October 9th, 2013
12:12 PM ET

Senate chaplain: Shutdown is 'madness'

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-editor

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(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. Skeptic

    Senate Chaplain? Is that even a real job?

    October 9, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • Brian Victor

      Ever since the first congress, yes. Chaplains have long been the trusted counsel of lawmakers. They help keep them honest Considering what I see going on in the various lawmaking bodies in countries around the world that don't have them, I'd say we're better off with them than without. Just my humble opinion.

      October 9, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
      • Momof3

        Sorry, had to comment on the irony...

        "They help keep them honest". Guess they should be fired for doing such a poor job, then!

        October 9, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
        • Brian Victor

          Or we should get more of them because, as I implied, countries without chaplains around their lawmakers seem to be doing worse. Or to put it more plainly, if we have this much dishonesty in congress with chaplains around, imagine how much worse it would be if we didn't have chaplains goading them to behave.

          Someone could probably write a research paper on that topic. Would be interested to see the results.

          October 9, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
  2. Reason Over Religion

    Oh, the irony – the chaplain, a purveyor of crazy thinking, labeling something else "madness"

    October 9, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
  3. humtake

    Sorry, but the Bible specifically says that good Christians follow their leaders in all endeavors. They have no spiritual right to intervene.

    October 9, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • carol

      bullsh!t! I have every gd right to interfere if there holding our government hostage

      October 9, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  4. carol

    people who go to church on saturday are tools of satan!

    October 9, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
  5. Colin

    I guess the Office of Senate Chaplin falls into one of those areas of consti.tutional double-speak, where it is a clear violation of the doctrine of the separation of church and state, but it is tolerated – like “In God We Trust” being on our money and states being able to ban alcohol sales on Sundays.

    October 9, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
    • Doris

      Yes – it was not long after Madison's Establishment Clause went into effect before he realized – oops! He wrote about it:
      (Library of Congress – James Madison Papers – Detached memorandum, ca. 1823.)

      October 9, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
      • Doris

        (and the "oops!" wasn't about his wording in the Establishment Clause, it was about the practice of public funding for chaplains)

        October 9, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
  6. Dyslexic doG


    October 9, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      A Ricky Gervais classic!

      October 9, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
  7. CoachMunro

    Chaplain Black was my division chaplain when I was in Navy bootcamp in 1983. He said something to us way back then about being able to push through obstacles that has stuck with me to this day. He's a great guy.

    October 9, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
  8. drumn4Jesus

    A Seventh-Day Adventist as the Senate chaplain? Interesting ... I thought they were conscientious objectors.

    October 9, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • Jim Boston

      Maybe that's why he was a rear admiral and not a frontal admiral?

      October 9, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
    • conscientious ojector

      Please read about Desmond Doss. He was an SDA who happened to win the Medal of Honor in WW2

      October 9, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • oldvet

      I was a conscientious objector, so I went in as a medic. Still able to serve without inflicting wounds or death on anyone. Served during Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, and Enduring Freedom. I like Mr Black, retired after 20+years service.

      October 9, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
  9. Jim Boston

    A priest who was a former "rear admiral". Oh boy.

    October 9, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      on the ark

      October 9, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
  10. Dyslexic doG

    2 + 2 ≠ 5

    It never has, it doesn't now, and it never will. YOU come along and say that 2 + 2 = 5. I say it does not. You say it does, I say it equals 4. You say it doesn't – I say 2 + 2 ≠ 5. You say it does, I say it doesn't. The argument/war goes on for years. NOW you come along and say "Let's COMPROMISE!"

    Ya know what? 2 + 2 ≠ 5

    And ya know what else? Your "compromise" of 2 + 2 = 4½ doesn't work, either.

    2 + 2 ≠ 5 It doesn't, and I don't have to RESPECT your belief that it does. You're wrong,

    I'm SAYING you're wrong, I'm telling you to your FACE you're wrong, and if you teach it to your children, it should be considered child abuse. You're wrong, you should be shamed for believing it, and I'm willing to do it. I'm calling you an idiot and you are if you believe it.

    2 + 2 ≠ 5

    October 9, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • JSB

      That is what Republicans have been saying. 2+2 =/= 5 no matter how many times Democrats insist that it does.

      October 9, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • Sean

      If only the real world of people and politics actually had rules like you propose. But, the world is a much more complex problem space than a 1st grade math problem.

      October 9, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
    • RedMaple

      What the hell does this have to do with anything!

      October 9, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
  11. patw

    Why doesn't he get God to fix it?

    October 9, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • Brian Victor

      A sensible question. Here is another to consider: What makes us think God should clean up our mess?

