The opposition research on Mark Harris is just starting to emerge. In a sermon from 2013, Harris criticized society for strongly encouraging women to pursue a career outside of the home. He questioned whether careers should be put ahead of being a wife and mother.
“In our culture today, girls are taught from grade school . . . that what is most honorable in life is a career, and their ultimate goal in life is simply to be able to grow up and be independent of anyone or anything,” he’s quoted as saying, and then asking, “Is that a healthy pursuit for society? Is that the healthiest pursuit for our homes?… Is that the healthiest pursuit for the sexes in our generation?”
In the middle of the #MeToo movement, Harris’ words sound out of touch. Right now, women want more influence in society, in part, to reduce the amount of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace because men clearly haven’t done much to prevent it. His words also ignore the reality that too many households require both spouses working to pay the bills.
The problem Harris will face, though, is not just one sermon from five years ago. It’s a pattern of supporting an evangelical movement that has long encouraged women to be subservient to men. In 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention rewrote their understanding of Christianity to declare, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.” Harris served as President of the North Carolina State Baptist Convention.
Harris also served on the board of his alma mater, the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary at the time Paige Patterson was president. Patterson was recently fired from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, in part, for his mishandling of sexual abuse allegations while he was at Southeastern. Patterson placed a rape victim on probation while discouraging her from reporting the crime to police.
His spokesman complains that Harris is being criticized for “preaching the Word of God.” That’s always a dangerous defense in politics since the Word of God is open to interpretation and Harris’ interpretation may not jive with women in an area like Southeast Charlotte where women bankers, real estate agents and shop owners thrive. Other Christian denominations don’t hold these views.
Women will likely make up a majority of voters in November, and Harris is getting on their wrong side. His views of the role of women in society seem outdated. Instead of trying to accommodate their careers, he says women should question their choices. At a time when women believe their leadership is essential to changing behaviors and expectations in the workplace, Harris encourages fewer women, not more, to assume leadership roles. His problem is not a one-off sermon, it’s an out-of-sync philosophy.