris, and others like him, will not be the only ones heard. It seems that we- pastors and laity alike- cannot remain silent. However, to respond to violent and hate-filled rhetoric in kind would only be to support and contribute to its power. Instead, it seems that we must disempower this kind of speech by naming it for what it is- a dangerous and twisted articulation of God’s desire for humanity.
Though Harris is most certainly directly responsible for the children beaten and lives ruined in response to his “sermon”, may God forgive us if we say nothing…do nothing.
Holy Parent, may your arms of protection and peace wrap around scared and lonely children tonight. Forgive and change the words and actions of those who offer hate and violence in your name. Empower us to live a gospel message of love, peace and hope, as it was offered to us in the form of Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Nelson is pastor of Flat Rock Baptist Church in Mount Airy, North Carolina. This article first ran at the Religious Herald and in the form of a sermon on Pastor Nelson’s blog.
You can also catch the interviews with and retraction from Rev. Sean Harris on Pastor Harris’ blog.