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. jj

    Lord, deliver American from the Tea Party miscreants.

    October 9, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • jj


      October 9, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
      • wut

        Too late, you already submitted your prayer. We can deliver exactly one American.

        Sign here.

        October 9, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
  2. GodFreeNow

    If anyone knows "madness", it's a chaplain.

    October 9, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
  3. will j

    Federal workers are being paid. Do not believe they are not being paid. This is a paid vacation for them! Congress has voted to pay them for this vacation!!!!!! Now instead of four or six weeks, they will get eight or more weeks of paid vacation, on top of their wonderful benefits and retirement packages. Federal workers = underworked and overpaid!

    October 9, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
    • sc

      YOU need a vacation, or medication.

      October 9, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
    • pattysboi

      Not true. I have a friend who works for the VA in Oklahoma City, and she is furloughed without pay.

      October 9, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • mark

      That's funny...I'm a Federal employee, still working, but will not be paid for the work I have done until the shutdown is over. So sorry to inform you, will j, that you are very mistaken in your belief that we are being paid at the moment. However, we still must pay all our bills during this time. Think all our creditors just say "hey don't worry about it, just pay us in a few weeks, months, or whenever..." Of course not!

      October 9, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
      • jason

        you should be more responsible with money. Any adult should with a FULL TIME cush job such as yourself should be able to live for a few weeks without needing a paycheck. Learn to live within your means.

        October 9, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
        • joe

          Another ignorant comment from the peanut gallery. As I responded to the moron two posts above you, people in government jobs are... just. like. you. Many work blue collar employees provide manual labor and services that folks rely on every day and a few (like yourself) may take advantage of but have zero appreciation for. Many of these folks make less than 30K per year.

          Pretty tired of the uninformed few spewing vitriol over stuff they have zero knowledge of.

          October 9, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
        • Ken Margo

          Ok jason, tell us great money manager, how do you do it? Share your wisdom or lack of.

          October 9, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
    • joe

      Is your "knowledge" of federal employee benefits from research or a low IQ echo chamber? What fools that hate on government employees fail to realize is that these employees are JUST LIKE THEM. Yes, they are people. American citizens. And in any business you have freeloading bafoons and other folks that do their best to provide value, even in systems that make it difficult to do so.

      I'm a federal employee. I wrote my congressman to recommend not offering back-pay for employees above a certain paygrade. Yes, I recommended not offering backpay for people at my level. However, I care very much about employees in any organization that have trouble paying bills, working paycheck to paycheck at the 20k-30k / year range. And, yes, there are LOTS of folks just like this. It's not their fault that 1) they can't work and 2) they can't officially resign their current position while on furlough.

      Many of us could make more money in the private sector. I have in the past. The benefits were pretty much a wash. In the best private sector job I payed less out of pocket for health care for better benefits than the federal job. For me, it comes down to serving for service and not in the service of some one else's profits. Government *can* provide services for less than the private sector. In some cases it does, in other cases our own processes (and some entrenched moronic views of how stuff gets done) shoot us in the foot.

      The retirement isn't nearly as fancy as you think it is. It used to be, but it's not that fantastic for newer employees. The vacation is a little above par while the pay, for the most part, is a little below par.

      Before you go shooting your mouth off, you should probably do some reading of the facts. Rather than some BS spouted by some self-appointed anti-government mouthpiece.

      October 9, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
  4. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Bet the GOP fires him for telling the truth.

    October 9, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
  5. ken in MO

    Wow! The sickness is here is bone deep! Apparently is ok for a small faction of the minority party to hold the country hostage. The democrats did not do that when 92% of the country was for gun control. They could have done the same "have a tantrum" strategy that the Republicans are using...and by the way, MANY Elected Republican disagree with it but the Speaker is being held hostage by the Teaparty aka American Taliban.

    Woodrow, you can say as many things as you want. I have never said I was a doctor or a principle..but I am an Economist...but I forgot...the truth and facts dont matter...that was spoken by Romney. If you still think that kids dont say the Pledge of Allegence then you are just willfully ignorant. I am done responding to you. You clearly are not interested in truth or facts.

    October 9, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
  6. SDCinNS

    The chaplain shouldn't be making political comments – that's not his job – he's not elected.

    October 9, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      He's enti'tled to say whatever he wants. Freedom of speech applies to him too.

      October 9, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
  7. Name*bon

    End the shutdown already. My husband not getting paid on Saturday is the start of our struggles. Our mortgage needs to get paid, we had to cancel trips even my sons bday party. This is so frutrating. :/

    October 9, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
  8. Bootyfunk

    For those of you who said they wanted me to keep them informed, I just spoke to John Blake (CNN author). He had mentioned me in his “Holy Trollers” article (peacemaker section at the bottom: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/10/05/holy-trollers-how-to-argue-about-religion-online/). I disagreed with some of the things Mr. Blake said in his article, so I wrote to him:
    This is Bootfunk. You mentioned me in your article: 'Holy Trollers: How to argue about religion online.' You have made the mistake of assumption.

