As Mark Harris, the U.S. Senate candidate, has been reaching out for votes on the campaign stump, Mark Harris, the preacher, has been reaching out from the pulpit in churches around the state.
“Is it possible that a nation can fall so far, that a nation can lower its standards to such a level that it goes so low that it cannot rise again? Is that possible?” Harris boomed from the front of Kannapolis’ Blackwelder Park Baptist Church in early January.
The sermon, the same one he has given at most of the churches where he has spoken this year, is based on Jeremiah Chapter 8 and speaks to why a nation is in decline.
Certainly, that religious message could resonate with a political campaign that has asserted that character and morals should play a part in who Republicans select to run against incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan this fall. The question is how to keep those messages – and the offerings taken up in return for delivering them – separate.
“When I get up the preach often times, I’ll get up and say, ‘I realize the pastor when he introduced me said Mark is now running for U.S. Senate,'” Harris said Monday. “I always get up and say, ‘That is true, and (my wife) Beth and I are on this journey, and if you want to talk with us afterwards, you’re more than welcome to. But I’ve come here to do what I do, and that’s the preach God’s word.’ And I did it just yesterday, three times on Sunday morning.”
Harris is on leave from his own job at First Baptist Church in Charlotte, focusing full time on his campaign. He is among eight Republicans vying for the chance to take on Hagan. Polls suggest that Harris, along with state House Speaker Thom Tillis and Dr. Greg Brannon of Cary have the best chance of either winning the May 6 primary or surviving into a runoff primary this summer.
During a campaign event in Greensboro, Harris talked about that he could not separate who he was as a Christian and a preacher from who he would be as a U.S. senator and politician. Asked Monday if people should be concerned about politicking from the pulpit, Harris said that he was careful to not step over any legal lines.
“I would be concerned about politicking in the pulpit too, but that’s not what we do,” Harris said as he greeted voters outside the Wake County Board of Elections office, just to one side of a sign that marked the “no campaigning” zone.
That said, Harris points out that, as a pastor, even before he filed to run for office, he had tackled issues that were in the political realm. He was a leading voice, for example, on the 2012 campaign to amend North Carolina’s constitution to ban gay marriage.
“I’ve spoken to those things the Bible deals clearly with, on issues of sanctity of life, sanctity of marriage,” he said. “I think the Bible speaks to the issue of debt and the biblical principal of national debt and the gross immorality we’re doing with $17.5 trillion of debt we’re leaving on the backs of our children and grandchildren.”
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