Pastor Urges Parents to Punch Boys Who Act "Girly." Why Are We so Uncomfortable About Kids Who Challenge Gender Norms?

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We tell gay kids that "It Gets Better." We condemn bullying and violence, encourage expression, champion Title IX, and talk about gender-neutral parenting. And yet… look how far we haven't come.

Speaking a few days ago during "Marriage Sunday," an event coordinated by Vote For Marriage N.C., the campaign for a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage in North Carolina (where same-sex marriage is already illegal), Pastor Sean Harris told his congregation at the Berean Baptist Church:

"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 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 can listen to the church-provided recording of the sermon here.)

Though the congregation laughed and applauded, people who aren't part of that particular church were stunned. "I would not dishonor the word 'sermon' by identifying it as such," Tony Cartledge, who teaches Old Testament at Campbell, a Baptist university, told the Fayetteville Observer.

"People misspeak. I realize that and am genuinely forgiving of it," wrote Jeremy Hooper at Good As You, a LGBT-activism site. But, he added, "There are certain views that should never find their way to one's bank of consideration. There are certain jokes that are never funny. ... Threatening violence against LGBT children falls firmly in that latter category. Especially when said violence is encouraged in a church. Especially during a sermon deliberately designed to foster discrimination (i.e. negative message in to LGBT people) via a proposed state marriage ban. Especially when the violence-fomenting sermon comes from a pastor whose church also operates a school."

On Wednesday, Harris issued a statement retracting portions of his sermon and condemning child abuse.

"I was using hyperbole in an effort to communicate the seriousness of the word of God in regard to effeminate behavior and sexual immorality of all types," he said. "I should not have said what I said about 'cracking' or 'punching,' and particular bias toward outward attraction of girls. I did not say that children should be squashed. I have never suggested children or those in the LGBT lifestyle should be beaten, punched, abused (physically or psychologically) in any form or fashion."

"However, I do not apologize for the manner in which the Word of God articulates sexual immorality, including homosexuality and effeminacy, as a behavior that is an abomination to God," he continued. "I recognize that there are those in the LGBT community who believe that their sexual behavior is not sin. I do not agree with them and this official retraction should not be misunderstood as an apology for the gospel of Jesus Christ or the Word of God."

"If I had to say it again, I would say it differently, no doubt," Harris told the Fayetteville Observer. "Those weren't planned words, but what I do stand by is that the word of God makes it clear that effeminate behavior is ungodly. I'm not going to compromise on that."

Society's disgust for effeminate behavior is nothing new -- when it comes to kids, at least. "Manscaping" and gender-bending may be big in the world of adult fashion, but parents are often appalled when Junior shows more interest in princesses than pirates. Around this time last year, people were up in arms over a picture in a J Crew catalog that showed the company's president and creative director, Jenna Lyons, painting her son Beckett's toenails bright pink. "This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity," psychiatrist Keith Ablow wrote on "Encouraging the choosing of gender identity, rather than suggesting our children become comfortable with the ones that they got at birth, can throw our species into real psychological turmoil."

While few people have a problem with girls excelling in boys' sports, when it comes to sexuality adults can show their discomfort in violent, damaging ways. Case in point: Last week Dominic Dieter, host of WMMS 100.7's morning talk show "Rover's Morning Glory," told a listener who saw his teenage daughter kissing another girl to "get one of your friends to screw your daughter straight."

Punching effeminate boys and suggesting corrective rape for girls who don't hew to heterosexual norms? When did it become acceptable to condemn a child's behavior by advocating violence?

Do these reactions seem extreme to you? Religion aside -- if that's even possible in a discussion like this -- how do you feel about boys who like "girly" things and girls who act like guys?

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