home
RSS
October 9th, 2013
12:12 PM ET

Senate chaplain: Shutdown is 'madness'

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-editor

[twitter-follow screen_name='BurkeCNN']

(CNN) - The federal shutdown has found its angry prophet.

Senate Chaplain Barry Black is usually a calm, pastoral presence on Capitol Hill, doling out spiritual wisdom and moral counsel to his high-powered flock.

But the Seventh-Day Adventist and former Navy rear admiral is mad as hell about the shutdown - and he's letting the Senate, and the Lord, know about it.

"Lord, when the federal shutdown delays payments of death benefits to the families of (soldiers) dying on far-away battlefields, it's time for our lawmakers to say enough is enough," Black said in his prayer opening the Senate on Wednesday.

"Cover our shame with the robe of your righteousness," Black continued, citing the Hebrew prophet Isaiah, who was no mean critic of government incompetence himself. "Forgive us. Reform us. And make us whole."

Black was referring to the withholding of death benefits for the families of U.S. soldiers because of the partial federal shutdown. Lawmakers are scheduled to vote Wednesday to reinstate them.

MORE ON CNN: 5 crazy side effects from the shutdown

That might not be soon enough for Black, whose opening prayers have grown increasingly harsh towards Congress.

"Save us from the madness," the chaplain said last week.  “Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable.”

Last Friday, he addressed the heavens on behalf of the Senate, asking God to  "remove from them that stubborn pride which imagines itself to be above and beyond criticism. Forgive them the blunders they have committed.”

Washington's inability to keep the government open affects not only Black's Bible but also his paycheck. He's not being paid during the shutdown.

The Senate elected its first chaplain in 1789, and a minister has opened the chamber with a prayer for the last 207 years, according to the chaplain's office. Most enter the annals of history unnoticed. The chaplain is supposed to be nonpartisan, nonsectarian and nonpolitical.

But as the shutdown enters its second week political reporters have begun to tune in to Black's opening prayers. The New York Times put the 65-year-old on the its front page on Monday under the headline "Give Us This Day, Our Daily Senate Scolding."

MORE ON CNN:  Shutdown day 9: What you need to know

Black, who was raised in a rough section of Baltimore, served in the Navy for 27 years and was appointed the Senate chaplain in 2003 by former Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee.

For the most part, he has avoided political debates, but he spoke out during the George Zimmerman trial, telling CNN in 2012 that Trayvon Martin, the teenager Zimmerman killed "could have been me."

Even when he doesn't take a public stand, Black said his private meetings with the 7,000 people who work in the Senate gives him an opportunity to discuss the moral implications of lawmaking.

"I don't think there is ever a major vote where I don't talk to a number of senators regarding the ethical dimensions of the issues they are debating," Black told CNN in 2010.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Belief • Church and state • Ethics • Leaders

soundoff (411 Responses)
  1. Octavius

    Bless thine holy wallet, and lead us back to the trough of righteous overspending. Until Chapter 7 come. Amen

    October 9, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  2. Leonidas

    Madness? THIS IS SPARTA!!!!

    October 9, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
    • Amanda

      I came here solely for this.

      October 9, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
  3. Just the Facts Ma'am...

    I understand the religious position of those who say "The founders were Christian or deists and so even though the constltution has the establishment clause they didn't mean it to keep religion out of government, just government out of religion". But isn't that much like saying "Well when the founders added "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal" they did not mean ALL men as they continued to keep blacks as slaves..."

    So the argument isn't so much that the founders wrote a bad law, its just that they did not enforce it the way it should have been which does not mean we should just accept the intrusion into the government by religion but we need to fight for the original intent of the law regardless of those who may have ignored it in the past.

    October 9, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • Doris

      Exactly.

      "Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.

      The Civil Govt, tho' bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability and performs its functions with complete success, Whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, & the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State." –James Madison

      Madison came to oppose the idea of public funding for Congressional chaplains.

      "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state. –Thomas Jefferson

      October 9, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
  4. vidyashanti

    If there is GOD, he will never forgive those who engineered this shut down.

    October 9, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...

      If there is a God he wouldn't give a wet rat shlt about the government shutdown. To think that some universal creator would while there are billions in extreme poverty around the world is the height of hubris.

      October 9, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  5. Pablo

    Unfortunately the GOP Senators never hear the scolding because they refuse to listen until he negotiates the content of his prayers with an atheist.

    October 9, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Until he negotiates his prayers with one of their rectum portals, you mean.

      October 9, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
  6. Maranatha

    "Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! She has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit, a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird. For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries."

    Revelation 18:2-3

    October 9, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • Rob

      Sorry, but I don't get the fairy tale anecdote. Are you trying to say we're in the last days? Is this really Michele Bachmann rather than "Maranatha"?

