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April 13th / 14th, 2013

"Out of the Hate-Filled Mouths of Babes"

Child Preacher Nolan Cranford Back in June of last year, I wrote a column about homophobic preachers, and the hate speech they spew. Like Pastor Charles Worley of Maiden, NC who told his flock that the solution to the “Gay Problem” is to round up all of the homosexuals and imprison them in side an electrified fence until they die out. Then there was Rev. Sean Harris of Fayetteville, who told his congregation that parents should “hit their children who seem to be gay”... because “effeminate behavior is ungodly.” But the booby prize went to pastor Steven Anderson of Tempe, Ariz. who said that God should punish homosexuals with the death penalty. Anderson, you will recall, is also famous for saying that eating nuts helps him memorize passages from the Bible. Well, you are what you eat.

Hate speech is vile, and the homophobic holy men who spew it should be ousted by their respective churches. The problem is that church goers who hire a preacher because he’s a homophobe, are not going to fire that preacher for being a homophobe. And so, society is stuck with having to coexist with these mindless ministers.

But now, there’s a resurging phenomena that’s even more disturbing: homophobic child preachers.

On Easter Sunday, 9-year-old Nolan Cranford stood outside of Green Street United Methodist Church and shouted vile hate speech to parishioners as they exited the service. An eight-minute video of the little boy’s religious rant went viral on YouTube and, before long, the entire world knew about Nolan’s antics.

A week earlier, Green Street announced it would refuse to marry heterosexual couples until the national church condoned the marriage of same sex couples. It was a bold stance, and one that garnered a lot of media attention. It also caught the eye of homophobe Brian Cranford, father of Nolan.

The elder Cranford decided to strike back at Green Street United Methodist Church by prodding his son into staging a protest on the holiest of days. Naturally, Brian videotaped his son’s ravings, and prompted Nolan at every turn to say things like, “The Bible talks about the homosexuals are worthy of death... not only them, but those who approve it.” Pretty scary stuff — especially coming from the mouth of a 9-year-old boy. In fact, I’m surprised that someone in Green Street’s congregation didn’t ask the police in attendance to arrest the Cranfords for making veiled death threats.

Nolan Cranford rejects offer to hug

Perhaps the most pitiful and disturbing moment came when an elderly female churchgoer walked up to young Nolan, said she loved him, and then started to hug the little boy. The video shows that Nolan was receptive to the woman’s hug, but suddenly Brian’s voice can be heard from behind the camera shouting, “Tell her to back off! Now preach!” Not surprisingly, public reaction to the Cranfords has been negative. Last week, the Winston Salem Journal published a sampling of e-mails from outraged readers.

Anne Paisley, a retired child psychologist, wrote, “I found the story shocking and sad. Here is a little boy who should be playing with his friends, [not] picketing a church because some adults have frightened him to death by quoting some arcane Bible verses.” Marva Reid commented, “Hate-training as a child is the worst thing a parent can do.” And, John Harrison wrote, “[I]t approaches child abuse.”

Fire-and-brimstone child preachers are not a new phenomena. In the late 1940s, Marjoe Gortner was billed as the “World’s Youngest Ordained Minister.” He also claimed to heal people who came to his tent shows. As Gortner got older he renounced his life as a child preacher, and turned to a career in music and films. Yet 60 years later, child preachers are still springing up all over the nation. Among them is 4-year-old Kanon Tipton, who was profiled in National Geographic’s documentary Pint-Sized Preachers.

Kanon’s father Damon is a minister and, like Brian Cranford, is all too eager to prepare his little boy for a life of healing and speaking in tongues. Said Damon, “It’s not brainwashing. It’s training.” In fact, Damon is so proud of Kanon that he told National Geographic film producer Stuart Clarke, “It’s like a fantasy world we’re living in.” Maybe so, and at least for now, young Kanon isn’t advocating death to gays as are the Cranfords.

Speaking of which, I have serious concerns about a father who pushes his 9-year-old son into preaching hatred and violence toward gays, and those who support same-sex marriage. In my opinion, a case could be made for charging Brian Cranford with child endangerment. What cowardly, homophobic dads like Cranford need is less laying on of hands, and more laying on of handcuffs.

Note: a previous posting of this commentary reported the child preacher's name to be Brian and his father's to be Nolan. The reverse is actually the case, and the commentary has been edited to reflect that.