      October 9, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
      • Reason Over Religion

        Yeah, so far there's no evidence of any god ever having done anything.

        October 9, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
        • Brian Victor

          I would absolutely agree there no definitive evidence and I think that is for a good reason. For if we were given more we would be judged that much more harshly for not disobeying. Enough ambiguity has been left about God for us to decide if we will follow him without irresistible coercion.

          October 9, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
        • Brian Victor

          whoops, no editing allowed: "meant to say judged for disobeying"

          October 9, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        I see you fail as identifying sarcasm.
        Unlike what your pastor may have spewed at you from the pulpit, the reality is that we are not a fallen species and if your god was as powerful as its believers make it out to be, it would potentially step up to the plate and do some good for a change. Funny how your all powerful being needs minions to promote it and do its dirty work.

        October 9, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
        • Brian Victor

          Not a fail. Made a choice to take it at face value. As for your assertions, well, I've peppered this forum with answers to them by this point. God bless!

          October 9, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          No you've peppered this blog with opinion defending your god which goes right back to the point of your god not being so powerful.

          October 9, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
        • Brian Victor

          Again it comes back to the question why do we assume God is obliged to meet our expectations? And again, suppose he did step in? What, honestly, would you say to Him then? Would you apologize and do everything He told you? If you answer Yes, then it begs the question of why you aren't doing what He says now. If you wouldn't apologize to God-Revealed-In-All-His-Glory then I ask what makes you think you are better than He is? Of course, if you say, "That would never happen" then we'll just have to see who is right after we're dead. Normally I'm not a betting man, but if we both meet oblivion, I'll pay you a million dollars (heck a billion). 😉

          October 9, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          Why do we assume that your god is required for anything? Why the need for god?
          When some-one returns from the dead to state that there is something after we die, I will have reason to accept it, until that point there is no justification.
          The god of the christian bible is a vindictive abusive god. That god is not worthy of respect or tolerance.
          Why would I have need to apologize to a god that demands idolatry (according to the bible) when it remains as evasive as unicorns and leprechauns? Why would there be need to apologize to a god that apparently loves its creation but is willing to see those of questions its existence tortured (questioning is due to how evasive it is...zero evidence for it)? Why apologize to a god that states that LGBT is wrong or child abuse is okay or slavery is okay or oppression is okay or rape is okay? Why tolerate a god that is not something worth tolerating? I don't tend to tolerate immorality and that is exactly what your god is. Read your bible instead of just listening to what is spewed at you from the pulpit, it is the greatest path to disbelief and might actually make you start using the rational part of your brain and heal the part that has been poisoned by the abuse of religion.

          October 9, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
        • Brian Victor

          Point by point: 1 of 8 (Why won't these post?)

          1. Why the need for god? – Most obviously because we cannot save ourselves. We are all going to die. And if we are going to have an afterlife, what judgement do we face for our wrong-doings in this life? We need a savior. An advocate. Thankfully, there is Jesus.

          October 9, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
        • Brian Victor

          my comments aren't getting through. You'll have to email me my gmail account if you want to get the reply. It is brianvictor7.

          October 9, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
    • Sean

      First, I'm an Atheist. Second, you won't find a priest anywhere that will tell you that God will fix it. They will tell you that God may give you the strength and determination to fix it. That is the tenet of all belief systems; including Atheism.

      October 9, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        Atheism does not have any tenets attached nor is it a religion and yes you will find pastors who will say that god will fix it (god's will) or they'll blame it on satan.

        October 9, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
  12. Joe

    it shows how the desparate the DEMS. are to bring in a Chaplin/Admiral/Govt employee to the pity podium.They are GODLESS people .

    October 9, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      what a feeble effort at trolling. LOLOL

      October 9, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Everyone is godless. There are many who think otherwise though.

      October 9, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
      • Dave

        Love your screen name. IMO, it suits your comment, too. Thanks for the laugh.

        October 9, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • Colin

      Odd, one would think if God was on the republicans' side, they would have won this battle. The vote of an omnipotent being would seemingly carry most resolutions!

      October 9, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
      • Brian Victor

        I can see why one would think that. Here is another possible explanation to consider: God pays us the dignity of free-will which, by definition, means we have real consequences for our actions. He loves us so much that he refuses to butt in to our affairs and be a dictator. A day, however, will come when our actions are judged for a loving God cannot be unjust by letting wrongdoing go unreckoned with.

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

          Funny, whenever what a person asks for in prayer occurs, it is because "God answers our prayers," but when the desired events do not transpire, it is because "God gives us freewill and does not intervene."