      October 9, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
      • DunWithThis

        There are probably millions of dead people in the ground who also thought they were living in the "last days" or "end times". These people are nutz.

        October 9, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Blah blah blah, yakkity schmackity.
      "The End" is always nigh.
      Just ask Harold Camping.

      October 9, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
  7. Brother Maynard

    Article sez: "The Senate elected its first chaplain in 1789, and a minister has opened the chamber with a prayer for the last 207 years, according to the chaplain's office. Most enter the annals of history unnoticed. The chaplain is supposed to be nonpartisan, nonsectarian and nonpolitical."
    Ok couple things
    This guy should not get ONE PENNY as compensation for his "praying"
    Really I think this is a violation of church and state.
    Also ( and I admit I'm projectiing here ), it sickens me that he is standing in front of the democrats. It gives the impression that the Democrats are now this high and mighty religious party. ( and I'm a democrat )
    To be fair ... I would level the same criticism if it were Repubs he was in front .

    October 9, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • Brother Maynard

      ah ... missed this
      "Washington's inability to keep the government open affects not only Black's Bible but also his paycheck. He's not being paid during the shutdown"
      He should be paid at all.

      October 9, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
    • LtColBob

      When did Mitch McConnell become a Democrat. That's him near the podium.

      October 9, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • Scott

      He's "standing" in front of everyone, not just democrats. I'm not religious, but I don't have a problem with paying a chaplain, given that most of our representatives (senate and house) are nominally religious. He's not making law.

      October 9, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • fdsaff

      Especially since Harry Reid is a high priest. ….No strike that comment….

      October 9, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
  8. KABUKIDANCE

    Black's situation is not that onerous considering his military retirement pay.

    October 9, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
  9. ted

    Both parties are responsible. Unfortunately, there are no adults in DC. They all want to point fingers. Well, I am pointing a finger towards Washington. Guess which one

    October 9, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • ry

      Most of the people in DC are adults. It's the children that you all sent our way that deserve to be reprimanded.

      October 9, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
      • Tom

        Amen to that. The country sent us all their asshats and to add insult to injury, you call us names...

        October 9, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • Scott

      NO. I'm tired of the false equivalence. Both parties are NOT to blame. This shutdown and default threat are squarely the responsibility of the republicans. At no point EVER in our history has a minority party threatened to shut down the government and default on our debts if it didn't get to overturn a twice-elected sitting president's signature legislation. That is not democracy–it is an attempted coup. And, it's treasonous. There is absolutely NO comparison to anything the democrats have done, ever.

      October 9, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
  10. Toughlove

    The whole "separaton of Church and state" thing has been taken out of context by God-haters. Our history shows that our country was indeed established with Judeo-Christan principles and with a devoutly religious tenor as seen in our political traditions. But others will get on here and blah blah blah. Just visit our political edifices...walk the halls and see Scriptures on our walls. Hear prayers in the highest decision making rooms. God has always been in our government, and as long as we're free to worship, always will be.

    October 9, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      You are in sad need of a history lesson.

      October 9, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...

      I want you to be free to worship just as our constltution says, but it also says the secular government that is for everyone of any religion or none should be kept free of any "establishment" of religion, so when you say "Our history shows that our country was indeed established with Judeo-Christan principles" I say that is total bull since the founders sought to specifically reject the idea of a government sanctioned or established religion. I don't care if our "principles" were established with Judeo-Christian origins, but our Government was never intended to be so. If you read much of the founders other writings and letters you can see that they were all very afraid of a government backed religous system as they had just escaped that sort of system and had no desire to return to it.

      October 9, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
      • RollyFolly

        Fine – but what religion did Congress establish?

        Are you arguing that Congress established Seventh Day Adventism as the official religion of the U.S.

        I'd say that's complete nonsense. Congress hasn't violated the establishment clause, and they've had a chaplain for over 200 years.

        October 9, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
        • Doris

          "and they've had a chaplain for over 200 years."

          which James Madison thought was a mistake

          October 9, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
      • Just the Facts Ma'am...

        I believe having a sanctioned Chaplain is a violation, just because its been allowed for so long does not make it okay. Slavery was continued for years after "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal" was added, should that mean that we shouldn't consider blacks equal just because of how our forefathers behaved?

        Having a Chaplain is a violation. Adding "Under God" to the pledge is a violation. Adding "Under God" to our money is a violation. Teaching intelligent design in our schools is a violation. Banning Mosques in areas that you allow Churches is a violation. Putting monuments of the 10 commandments on court house grounds is a violation. Making anyone swear anything on a bible or other religious book is a violation. Voting for military funding of Israel based on your personal religious beliefs is a violation. Just because these things have been allowed does not mean they should continue to be so.

