Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor received some hefty praise today from a source you might not expect – from the platform of the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.
During a presentation from Guidestone Financial Services, President O. S. Hawkins discussed how critical Pryor’s support was in advancing legislation regarding church health insurance plans.
“I don’t know anything about Arkansas politics, but I have been up there with a lot of Senators and the one who has done the most to help churches in this health care arena to get us some fixes and is going to present this bill in the Senate is Mark Pryor of Arkansas,” said Hawkins. “I am thankful to him for all he has done to help the churches everywhere to get these fixes that we so desperately need so that we can compete on a level playing ground.”
Hawkins was referring specifically to legislation regulating church group health plans such as the one offered by Guidestone to pastors and employees of Southern Baptist churches. The legislation makes some technical changes to the way church health plans operate, by basically allowing the church plans to be viewed as an exchange and allowing any participants of church plans to be eligible for some of the tax credits offered through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Pryor’s office tells me they plan to introduce the bill on Thursday of this week.
At the same time that Hawkins praised Pryor for his help on the church health plan, he also expressed concerns regarding Obamacare’s effect on the cost of health insurance premiums for everyone. Of course, Pryor voted for Obamacare in 2009 when it passed the Senate without a vote to spare. Hawkins was firm in several items that Southern Baptists would not compromise on in the health coverage they offer.
“We have no intentions of ever at Guidestone allowing this administration or any other administration to tell us we have to provide abortive pills to young teenage girls or that we have to provide benefits for same sex couples. That’s not going to happen,” said Hawkins.
Pryor is an Evangelical Christian and currently attends Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock as well as Redeemer Community Church and St. Andrews Church. He has been unapologetic in his Christian faith even when pressed. In 2008, Pryor was featured in film by Bill Maher called “Religulous,” which seeks to mock organized religion. Maher ridiculed Pryor for his faith particularly for his belief in a Biblical view of creation; however, Pryor did not back down in his beliefs when pressed by Maher.
At the same time, Pryor has not consistently voted with the evangelical community which leans heavily to a social conservative point of view. On the issue of abortion, Pryor’s record is somewhat mixed. Of the votes the National Right to Life has rated over Pryor’s time in office, he voted in the pro-life position around 35 percent of the time. On the issue of marriage, Pryor is one of only three Democratic Senators that continue to oppose same-sex marriage; however, he recently indicated that he is undecided on if same-sex couples should be eligible for federal benefits.
The praise for Sen. Pryor is notable and I certainly think he should be commended for his effort to help churches provide health care coverage to their pastors and employees. Even this frequent critic of Pryor can say thanks.