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. oh please Berry!

    This guy is a fool. He was my Chief of Chaplains and his policies damaged the Navy Chaplain Corps for years. He's about a paycheck not the lord.

    October 9, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
  2. cwiz

    THIS... IS... SPARTA !!!
    (sorry, couldn't resist)

    October 9, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
  3. Daniel Karsh ( Post as matey)

    Why did you delete my comment? Does the truth hurt?

    October 9, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
  4. RB

    Isn't it odd that this evangical is preaching shame at the Senate, but there is no mention directly of him doing the same to the House of Representatives! This clearly suggests political involvement! I'm also rather curious about the 207 years of a religious leader in Congress. Has there ever been a religious leader (paid position) that wasn't an evangelical? How about a Catholic Priest, or a Jewish rabbi, or a Hindi, Buddist, or Muslim?? Why in the course of 207 years have we not brought any form of DIVERSITY to this paid career role in Congress???

    October 9, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
    • JC

      We shouldn't be paying for a chaplain at all.

      October 9, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
    • Dave

      He's not the Chaplain of the House, he is Chaplain of the Senate, right?

      October 9, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
      • RB

        Actually, the report implies that he is the chaplain of Congress, which is both Senate and House of Representatives. Still no comments from anyone about the one denominational religious training that seems to be required for this position. Also one response stated that it was the democrats that want to mix religion and government with this man. I thought it said that he was appointed by a senator from Tennessee? I don't know of many democratic senators from that state.

        October 9, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • Anonymous

      Chaplains aren't religious leaders. They are advisors. And yes, chaplains can be non-Christian. That's not the point though because they are not religious leaders dude. They are advisors meant to know about all religions. An atheist can even be a chaplain if he knows enough about religions (all religions) and spirituality/spiritual concepts.

      Also the reason he is preaching in front of the Senate is cause he is the Senate chaplain, though from the picture it looks like some House members are in attendance. Not too sure if the House has its own chaplain, that be a good question for CNN Belief Blog to answer, maybe update into their article.

      As for paying them, I guess a true christian chaplain would theoretically be cool with not getting paid, but some of these other religions don't get down like that lol.

      October 9, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
      • No

        We do not have any athiest chaplains in any of the Chaplain Corps. Not one.

        October 9, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
        • Anonymous

          Maybe no in America, but in some Western nations they allow atheists in as chaplains. That's not the point though dammit. The point is that the chaplain isn't a religious leader, he is just an advisor and a scholar who knows a lot about all religions, all morality, and all spirituality (in theory) to dispense useful advice and help counsel anyone from troops to powerful figures like Senators. My point is people should stop freaking out thinking this guy is like some Rasputin figure and realize he isn't the priest to the senate, he is merely a spiritual advisor whose advice can be either regarded or disregarded.

          October 9, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
      • No No nooooo

        "I guess a true christian chaplain would theoretically be cool with not getting paid" Not even close, we have a saying in the Chaplain Corps, "once you pick up CDR your not a Chaplain anymore" Ive seen Chaplains sell there on mothers soul and stab the other chaplains in the back just to get a better FITREP to get a promotion. Officer pay changes your morals.

        October 9, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
        • Anonymous

          Lol then they are not a true christian. Like I said, some of these religions don't get down with the whole no pay thing lol. Not that I blame them! If I had to be the spiritual advisor to some of the darkest humans on Earth (Senators) I would probably expect a hefty paycheck too!

          October 9, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
    • Dingle Derries

      Seventh-day Adventist are not Evangelical Christians, sorry to burst your bubble.

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

      I don't think 7th Adventist are evangelicals.

      October 9, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • linus

      The article clearly identifies him as "Senate Chaplain Barry Black." The House has it's own chaplain. That said, I agree that his words would be more useful to members of the House, assuming any of them would listen.

      October 9, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
    • MrShabazz

      He speaks to the Senate because he is the Senate Chaplain. The House of Representatives has their own chaplain.

      October 9, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
  5. rad666

    'One Nation Under God ..."

    What a hoot.

    October 9, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
    • tarura

      With a Senate chaplain like this I would demand separation of church from state.

      October 9, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  6. Anonymous

    Okay, after reading the comments here so far, many people are curious why the chaplain is being paid tax money and is allowed to advise the Congress. This is a fair enough inquiry. First you have to understand one thing. A chaplain is NOT a priest. Secondly, I admit, I am not too sure what the senate chaplain's exact job is, but seeing as this fellow in particular was also a military chaplain, it is probably fair to assume his duties are fairly the same.

    Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article about Military Chaplains for you all to understand the concept better:

    "A military chaplain ministers to military personnel and, in most cases, their families and civilians working for the military. In some cases they will also work with local civilians within a military area of operations.

    "Although the term chaplain originally had Christian roots, it is generally used today in military organizations to describe all professionals specially trained to serve any spiritual need, regardless of religious affiliation. In addition to offering pastoral care to individuals, and supporting their religious rights and needs, military chaplains may also advise the executive on issues of religion, ethics, morale and morals. They may also liaise with local religious leaders in an effort to understand the role of religion as both a factor in hostility and war and as a force for reconciliation and peace.

    Military chaplains normally represent a religion or faith group but work with military personnel of all faiths and none. Some countries, like the Netherlands and Belgium, also employ humanist chaplains who offer a non-religious approach to chaplain support."

    (To paraphrase into the common man's tongue; the idea of a chaplain originally had Christian conotations, but more recently chaplains are expected to know about all religions/belief systems (even atheism) and are meant to know a great deal about spirituality, not just Christianity. You can think of them more as advisors than priests. If a person in the military, or in this case the Congress, regardless of their religion or non-religion were to have a question regarding any religious concept (even non-Christian concepts) they would theoretically be able to ask the chaplain. Not saying its an ideal system, but that's just how it be yo.)

    October 9, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Chaplains are non-denominational.
      They effectively do the same job as Counsellor Troi did in Star Trek.

      October 9, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
      • Anonymous

        Lol that's a good example, however I'm not a trekky, but I get your point even without having seen star trek lol.

        Kind of an interesting thing is that even atheists or as they are more lightly termed in the article, "humanists", can be chaplains in some advanced Western countries. So a chaplain is not nessecarily a person that personally believes in religion. They just know a lot about all religions/spirituality and can offer advice.

        October 9, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
    • RichG


      October 9, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • uhhmmm

      My last Chaplain was a Priest so I think he and the other priest in the Navy would disagree with you.

      October 9, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
      • RB

        I'm not talking about a priest in the navy. I'm talking about a non-evangelical in one of the most powerful places in America, the Congress! Lets look at how long and hard a battle it took to bring a catholic president into office and what eventually happened to him! This puritan role in government must be diversified 0r lets just return to the dark ages of America's past!

        October 9, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
      • Anonymous

        A priest can be a chaplain

        However not every chaplain is a priest.

        Though it is a curious fact that many catholic priests, protestant ministers, and religious leaders of other faiths in America get their start as military chaplains or working for military chaplains.

        October 9, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  7. Byteme

    In ancient Sparta, important matters were decided by who shouted loudest.....we are not in ancient Sparta!

    October 9, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
  8. RedMaple

    Oh my gosh! Listen to the comments here! Do we now have to bicker about a chaplain's prayer in the Senate? What is WRONG with this picture?!?! Who cares what denomination he is from! This guy is trying to knock some moral sense into the senselessness of our lawmakers! And some of the comments here partisanly pick him apart! ENOUGH!!!

    October 9, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
    • Brian Victor

      Amen! The House (er Senate) is divided against itself and cannot stand long this way. Anyone have 100 copies of Dale Carnigie's "How To Win Friends And Influence People?" Perhaps that tome would do some good if our lawmakers read it.

      October 9, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
    • doubt that.

      He's the last man to give moral guidence. When he was the Chief of Chaplains his mismangement hurt the (already damaged) Navy Chaplain Corps. He's a fool. The chaplains and RP's used his picture for darts.

      October 9, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
  9. adibese

    Sorry... why is a religious person being PAID by tax money? Is there no separation between church and state?

    October 9, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • Ahab the Arab

      the first thought I had also....they need to sing some 1960's songs..Michael Rowed His Boat Ashore

      October 9, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • jhonny Ausemkock

      How embarrassing. You obviously haven't the slightest clue what the "separation of Church and State" means. It's really inexcusable considering how often the subject has been discussed over the past 25 years or so. To review: It means that the US Government cannot appoint an official religion for the United States and make laws accordingly. It does not, by any means, even suggest that the Senate can't pay a person to counsel them on religious matters.

      October 9, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
      • Bill Deacon

        Thank you for saying that so I didn't have to.

        October 9, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • Doc1

      Same reason why military chaplains get paid you moron.

