The former president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, Harris was a key conservative voice in the state's 2012 adoption of its marriage amendment, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman. But some may wonder why he would consider leaving a successful ministry as the senior pastor of Charlotte's First Baptist Church and run for one of the state's two seats in the United States Senate.
Harris, who faces seven other candidates in the May 6 primary vote, said he believes there is a vacuum of leadership in the federal government that needs to be filled.
"I'm not doing this just as a pastor but as a person," Harris, who graduated from Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., in 1987 with a Bachelor's degree in political science, said. "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.
"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 explained. "There is a window of opportunity to change directions and get a more solid and stable footing for our nation.... I want to be part of restoring that."
People in North Carolina are concerned, Harris said, about 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, Harris said he shares the same concerns.
He 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."
Harris shared his concerns about ongoing attacks on religious freedom.
"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."
Harris also addressed whether politics is too dirty for a preacher's involvement.
"I think politics is dirty and slimy because we have allowed it to become that way," he said. "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 endorsed Harris at a fundraiser in Raleigh. Huckabee is 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, Huckabee said Harris has the ability to communicate a message and the ability to motivate. A Baptist pastor deals with that challenge every day of his life with a volunteer army in a church, the governor said.
Harris said, "As a pastor I have dealt with the abortion issue. 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 Harris wins the seat, he 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.
K. Allan Blume is editor of the Biblical Recorder, newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. This article ran April 21 on the Biblical Recorder's website. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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