CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BP) — Biblical teaching on gender roles and marriage are the focus of last-minute campaign ads in two closely-contested political campaigns.
In North Carolina’s 9th congressional district, attack ads have taken aim at former Southern Baptist pastor Mark Harris’ preaching on gender roles in the family. In the Colorado governor’s race, ads from the conservative Family Policy Alliance suggest Democratic nominee Jared Polis could threaten the religious liberty of business owners who oppose same-sex marriage.
Harris, a Republican, resigned the pastorate of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., last year to run for Congress. An ad released Nov. 1 by his Democratic opponent Dan McCready features excerpts from a sermon Harris preached at First Baptist on the family.
“God instructs all Christian wives to submit to their husbands,” Harris says in the ad, which appears to contain clips spliced together from different sections of the sermon. “The title given to a woman is helper. If I were to define the word ‘helper’ for you today, I would define it as ‘the servant lover.'”
In the ad, a young girl watches Harris’ sermon through a window while holding her mother’s hand. Text on the screen then asks, “Is this what we want our daughters to learn? Don’t let Mark Harris take us backwards.”
An ad by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that has run this fall in the Charlotte television market uses similar sermon excerpts and attributes them to a May 19, 2013 message at First Baptist. Since at least August, Harris’ theological view of gender roles has been the subject of media reports and political action committee ads.
Harris told Baptist Press the latest attack ads represent “sick abuse” of sermon videos and take a message on Ephesians 5 “out of context” to present the phrase “servant lover” as though he suggested women are “sex objects.”
“Servant lover” was an alliterated sermon heading corresponding to “servant leader” as a description of husbands, Harris said. “In no way, shape or form” did the term reference anything sexual. Harris said he intended the term to stress the wife’s role of bringing “love” and “nurture” to a home.
The truths he preached as a pastor “stand the test of time,” he said. But as a congressman, he would represent North Carolinians of various religious and political views. “Respecting one another” is “the way we are going to function … I intend to do my best in representing every man and every woman of the 9th district as their congressman.”
Harris was president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina from 2011-13 and served on the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention Resolutions Committee. A resolution proposed by the 2016 Resolutions Committee “on women registering for the draft” stated “God created male and female with specific and complementary characteristics” and that men and women are equal “as to dignity and worth.”
Mimi Haddad, president of Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), told BP the Ephesians 5 passage Harris addressed in the campaign ads does not teach husbands are uniquely tasked with leading their wives, but is part of a larger passage in which Paul advocates “mutual submission” among all believers. “This passage is not evoking authority, dominance [or] power, but oneness and intimacy and empathy.”
A correct view of gender, including by elected officials, is essential to addressing the #MeToo movement, Haddad said, emphasizing CBE does not endorse or oppose any political candidates.
“In government, we need to create societies where power and privilege do not lead to abuse and dominance,” Haddad said. “That’s certainly not the picture we have of power in marriage.”
An alternate view of gender roles is expressed in Article XVIII of the Baptist Faith and Message: “The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. 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. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.”
In Colorado, the Family Policy Alliance ad featured Christian baker Jack Phillips, whose right not to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding was upheld this year by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Assaults on Jack’s faith — and yours — could get even worse if Boulder’s own Jared Polis becomes governor,” the ad said according to Fox News.
A Family Policy Alliance spokesperson told BP Nov. 2 it was no longer featuring Phillips in its ad online but was “pivoting to the next phase in our strategy with an ad that focuses on candidate Jared Polis and the threat to religious freedom he poses for people of faith in our state.”
An ad on the organization’s website Nov. 5 claimed, “As governor, Polis would have the power to appoint even more radical members to the [Colorado Civil Rights] Commission, threatening the freedom of people of faith throughout Colorado.”
Republican Walker Stapleton is Polis’ main opposition in the race for governor.