Baptists elect Charlotte pastor, endorse ban on same-sex marriage

Harris: Baptists 'willing to stand up and be counted' in anti-LGBT amendment campaigns

by The Charlotte Observer  Charlotte News Alliance  
Published: November 8, 2011 in News

By Tim Funk
tfunk@charlotteobserver
Posted: Tuesday, Nov. 08, 2011

N.C. Baptists meeting today in Greensboro elected Charlotte pastor Mark Harris to be their new president and endorsed a proposed state constitutional amendment that would reinforce North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Rev. Mark Harris. Courtesy First Baptist Church.

Running unopposed, the 45-year-old Harris, who’s senior pastor at First Baptist Church in uptown Charlotte, was elected to a one-year term as president of the N.C. Baptist State Convention.

Most of the 4,300 churches associated with the state convention are Southern Baptist – the largest Protestant denomination in North Carolina, with about 1.3 million members.

Harris, whose church has about 1,000 worshipers on Sundays, has worked his way up the leadership ladder at the state convention. Most recently, he had been the group’s first vice president.

Harris has also been in the forefront of a push in recent years to move the convention further to the right, especially on homosexuality.

In 2006, the convention adopted a policy crafted by a committee that Harris chaired. It said Baptist churches that “knowingly act to affirm, approve, endorse, promote, support or bless homosexual behavior” would be considered “not in friendly cooperation” with the convention.

Today, delegates, or “messengers,” to the convention’s annual meeting approved, without discussion or dissent, a resolution backing the proposed N.C. constitutional amendment that state voters will consider next May.

The proposed amendment says that marriage in the state will be defined as between a man and a woman.

Harris has ties to extremists

First Baptist Church’s Mark Harris, the newly elected president of the N.C. Baptist State Convention, has ties to local anti-LGBT extremists in the Charlotte area. Harris has attended and supported several events planned by Dr. Michael L. Brown’s organization, Coalition of Conscience. This year and in 2009, Harris allowed Brown’s group access to his church building for their “God Has A Better Way” protest of Charlotte’s LGBT Pride festival. Brown has been criticized for his radical views on homosexuality and his often violent and militant religious rhetoric.

– Matt Comer, qnotes

It is already illegal in North Carolina for homosexuals to marry. But the Republican-controlled legislature voted to put the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. If passed, it would add more restrictions on civil unions and domestic partnerships, and make it much harder for future legislatures to rescind them.

North Carolina is the only state in the Southeast that does not make clear in its constitution that only heterosexual marriage is permitted within its borders.

South Carolinians passed their constitutional ban in 2006.

In an interview with the Observer, Harris said one of his pledges as president will be to work with other pastors and their congregations for passage of the proposed amendment and to push for other issues they consider family-friendly.

“We are committed to building strong families,” Harris said, “and, as a body of believers in this state, we are willing to stand up and be counted. We want to take a stand on marriage and … be salt and light for this state.”

Harris said he’ll also call on Baptists to commit to “surrendering their whole life” to Jesus Christ.

As for his election, Harris said in a text message today that “I am excited and feel very blessed. … I am filled with hope for the impact that N.C. Baptists can have.”

Under the convention’s rules, Harris could seek a second one-year term at the annual meeting in November 2012.

In his own words: Harris on LGBT equality

Harris has a history of outspoken opposition to LGBT equality.

In response to the September 2008 publication of Mitchell Gold’s “CRISIS: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America,” Harris said of gay and lesbian sexual orientations, “I just don’t buy that it’s a natural inclination.” He added, “We love the person caught in the sin of homosexuality. It’s the sin we hate.”

Later that year, Harris came out in opposition to Mecklenburg County commissioners’ plans to extend domestic partner benefits to same-sex partners of county employees.

In a September 2011 interview with Charlotte Observer writer Michael Gordon, Harris said marriage for same-sex couples was “an opportunity to protect marriage from being redefined” and a place “where most North Carolinians and Americans don’t want to go.”

He added, “”And I’ll remind people of the importance of what we believe.”

– Matt Comer, qnotes