      October 9, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
  10. Patrick Henry

    Isn't it funny how the Democrats are glad to mix church and state when it favors their position? If the Chaplain was supporting the shutdown, the Democrats would be crying bloody murder that a chaplain has no business getting involved with politics.

    October 9, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
  11. Lionly Lamb

    End the prohibition of Marijuana for it being but a 'seed-bearing herb'...


    October 9, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • RedMaple

      What does this have to do with the article we are discussing?

      October 9, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
      • One Tired Mother

        Not sure, but maybe if everyone involved had a little toke, they might come to a settlement quicker!!

        October 9, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
  12. Anonymous

    Not too big a fan of the 7th day adventists. However, if it takes one of the kooks to threaten these scuzzy politicians into re-opening the government and saving the American economy, then so be it.

    October 9, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  13. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    I like the idea of party whips in the houses of Congress. Much more effective, in principle, than chaplains. Perhaps the whips should work for the chaplains.

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

      Well the Party Whips have decided to keep the government shutdown and cannot come to a compromise. So I would argue that they are about as equally effective as chaplains. That is to say, not at all effective.

      October 9, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • RC

      Perhaps the chaplains should USE the whips on Congress. Might be easier to keep them in line.

      October 10, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
  14. thoughts

    If he can, please have him pray that our government stops creating even more problems for the people of this great nation to have to survive through, and for the world to have to suffer from. Please Lord, help our goverment to see the error and unhealthy consequences of its ways before it is too late and there is no turning back from the horror they are purportedly hell bent on creating for al people of this world. Thank you and god bless all and keep you in light and goodness through all time and forever more. Amen and amen. Amen.

    October 9, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
  15. Mighty

    Republicans are aligned with the Devil.

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

      Scalia for certain. I'm sure there are others.

      October 9, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...

      There is no devil, but there is a whole lot of stupid, and on that front the republicans seem to have a monopoly.

      October 9, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
      • sly

        "No devil"?

        Then who is driving all those pigs off the cliffs? Answer that if you are so smart. Justice Scalia is an expert on pig-cliffing, and if he says the devil is driving pigs off cliffs, then so it is true.

        October 9, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
    • Ahab the Arab

      I can Nancy Pelosi playing her three 6's...maybe she'll draw another 6..witch's brew

      October 9, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
      • bam

        and boehner the drunk will certainly drink that up if he can find it thru his teary wah wah eyes

        October 9, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  16. CNNhatesfreespeech


    October 9, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
    • Doris

      are you having trouble with the word filter? on the word constitution, perhaps?

      put a hyphen between the naughty word, as in const-itution.

      October 9, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      The CNN control geeks are active today. I've had to change address three times.

      October 9, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
  17. CNNhatesfreespeech


    October 9, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  18. CNNhatesfreespeech


    October 9, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
  19. Doc Vestibule

    The 7th Day Adventist Church is founded on the idea that you can rationalize away anything, including the failed basic prophecy of your religion.
    Black is the perfect shaman for the Senate.

    October 9, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • are122

      Please give source. You aren't even close but it might be amusing.

      October 9, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
      • Doc Vestibule

        Since you asked...
        The 7th Day Adventists are an offshoot of the MIllerite movement from the early 1800s.
        William Miller publically and explicitly proclaimed that the Second Coming of Christ was going to happen in the 1840s.
        A few years before the prophesied date, the movement picked up steam and thousands of people started getting psyched up for Christ's return.
        Alas, the magic day came and went just like any other.
        The failed prophecy became known as "The Great Disappointment".
        Now, once people have invested themselves in such a thing, it can be hard to admit failure – and so a great campaign of rationalization took place and the remaining MIillerites splintered into a few different sects, each with their own reasoning for what actually happened on that faithful day.
        The 7th Day Adventists posit that Miller got the timing right, but the event wrong.
        Christ wasn't coming back to Earth on that day, but rather going to a super-special, super holy sanctuary up in Heaven.
        While they learned their lesson about setting any exact dates and times, they're still convinced that the 2nd Coming is going to happen any day now....

        October 9, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
      • Doc Vestibule

        Am I still "not even close" ?
        I'd appreciate if you could let me know specifically how.

        October 9, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
  20. Cristeros for Satan

    "Save us from the madness," the chaplain said last week. “Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable.”
    Well Chap, crap in one hand and pray in the other...lets see what happens

    October 9, 2013 at 2:11 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.