        October 9, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
        • Toughlove

          Just because some are "offended" by our Christian heritage should not determine that all Christian traditions should be muted or abolished. I find atheism offensive but that shouldn't require atheists to change who they are or redefine themselves. Our Christian DNA (which is only lost on those with a particular agenda) cannot be eradicated. It is who we were...though we might change in the future. Our founding was steeped in Christianity by a predominantly Christian leadership. Even the letter which includes the phrase "separation of Church and state" was written to a church in order to assuage their fears of the state meddling in the affairs of the local Christian assembly. Anyways, this is a very tired discussion for me by now. Too many people with misinformation and misunderstanding.

          October 9, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
        • Just the Facts Ma'am...

          "I find atheism offensive but that shouldn't require atheists to change who they are or redefine themselves."

          Think of it like this. If you had a local grocery store which was the only one in your town and the owners were Jewish and decided not to carry any pork products, that is their right as a private business, no bacon for you.

          Now if that store was publicly funded because it was the market at a federally protected campground and the guy running the shop chose to impose his religion on the store by not selling pork products, well now we have an intrusion on the constltution.

          If the government forced the manager to carry pork does that mean he is forced to eat it? No. Can patrons still choose not to buy pork products if they so choose excercising their religious beliefs? Yes, they can, but any who don't have a problem with pork can also get what they want. It would provide for everyone by being inclusive instead of attempting to legislate ideology and force religious beliefs on others.

          Our government should meet the needs of all citizens and let the citizens decide if they want to follow a religion.

          Atheists feel a bit like a devout Jewish person might feel if they found out the restaurant they had been eating at was stuffing their food full of pork without their knowledge and then when they complain about it and file lawsuits the answer they get isn't "Oh, terribly sorry, our mistake, we will fix it right away!" but instead it's "Hey! Pork is delicious! You know you love it! We've been putting it in your food for years! Why stop now?..."

          October 9, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
    • Ancient Texan

      Oh so true, but the libs will spin and twist and deny til the cows come home.

      October 9, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—"
      – Treaty of Tripoli, 1797

      October 9, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
      • Toughlove

        The treaty was meant to allay any anxiety on the part of the Muslim state that the US was a theocracy, specifically of the Christian persuasion, and that we would not take action against them based on religion. Of course, that clarification was needed because our CHRISTIAN FOUNDATION was so evident! Why else might it be included?
        By the way, a second treaty, the Treaty of Peace and Amity signed on July 4, 1805 superseded the 1796 treaty. The 1805 treaty did not contain the phrase "not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." But thanks!

        October 9, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          An explicit, official, written diplomatic treaty signed by one of the Founding Fathers shouldn't be taken as meaning what it actually says?
          Kind of like the "self evident truth that all men are created equal" in a slave beased economy?
          So what other docu/ments or statements by the framers of your nation aren't true?

          October 9, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
        • Toughlove

          Don't let the facts get in the way, Doc. Good job pulling things out of context...as if context doesn't matter. But I'm not thinking you'll learn a thing from me or anyone else on here, despite the facts. You've already made up your mind!

          October 9, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          I know – how can you take official government docu/ments as "facts", right?
          Just becuase the President said that the government of the United States is in no way founded on the Christian religion doesn't mean that the Government of the United States is in no way founded on the Christian religion.

          Obviously, he meant the exact opposite.

          Just like when that same President said “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.”, he obviously didn't mean YOUR religion.

          October 9, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          If believers won't believe a clearly written treaty, they'll never accept what The Smithsonian has to say about their precious, but unfounded, Babble.

          October 9, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
  11. Really?

    Ah the joke that is separation of church and state.

    October 9, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
    • Dekanter

      I think the phrase 'separation of church and state' is misunderstood and overused.

      The whole idea behind it was not to establish a National religion, not to remove religion from the government or people's minds. Separation isn't meant to mean no one can do anything if it has a religious bent to it. Pulling 'under God', 'in God we trust' and whathaveyou off of walls or speeches was never the intent. It was just so that we didn't end up with one, national religion that pushed aside all others and made us a non-secular state.

      October 9, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
      • Doris

        I don't disagree with the last thing you said, but it's quite obvious that the founders of the government already realized that to accomplish the secular government they were after, it was going to require a firm "wall of separation". (See quotes above from Madison and Jefferson regarding their thoughts.) Madison came to oppose the long-established practice of employing chaplains at public expense in the House of Representatives and Senate on the grounds that it violated the separation of church and state and the principles of religious freedom. (Library of Congress – James Madison Papers – Detached memorandum, ca. 1823.)

        October 9, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
      • sam

        Putting those silly things on the money was never the intent either. It was done in the 50's as a way of intimidating the commies.

        Get a clue.

