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Pastor eyes run for Congress with divine ‘burden’

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BP) — Mark Harris, a pastor and past president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, has drawn media focus for his decision to resign his pastorate as he considers a second run for the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Charlotte Observer, local television stations and Charlotte’s largest talk radio station are among the media outlets to report on Harris’ June 11 resignation from a 12-year pastorate at First Baptist Church in Charlotte, which averages 700-800 in Sunday morning worship.

Harris told Baptist Press his decision stemmed from a sense of calling to politics and his awareness of “a distinct need” for pastors “not just to take a position on the sideline” of American public life, “but to get engaged.”

In addition, he believed First Baptist “needs a senior pastor that does not have the distraction of a campaign.”

Harris, a member of the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention Resolutions Committee, has not formally announced his candidacy but is “looking toward that decision,” he said. First Baptist is considering how to manage the pastoral transition, with the possibility of Harris’ continuing to fill the pulpit through December.

While Harris still senses a call to ministry, he said “it is an important calling” when God leads a pastor to utilize his giftedness for ministry and his “empowerment of the Holy Spirit … to shape public policy.”

“There continues to be a tremendous need [in politics] for voices that are going to stand on righteousness, that recognize where we are moving as a nation,” Harris said, noting “the culture seems to become more and more infected with a liberal point of view.”

If Harris becomes a candidate in the Republican primary for North Carolina’s 9th U.S. Congressional District, it would be his second run for the seat. He lost to incumbent Robert Pittenger last year by 133 votes out of approximately 26,000 cast in the GOP primary.

Harris finished third in the 2012 primary for one of North Carolina’s U.S. Senate seats.

After the 2016 defeat, “I prayed for God to take this burden away from me” to run for public office, Harris said. He even asked his church staff to pray along the same lines.

“I was crying out and asking God, ‘Lord, please just take away my passion,'” Harris said. Yet “that passion and that sense of call would not go away but frankly even intensified.”

Circumstances seemed to be part of God’s leading toward another run in the 9th District, Harris said, when multiple factors in the political world suggested he might be able to win new voters in 2018.

When “seeking God’s will,” Harris said, “I’ve always asked Him to open doors that no man can shut and to close doors that no man can open.”

With cultural engagement, Harris said, pastors must be like the Old Testament “sons of Issachar,” who “understood the times and knew what Israel should do,” according to 1 Chronicles 12:32.

“It’s important to be able to recognize the times, recognize the circumstances as you pray and ask Him to open doors,” Harris said.

As other pastors consider whether God is calling them to run for public office, Harris urged them not to immediately rule out the possibility as a spiritual step down but to seek the Lord’s will for their lives.

While ministry “is indeed a high calling,” Harris said, “… we do need to be careful about what we qualify as high, higher and highest when it comes to the will of God and the call of God on a person’s life.”