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Trump cabinet picks draw Baptist prayer support

WASHINGTON (BP) — When U.S. Rep. Tom Price and Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt faced Senate confirmation hearings Jan. 18, they were supported by prayers of the Southern Baptist churches they attend.

The two cabinet nominees of President-elect Donald Trump also appeared at their confirmation hearings with endorsements from some evangelicals who did not support Trump in the presidential election.

Price, a regular attendee at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., has been nominated as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Pruitt, a member of Tulsa-area First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Okla., has been nominated as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt also is a trustee at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Another Southern Baptist, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, was announced Jan. 18 as Trump’s choice for agriculture secretary.

Johnson Ferry pastor Bryant Wright, a former Southern Baptist Convention president, told Baptist Press his “conscience would not allow [him] to support Trump” in the presidential election “for a multitude of” reasons. But he “could not be more pleased with his cabinet appointments.”

Tom Price

Price attends Johnson Ferry when he is in the Atlanta area, Wright said, noting the congressman “is greatly respected in our congregation and in our district.” Wright noted church members responded with enthusiasm when he extended a call via Twitter to pray for Price during his confirmation hearing.

Last year, Price was the speaker at Johnson Ferry’s July patriotic service and explained “the importance of exercising our faith in the public sphere — and faith in Christ very specifically,” Wright said. “He didn’t mince any words about that.”

Wright characterized Price as “totally pro-life,” “very much for religious liberty” and a man of “absolute integrity.”

CNN reported that Price, an orthopedic surgeon and chair of the House Budget Committee, has voted to defund Planned Parenthood and opposes embryo-destructive stem cell research.

During Price’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Democrats raised ethical questions about his investments in health care companies that allegedly could have benefitted from legislation he authored, Politico reported. Price denied any wrongdoing.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., criticized Price’s support of defunding Planned Parenthood and said she has “serious concerns” about his “understanding of women’s need for basic health care,” according to Politico.

Price told senators, “Our approaches to policies may differ, but there surely exists a common commitment to public service and compassion for those we serve,” according to a written copy of his testimony.

Scott Pruitt

The Sunday preceding Pruitt’s confirmation hearings, First Baptist Broken Arrow devoted 15-20 minutes in each of its two morning worship services to pray for him and his family, pastor Nick Garland told BP.

In addition, a small group of Christian men from around Oklahoma has gathered with Pruitt to pray multiple times since his nomination to lead the EPA was announced, said Garland, a member of the prayer group. At Pruitt’s request, the group has prayed for him regularly since his election as state attorney general in 2010.

“When we meet for prayer,” Garland said, “I’m always amazed at a fresh word he’s gotten from God’s Word in a personal devotional time.”

During Pruitt’s confirmation hearing, Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee accused him “of ignorance of climate science, a disregard for millions of Americans whose health is being harmed by air pollution and an inappropriately cozy relationship with big energy companies,” The Los Angeles Times reported.

Despite claims by critics that Pruitt denies climate change, NPR reported Jan. 19 it has “not found an example of Pruitt explicitly saying he doesn’t believe in climate change.”

Pruitt told Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., “I do not believe climate change is a hoax,” according to media reports. Later, Pruitt told Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., “I believe the ability to measure, with precision, the degree of human activity’s impact on the climate is subject to more debate than whether the climate is changing or whether human activity contributes to it.”

Pruitt, who has sued the EPA 14 times as Oklahoma’s attorney general, told senators, according to his written testimony, he believes the agency has at times overstepped its legal boundaries and that states should “remain our nation’s frontline environmental implementers and enforcers” in partnership with the EPA.

Garland said Pruitt has “maintained his Christian witness” through an at times contentious confirmation process.

“He doesn’t get wrinkled or riled up easily,” Garland said. “He’s a very calm, cool and collected individual.”

Pruitt drew support in December from a coalition of 48 evangelical leaders, including Wright, who sent a letter to Trump backing his choice for EPA administrator.

Among the letter’s signatories, some who did not support Trump during his presidential campaign, were 12 former Southern Baptist Convention presidents; current SBC President Steve Gaines; 14 current and former SBC entity heads, including all six current SBC seminary presidents; and 17 state Baptist convention executive directors.

Price and Pruitt both are expected to receive Senate votes within a week of Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration, Fox News reported.