In Baptist life Mark Harris is an established leader. He has a positive record as the pastor of three growing churches, community experience as a cultural influencer and name recognition as a recent officer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina for six years, including two years as president.
He was a key leader in North Carolina’s adoption of the Marriage Amendment in 2012, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman. Harris, a political science major at Appalachian State University in Boone, has been active in local and state causes.
But many have asked why he would consider leaving a successful ministry as the senior pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church to run for one of the state’s two seats in the U.S. Senate.
“I’m not doing this just as a pastor but as a person,” Harris said. He believes there is a vacuum of leadership in the federal government.
“I just believe there comes a time when individuals are called to step up and bring to the table the gifts, abilities and vision that God has gifted them with.”
He has been compared to the colonial, black-robed clergymen during America’s war for independence.
They were so well-known for boldly preaching the biblical principles of liberty that the British named them the “Black Robe Regiment.” Later they were re-titled, “The Black Robe Brigade” and heavily targeted by the British army.
“I would say that I am doing this because I recognize that we have a window of opportunity in this country, and I believe that window is closing,” Harris said. “There is a window of opportunity to change directions and get a more solid and stable footing for our nation. We’ve watched our reputation and standing in the world take a hit under this president. I want to be part of restoring that.”
Harris said people in all 100 N.C. counties are ready to talk about their needs and concerns – the sluggish economy, eroding values and the federal government’s intrusion into the daily lives of citizens.
“But I guess the thing we hear the most is that folks are concerned or worried that we’ve got elected officials in Washington, D.C., that no longer seem to care,” he said.
As a pastor, a Christian and American he said he shares the same concerns.
He chided politicians for passing laws that they don’t live under. “They seem to have more interest in the next election cycle than doing what is right. They seem to be more interested in playing party politics than standing for God and country,” he said.
Harris reflected on the days he worked as a 14-year-old in the Americans for Reagan office. He stuffed envelopes and made phone calls in Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign.
“Reagan taught us that building a strong America is like building a three-legged stool,” Harris said. “The three legged stool has got to be a leg of a strong domestic agenda; a leg that’s a strong foreign policy and a leg that is strong on traditional values. Reagan said if you try to weaken or break off any one of those legs, that stool can’t stand.”
There are deep concerns about continuing to stand on traditional values. “We’re watching federal judges one-by-one put out the lights of freedom in this nation and call into question our religious liberties,” he said. “From the marriage amendments that are being overturned by federal judges, all the way to court cases being decided about bakeries and photographers that are being forced to leave their religious convictions at the door or live under the threat of penalty or imprisonment if they don’t participate in a same-sex wedding.”
One of his greatest concerns is, “We’ve got to deal with Obamacare. I think it is key.” Harris said. “It holds a big key to debt ceiling, jobs and so many things in our economy. It just has to be brought back under control. … I don’t think the half has been told yet of the ultimate economic impact this is going to have on the country when it is in full bloom. The president has continued to push dates back. He has continued to push aspects of the law back to where we haven’t really felt the full impact.
“I think people are very concerned about jobs – how are we going to create jobs. I keep hearing the same consistent message everywhere I go from small businesses – we’ve got to have tax reform and we’ve got to get the regulations off our backs. The federal regulations are just overwhelming. I hear that every day.”
When asked whether politics is too dirty for a preacher’s involvement, he responded, “I think politics is dirty and slimy because we have allowed it to become that way. We’ve sat on the sidelines for far too long and we’ve surrendered.
“If you go back and look at the history of our nation and you look at the signers of our Declaration of Independence and the signers of our Constitution, you find folks that had seminary training. … clergy that recognized the importance of bringing to bear their leadership gifts as part of the whole.”
Former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, recently endorsed Harris at a fundraiser in Raleigh. Huckabee is also an ordained Baptist pastor and graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He served as the president of the Arkansas Baptist Convention.
Describing what people want in an effective leader and how those gifts are present in a pastor, he said Harris has the ability to communicate a message and the ability to motivate. The governor said a Baptist pastor deals with that every day of his life with a volunteer army in a church.
Huckabee added that a pastor has the ability to minister – something he believes is missing in Washington. He pointed out there are few issues that would ever be faced as a U.S. Senator that Harris can’t connect with names and faces.
“As a pastor I have dealt with the abortion issue,” Harris said. “I know what it is to sit down with a woman who has already suffered through an abortion. I also know what it is to sit down with a young girl who has an unwanted pregnancy and counsel her. So it’s not just issues to me. To me it’s names and faces of real people that are part of the issues.”
If he wins the seat, Harris would not be the only N.C. Baptist leader who served in the Senate. The colorful Josiah Bailey, editor of the Biblical Recorder from 1895-1907, later served as a U.S. Senator. He served three terms from 1930 until his death in 1946.
Bailey co-authored the bi-partisan Conservative Manifesto, a document criticizing President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and proposing more conservative alternatives. Among other things, the document called for lower taxes and less spending.
Harris faces seven other candidates in the May 6 primary vote.