          The beuaty of having two totally contradictory explanations available is that it makes God effectively immune to disproof.

          I wonder though, why does he never, ever cure amputees........

          October 9, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
      • Brian Victor

        A lot of things seem contradictory only because of our vantage point. Suppose God did come out in all His glory and told us what's what? What would we do then? Would we obey out of love or fear? Seems to me God wants us to love with as little coercion as possible.

        October 9, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • Charlie Rocket

      Joe, I see you are off of your medicaiton again.

      October 9, 2013 at 1:51 pm |


      October 9, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
      • brian

        It appears that the demon toaster is now a permanent fixture on the Belief Blog. Thanks a lot, Antonin.

        October 9, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • old soldier

      Sorry Joe,

      I'm a Dem, a soldier and realistically religious. You tone is incorrect. That being said, it's not my want to regulate your thought, or lack thereof. Please remain in your closed mind. Those walls of yours will close in soon enough...I hope they have enough padding.

      This chaplain's message is spot on though. Both parties are absolutely out of control. We need a colonic of the beltway!

      October 9, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
  13. Dyslexic doG

    and the list goes on ... can you see people? your god either doesn't give a damn about you or he doesn't exist. either way, why worship him?!

    October 9, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Fear and ignorance.

      October 9, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
      • Timodeus

        I have neither, yet I still believe.

        October 9, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
        • Dyslexic doG

          why? because your parents told you god was real? do you still believe in santa and the tooth fairy?

          October 9, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
  14. Colin

    So, a govenrment gridock is madness. However, closing your eyes and thinking silent thoughts ike "pease God, end the government shutdown" and believing that a being that created the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies about 13.7 billion years ago might read your mind and intervene to alter what would otherwise be the course of history to answer your prayer isn't !!!!

    October 9, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      unfortunately your logic doesn't apply to these infantile slave minds. they do not understand.

      October 9, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      It's all of a piece: their prayers that it will end were preceded by those of Republican's on their knees praying that they could bring the country to its knees.

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

      Praying about something is infinitely easier than actually doing something about it. It's a passive way to participate, but they feel the benefit of self-righteousness like they partook in the outcome. "Well I'll pray for them." – is self-centered at heart. Also, this man is upset with the Senate, not the House. The Senate is refusing to negotiate because doing so sets the precedent that a minority party can hold the government hostage to extract concessions. This is not diplomacy it's terrorism, but Commander Jesusfreak doesn't understand how the Government works.

      October 9, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
  15. sly

    God tried to talk sense to the Tea Baggers, but they turned off that channel.

    I think the Good Lord is going to smote all Republicans. Smote em' big guy!

    October 9, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
  16. Dyslexic doG

    if I was powerful enough to create the universe, I wouldn't let wars destroy millions of lives.

    that's the difference between me and your god.

    October 9, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • Brian Victor

      So you would be a dictator? Those historically haven't been the nicest bunch of people. Just making an observation.

      October 9, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • Responding to the Pride

      You would do away with free will? I'll take the ability to choose (and all its horrible consequences) than live in your robot slave world any day.

      October 9, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
      • Brian Victor

        Fully agreed RWP. Nice way of putting it.

        October 9, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  17. Dyslexic doG

    if I was powerful enough to create the universe, I wouldn't let innocent little children get shot and die in pain and fear.

    that's the difference between me and your god.

    October 9, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • Brian Victor

      I applaud your concern for innocent little children. I wish more of us spoke of their concern. I am building a list of reputable charities that try to help children and women recover from lives of abuse, pain and fear. I can recommend Hagar International, Transitions Global, and Ratanak International (all working in Cambodia). Others like Maiti Nepal in India/Nepal also do excellent work. Groups like Freedland Foundation, International Justice Mission, and Nvader help rescue people from Human Trafficking situations. Which orgs have you found that you trust?

      October 9, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
      • Responding to the Pride

        Dog...when are you going to answer this. I would have assumed you would have already provided us with an exhaustive list by now.

        October 9, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
  18. Dyslexic doG

    if I was powerful enough to create the universe, I wouldn't let people suffer from a foolish government shutdown.

    that's the difference between me and your god.

    October 9, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
  19. Dyslexic doG

    all this shows that god doesn't care about anyone or anything

    October 9, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Let's not ask too much of the god of other people's imagining.

      October 9, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • Dave

      God cares about you, friend.

      October 9, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
  20. tallulah13

    What does the Senate janitor say? Or the Senate security guards? Their voices are just as important.

    October 9, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      That is insulting to the janitors and guards. They at least provide a useful service.

      October 9, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
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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.