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North Carolina GOP Candidate Preached Extensively on Wives Submitting to Husbands

Former Baptist preacher Mark Harris is running in the 9th District

North Carolina Republican Mark Harris upset Rep. Robert Pittenger in the 9th District GOP primary in May. (John D. Simmons /The Charlotte Observer via AP)
North Carolina Republican Mark Harris upset Rep. Robert Pittenger in the 9th District GOP primary in May. (John D. Simmons /The Charlotte Observer via AP)

Democrats were already targeting North Carolina’s 9th District before incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger lost his Republican primary in May. And they’re hoping that past comments from the former Baptist minister who defeated him improves their chances of flipping the seat this fall. 

Mark Harris on multiple occasions — as a preacher and political candidate — has said that women should submit fully to their husbands and that he believed homosexuality is a choice. Before venturing into politics, he was a pastor at First Baptist Church in Charlotte. 

Harris said in a Friday interview with Roll Call that a wife submitting to her husband does not mean that they are not equal. He said he regularly mentions that in counseling sessions and when he presides at weddings.

“I say [to the husband], ‘Here’s how this works. You’ve got to love your wife with an incredible love that can only come through Christ,’” he said. “It’s really submitting one to another in a relationship.”

Harris said he did not consider submission to be a matter of one person being inferior to the other. 

“[Jesus] didn’t consider it wrong to submit himself to the Father,” he said.

Harris faces Democrat Dan McCready, a Marine veteran and business owner, in this once-thought safe Republican district that stretches along the South Carolina border from the wealthy suburbs of Charlotte to Fayetteville. 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had already named McCready to its Red to Blue program for promising recruits before Pittenger lost. He has also received financial help from Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, a fellow Marine veteran. McCready finished the second quarter ended June 30 with $1.8 million in the bank to $296,000 for Harris. 

A poll last month from the conservative Civitas Institute in the state gave McCready a 7-point leadInside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tilts Republican.

How to respond …

The Charlotte Observer criticized Harris in an editorial last month for once saying that women have lost basic skills “like how to prepare a meal, how to sew on a button, how to keep a home.”

McCready also criticized Harris for comments he made in 2013, when he questioned if women pursuing careers and being independent was “a healthy pursuit for society.”

Harris’ preaching frequently references Ephesians 5:22 in the Bible, which says, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” and the 25th verse, which says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.”

In one sermon from Feb. 3, 2013, he said the majority of marital problems could be linked to couples not following that guidance.

“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,” he said in the sermon. 

He discussed the topic at greater length in another sermon on Nov. 16, 2014. 

In the sermon, Harris told husbands not to try to force their wives to submit to them.

“You cannot force your wife to submit,” he said. “And the more you try, the more you will produce the exact opposite result.” 

He also told women in the video that they should submit, not because their husbands demand it, but “because the Lord ordained it.”

In the same sermon, Harris compared submission to the concept of Jesus and God the Father being equal in Christian theology.

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“So get over this inequality thing — because that’s not the point of submission,” he said.

Owen Strachan, a professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said Harris’ views on women are not that out of line with conservative Christian doctrine.

“That’s not wild, out-there stuff,” Strachan said. “If you’re in the Bible serious inerrancy of evangelicalism, that’s totally normal commentary.”

Sandra Glahn, an associate professor of media arts and worship at Dallas Theological Seminary, said Harris was trying to say that “submission is a hierarchy.”

But women’s role in submitting can be over-emphasized, she said.

“When you continue to emphasize wives, you sure set yourself to be saying, ‘Put up with abuse,’” she said.

Not a choice?

Harris is no stranger to bids for Congress. He lost to Pittenger by 134 votes in 2016 Republican primary. Two years earlier, he finished third in the Republican Senate primary, won by Thom Tillis, now the state’s junior GOP senator.

In a July 30, 2013, interview ahead of his Senate run, Harris said he had yet to buy into the premise that someone who “chooses the homosexual lifestyle is born that way,” citing a lack of medical evidence. 

The GOP nominee told Roll Call his view had not changed.

“I have not done an in-depth study. But I still continue, and feel like, and believe that there’s data on both sides,” he said.

Harris said he believes there are things that could affect a person’s sexual orientation.

“But it is still a choice. I do still stand by that,” he said.

Correction August 13, 2018 7:55 a.m. | a previous version misstated Glahn’s title and the name of the seminary.

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