        October 9, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
  12. Robin Johnson

    So why didn't CNN show a picture of the correct chaplain and a link to his prayers. They are great. Here's a link that shows his prayers progressing. http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/10/04/senate-chaplain-save-us-from-the-madness/

    October 9, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
  13. MikeinNM

    "Forgive us. Reform Us. Make us whole. And get me back on the payroll." I'd agree with him, even if he added the last line.

    October 9, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
  14. There should be no

    Senate chaplain in the U.S. Plain and simple.

    October 9, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • Tom

      Agreed. However, we're really screwed because the one who believes in fairy tales also happens to be making the most sense....

      We are F-cked.

      October 9, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
    • Ancient Texan

      So the 14% of America that you represent, should tell the other 86% how to conduct business in the people's government?

      October 9, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
      • Just the Facts Ma'am...

        Our constltution is a protection of the minority from the overreaching of the majority in our representative democracy, so yes, the 86% who don't care about our constltution should either write their own theocratically based constltution and try and get it ratified or shut the heII up. I don't mind if you want to make your own Theocracy like Iran down there in Texas, but your generation is passing away, and all I can say is ... good riddence.

        October 9, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
        • Toughlove

          We will always be here. People like me are raising a new generation of Christians to haunt you. 🙂 By the way, the Bible says that in the end "every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." We shall see.

          October 9, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
        • Tom

          @Toughlove – In the end, you are worm food.

          October 9, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
  15. satanicviews

    I thought that the USA had a split between Church and State?

    October 9, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • Truth

      That's just a metaphor. It is not a law.

      October 9, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        A metaphor? You mean like your Constitution?

        October 9, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
        • Truth

          exactly

          October 9, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
      • Just the Facts Ma'am...

        It's only the constltution which is not just a law, it's THE law.

        October 9, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
      • james

        bill of rights. article 1. it is law.

        October 9, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
        • Truth

          please reiterate where there must be a separation between church and state.

          October 9, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
        • Just the Facts Ma'am...

          "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"

          October 9, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
        • DarkNot

          AMENDMENT I

          Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...

          personally I don't believe having a chaplain violates this...no one is forced to seek him out. Choosing not to participate is free exercise.

          October 9, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
        • Frank

          "Choosing not to participate is free exercise."

          You don't seem to understand how easily people can step on the toes of others who are trying to enjoy their freedom. Every freedom carries with it responsibility. If certain groups would not proselytize to the degree they do, it probably wouldn't be much of an issue.

          October 9, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          I only experience the spiels of proselytizing believers once or twice a year. They go away soon enough even if I'm polite. The lasting harm is done by believers who want to make their personal restrictions law for everyone.

          October 9, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
        • brian

          no its from a letter by jefferson, it's not a law, just an ideal of our founding fathers which acts as a guideline.

          October 9, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
      • Doris

        Aside from the Establishment Clause, James Madison came to oppose the use of chaplains for Congress. But then again, Congress seems to have always pushed the limits on their own operation and privileges. They've managed to sneak around our latest Amendment, #27, adopted in 1992; another amendment first introduced by Madison in 1789.

        October 9, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • smdahl

      Don't worry, the chaplain is an atheist, just like all of the Senators who claim to be Christian and the President.

      October 9, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
  16. Alias

    It is time for term limits.

    October 9, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Lycidas

      No. If Americans are too freakin lazy to participate in the election process...don't give them another nanny option like term limits.

      October 9, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
  17. HotAirAce

    Does this charlatan shaman get paid for his "services"?

    October 9, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Did you read the article?

      October 9, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
      • Alias

        I'm sure he read as much of the article as christians read of their bible.

        October 9, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
        • Lycidas

          It's always sweet when atheists look out for one another.
          Bill, ths answer he is afriad to give is...NO, he did not read it.

          October 9, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
        • Bill Deacon

          That's hilarious. An avowed atheist misses a simple fact in a short article and you flip it to say that Christians don't read the Bible. As suming you believe your own ignorance, it's no wonder you can't understand anything spiritual.

          October 9, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        Not thoroughly enough! Thanks.

        October 9, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • Lycidas

      He is not a charlatan or a shaman. Try again.

      October 9, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        I'm confident that he fits the definitions for both charlatan and shaman, as do all religious leaders.

        October 9, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
        • Lycidas

          Your confidence does not equal facts.

          October 9, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          I think I'm on solid ground, and MW supports:

          charlatan: a person who falsely pretends to know or be something in order to deceive people

          shaman: someone who is believed in some cultures to be able to use magic to cure people who are sick, to control future events, etc.

          October 9, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
  18. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Don't listen to them, Lord. Let the Republicans wear their shame and call it courage and integrity.

    October 9, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  19. A good prayer!

    "Forgive us. Reform us. And make us whole."

    October 9, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
    • Cory

      A little reprimand would also be helpful as NY Times so eloquently puts it:

      "Give Us This Day, Our Daily Senate Scolding." 😉

      October 9, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Advertisement
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.