Pastor Mark Harris feels called to new kind of leadership

After 27 years of leading churches, the Rev. Mark Harris again feels called – this time to serve in Congress. He’s challenging U.S. Robert Pittenger in the Republican primary for the 9th congressional district.

“Christian leaders have sat on the sidelines for so long that we find our nation in the state it’s in,” said the 49-year-old senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Charlotte. “We’ve got to be willing to step into the arena.”

Harris made his first run for office two years ago, finishing third in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

But he’s never before served in public office. There was a time when that would have been a campaign liability. But in a year when Congress’ public approval ratings are in single digits, that lack of “experience” could prove to be an asset.

Joked Harris: “Never having held elective office is the greatest thing on my resume.”

He did serve as president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. And from that post, he helped lead the successful campaign in 2012 to pass Amendment One – a state constitutional that reaffirmed North Carolina’s then-ban on same-sex marriage. A judge later threw out the vote and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that gays and lesbians can legally marry their partners in all 50 states.

To help kick off his congressional bid this year, Harris campaigned in the district with former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a onetime Baptist pastor himself who has spoken several times at Harris’ Charlotte church.

And this Friday, Harris is scheduled to be joined at a campaign rally by another of his noted endorsers: former U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, who held the 9th district seat from 1995 to 2013.

Mark Harris

Hometown: Winston-Salem.

Education: Appalachian State University, bachelor’s in political science; Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry in Christian leadership.

Family: Wife Beth, three grown children and three grandchildren.

Job: Senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Charlotte.

Politics: Has never held public office. Ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2014.

Worth knowing: In 1980, at age 14, he volunteered three days a week at the “Americans for Reagan” campaign office in Winston-Salem.