Though not in Congress, N.C. pastor at 'peace'

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BP) -- With his apparent election to Congress still uncertified nearly two months after Election Day, former pastor Mark Harris said he is wounded by questions about his character but determined to persevere in his quest for public office.

Congressional candidate Mark Harris told reporters Jan. 3 he stands on his "good name and reputation" amid an election fraud investigation.
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Meanwhile, a Baptist associational leader in Charlotte, N.C. -- where Harris pastored First Baptist Church until 2017 -- said churches and pastors are praying for Harris. On Christmas Eve, Harris told Metrolina Baptist Association executive director Bob Lowman he feels "a peace" amid media coverage and allegations of election fraud.

Harris, who has denied any wrongdoing connected with the election, told reporters today (Jan. 3) that questions about his integrity are "painful and hurtful" aspects of the post-election fiasco.

"We went through a tough campaign in the fall," including ads "that took my sermons out of context," "twisted" them and attempted "to create an image of me that was nowhere near where I am as an individual," Harris told reporters in Raleigh, N.C., after meeting with state election investigators. He apparently was referencing attack ads about his preaching on biblical gender roles.

"But I must say, as painful and hurtful as that was, this has been even worse because I don't have anything that's more valuable than my good name," Harris said. "And I intend to stand on that good name and reputation that I have built over 30 years as a senior pastor in the state of North Carolina and the leadership that I've been able to bring."

Harris was president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina from 2011-2013 and served on the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention Resolutions Committee. The new Congress was sworn in without Harris in Washington about the same time he addressed media in Raleigh.

Unofficial election results from North Carolina's 9th Congressional District showed Harris, a Republican, defeating Democrat Dan McCready in November by 905 votes out of nearly 283,000 cast. However, the State Board of Elections refused to certify the results amid claims of irregularities regarding absentee ballots. Media reports have alleged election fraud.

Before the Board of Elections resolved the claims, a state court dissolved the board in a separate case. Harris filed court documents today (Jan. 3) asking a Wake County Superior Court judge to certify the election results immediately while election fraud investigations continue.

"We don't believe that the number of ballots in question would change the outcome of this election," Harris said.

A new Board of Elections won't be in place until Jan. 31, and the state's political parties have squabbled over Gov. Roy Cooper's proposal to appoint an interim board.

Media reports have speculated new primary and general elections eventually may be called.

The 9th District election "is complete chaos," Charlotte television reporter Joe Bruno told NPR, "and it changes every day."

Harris told Charlotte's WBT radio Dec. 28 he would run again if new elections were held. "I answered a call to do this, and I have been running," he said. "And I will run until there's nowhere else for me to run in this election."

Harris added, "We have simply been trusting God each day that truth would be revealed."

Lowman, Harris' longtime friend, said Harris told him before a Christmas Eve worship service he "had a peace" about the election and has thought often about the song "God Will Make a Way."

"There have been the predictable partisan comments from people across the board," Lowman told Baptist Press. "But at least from what I've heard from Mark and others connected with that process ... it's not that they want their way. They just want the right and truth to come out."

Churches, pastors and other Baptist leaders, Lowman said, "have been rallying around to pray for" Harris and his wife Beth "as well as for the process."

With reporting by Allan Blume, editor of North Carolina's Biblical Recorder newsjournal. David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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