House candidate stands firm amid sermon scrutiny

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BP) -- The sermons of a North Carolina pastor turned congressional candidate have become fodder for political attacks and reports in national media outlets -- especially his preaching on the family and gender roles.

GOP congressional candidate Mark Harris has faced criticism for sermons he preached on the family while he was pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C.
Screen capture from MarkHarrisForCongress.com
But Mark Harris, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte who is running as a Republican in North Carolina's 9th congressional district, told Baptist Press it should not be regarded as a "news flash" that a "Baptist preacher preaches the Bible." Past sermons, he added, don't "really have any bearing on electing a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives."

"It's important that we understand family is the foundation of our society and the foundation of American culture," Harris said, but his political opponents are attempting "to create a distraction. They won't talk about the issues, such as GDP being up 4.1 percent in the second quarter. And they won't talk about the lowest unemployment among women, I think, in some 30 years."

The criticism he's faced for sermon content "probably speaks to the biblical illiteracy" of American culture, Harris said, and "is probably an indictment on the church for doing a very poor job for a generation of explaining and discipling what the Bible says."

Harris resigned First Baptist's pastorate last year to run for Congress and defeated incumbent Robert Pittenger May 8 in the Republican primary. Harris was president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina from 2011-2013 and served on the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention Resolutions Committee.

The latest burst of media attention surrounding Harris began in July when a political action committee that opposes him highlighted a 2013 sermon in which he said a woman's "core calling" is to be a godly wife and mother. Women "can be anything and do anything" professionally, he added in the sermon, "as long as you understand your core calling and who you are and that guides everything you do."

"In our culture today, girls are taught from grade school ... that what is most honorable in life is a career, and their ultimate goal in life is simply to be able to grow up and be independent of anyone or anything," Harris said in the 2013 sermon according to ABC News, adding, "But nobody has seemed to ask the question that I think is critically important to ask: Is that a healthy pursuit for society? Is that the healthiest pursuit for our homes? Is that the healthiest pursuit for our children? Is that the healthiest pursuit for the sexes in our generation?"

This month, a flurry of media reports has focused on Harris' past preaching from Ephesians 5 that wives should submit to their husbands.

The political news outlet Roll Call quoted Harris as saying in a 2013 sermon, "Many marriages could save beaucoups of marriage counseling money if they would just understand; husbands love your wives even as Christ loved the church. Wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands as unto the Lord."

"You cannot force your wife to submit," Harris told husbands in the sermon. Submission also does not imply "inequality" because God the Son submitted to God the Father even though they are equally divine.

Other media reports have noted Harris' beliefs that homosexual behavior is a choice and that the earth was created by God thousands rather than millions of years ago.

In July, The Charlotte Observer published an editorial on Harris' views of gender roles with the headline "Paging Mark Harris; it's the 21st century." An Aug. 8 editorial cartoon in The Observer depicted Harris dressed as cartoon caveman Fred Flintstone with "#Submit" written on his shirt, holding a club and saying to a woman in a #MeToo t-shirt, "Give me that old-time religion."

Harris' general election opponent Dan McCready tweeted in response to reports on Harris' sermons, "As a Christian, I believe that we are all created in God's image. That means men and women are equally valuable and equally capable. My opponent, Mark Harris, is out of step with this district and this century."

Colin Smothers, executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, told BP "a Christian pastor preaching 2,000-year-old Christian beliefs should not be news, but this is the world we live in." CBMW teaches men and women have equal worth before God but have been assigned distinct roles in the church and the home by Scripture.

"No matter who cites them -- teacher, nurse, fireman, professor or, yes, even a congressional candidate who has preached hundreds of sermons as a pastor -- the words of Ephesians 5, Titus 2, and Romans 1 (to pick only a few) are offensive to the world's sensibilities," Smothers said in written comments. "Jesus told us it would be this way. But the Christian is called to joyfully embrace the whole Bible as the inspired Word of God and to have our minds made new according to every truth revealed therein. We cannot just pick and choose the truths we think will win more friends, influence more people or win more elections."

Harris advised other pastors to "stick with the Word. That's what I have been able to rely on. And really I think it has been what has caused us to be able to answer the attacks."

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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