Republican Mark Harris defends comments about women, calls Democratic ads a ‘smear’

Republican and former pastor Mark Harris on Wednesday passionately defended sermons about women and blasted Democratic ads he said are designed “to smear me and . . . destroy any image of respect that I have had.”

Harris’s comments came in an increasingly heated 9th District House race against Democrat Dan McCready. It’s North Carolina’s most expensive congressional race, drawing more than $5 million in outside spending.

Harris was asked about the role of women during a luncheon sponsored by the Hood-Hargett Breakfast Club. Two TV ads, one by McCready’s campaign and one by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, feature women questioning statements Harris made in sermons five years ago.

The sermons were first reported in July buy ABC News and Roll Call. One questioned whether careers were the “healthiest pursuit” for women. Another called on women to “submit” to their husbands.

“Mark Harris said what?” a woman says in the McCready ad. “Wow. Harris questions whether careers were the healthiest pursuits for women. And preached on wives submitting to their husbands. … Mark Harris just wants to take women backwards.”

Harris said the sermons were taken out of context.

“There was a narrative that they were establishing and wanted to push from day one — this was to be the year of the women,” he said Wednesday. “President Trump was having trouble in the polls with suburban women. So why don’t we somehow try to create a wedge between Harris and women? And that is what you’ve seen take place.”

Harris, former pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church, said one comment was for Mother’s Day in 2013. At the time, he said he believes “We are fortunate to live in a day when women can be anything that they want to be.”

“But I said I also think it’s important to understand that when God grants you as a woman a child and you become a mother, it’s amazing how those motherly instincts and that core calling as a mother kicks in,” he said Wednesday. “That child becomes your priority and the decisions you make are always to be in the best interest of that child.

“Nowhere did I say that you give up your career,” he continued. “Nowhere did I say that you cannot work. The fact is whatever decisions you make in balancing that you still recognize that every decision is made in the best interest of that child. That was the point of that message.”

He said his comments about women submitting to their husbands were taken from Ephesians 5. The passages says, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church . . . Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

“The message is not from your husband to submit, the message is from the Lord,” he said in the 2013 sermon. “Now ladies, you can rebel against that command, but just please understand you’re not rebelling against your husband. When you do you are rebelling against the Lord.”

Harris told the luncheon, “I made clear in the message that day that is an equal submission of one to the other. I will stand by that until I die.”

Along with mentioning the “submit” statement, the DCCC ad quotes Harris saying, “The title given to a woman is helper. I would define it as servant lover.”

“The word that is most often used to describe the wife is servant lover,” he said Wednesday. “And the word … used to describe the husband is servant leader.”

In a statement, McCready said Harris is “out of step with North Carolina.”

“Mark Harris and I are both Christians, and there’s nothing ‘low’ about quoting Mark Harris’s own words that dozens of other faith leaders have called ‘sexist.’ As a Christian, I believe that we are all created in God’s image,” he said in the statement. “That means men and women are equally valuable.”

DCCC spokesman Cole Leiter said, “Mark Harris’s words speak for themselves.”

Jim Morrill, 704-358-5059; @jimmorrill