    "I actually e-mailed readers like “Bootyfunk” and “KatieRose” to get their perspective, but all I got was silence. Not one commenter wanted to talk on the record for this story." You assume we read your email and decided not to respond. I have a junk email associated with the blog here. It's not that I decided not to respond – I didn't even know you emailed me. That’s bad journalism. You shouldn’t assume answers to questions. I didn’t know you emailed me. After I saw my handle in your article, I went and looked through my junk email address for your email. I couldn’t find it. It was not under “John” “Blake” or “CNN.” But I had thousands of emails in there, so it's likely I just missed it.

    And your choice of words was purposely inflammatory: “all I got was silence. Not one commenter wanted to talk on the record for this story.” How would you have any idea what we wanted since you didn’t successfully make contact with us? Your choice of words said we dodged the hard questioning, that we got your questions but they were just too hard-hitting for us to handle. You are guilty of exactly what you accuse others of. Your slights were subtle and not overt, but they were there. No one is afraid to answer your emails. Perhaps next time be a little more honest in your journalism and say just say you didn't receive a response to an email instead of painting a picture where people are avoiding you.

    I would very much like you to resend your email. I will answer any questions you put before me. I’ve made a new email, just for use on the CNN Belief Blog. Please resend your email to that address and I will be happy to answer you.

    Mr. Blake replied with his phone number. We just spoke on the phone. Gotta say, Mr. Blake was a very nice guy. We had a great conversation. He listened to everything I had to say. I brought up the things that he wrote in the article that bothered me. I brought up that he had said in his article that he’d tried to contact me and “all I got was silence. Not one commenter wanted to talk on the record for this story.” He apologized and agreed he should not have worded it like that.

    I brought up that he suggested atheists get to know a religious person (and that religious people get to know an atheists.) I told him that almost all atheists already know religious people intimately – we were raised by them. Most atheists were raised in a religious household. Most relatives of atheists are religious. Few atheists don’t have a religious friend. It’s the opposite that isn’t usually the case – most religious people don’t know (or realize they know) an atheist. Perhaps that is why many of the religious have so many misconceptions about atheists.

    I told Mr. Blake that we have to respect people – not crazy ideas. I do not have to respect the idea that Christian Science pract.itioners think they can pray appendicitis away. That’s a crazy idea unworthy of serious debate or consideration. Mr. Blake and I agreed that just calling someone “stupid” isn’t going to help a debate, but I told him pointing out willful ignorance, like saying the world is 10K years old, is not the same as calling someone stupid. Many religious people are very smart – but intelligence doesn’t make people immune to religious brainwashing.

    Anyway, I brought up a few other things, as did he. We had a great discussion. Even if Mr. Blake and I disagree on our religious views, I give him big points for contacting me to discuss the article. 🙂

    October 9, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      I'm glad you got some of those points across. I personally found the article to be fair but also "typical" in its attempt to remain balanced and bridge the divide. The part it missed it that the path of an atheist and the path of a religious person are usually heading in opposite directions. The atheists are driving into the future, while religious people are driving into the past. So for atheists that bridge is the ultimate bridge to nowhere.

      A more apt analogy is that atheists "trollers" are in a helicopter escaping to freedom and we're extending a ladder down to rescue people who refuse to be rescued.

      October 9, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
      • gene

        hell is not a place I want to be rescued to....

        October 9, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
        • GodFreeNow

          So your motivation for following your god is fear? Makes sense.

          October 10, 2013 at 12:37 am |
  9. Jeremy White

    The weirdest thing about the "shutdown" is that House Republicans argue that "they just want to negotiate" and that President Obama refuses to change "ObamaCare."

    Then, they cite specific changes that Obama agreed to as regards businesses but STILL maintain that the president "refuses" to negotiate. Huh?

    So-if Obama IS changing ObamaCare, why is there any "need" to shut down the government?

    And, if the president is SO "crazy" that he won't change ObamaCare, how is a govt shutdown going to change THAT?

    October 9, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
    • Akira

      Obama hasn't changed any part of the ACA in regards to this shutdown. He's not going to. And he shouldn't have to. What the HoR wants is legislation through extortion. It's as simple as that.

      October 9, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
  10. CommonSensed

    I wonder if the Senate Chaplain is deemed essential and is still being paid during the shutdown?

    "The Senate Chaplain has a staff that includes a Chief-of-Staff, Director of Communications, and Executive Assistant,[11][12] and works with a volunteer liaison in each Senate office.[2] While the annual salary for the first Senate Chaplains was $500,[13] the salary is now set as a Level IV position in the Executive Schedule, which is $155,500.00 in 2011.[1] The total annual budget for the office, including salaries and expenses, is $415,000 as of 2011.[14][15]"

    Source: Wikipedia

    October 9, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
    • Harald

      Not a bad paycheck for such a useless position.

      October 9, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
      • pattysboi

        It's not a "useless position", Harald.

        October 9, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
    • SDCinNS

      Wikipedia? It must be true!

      October 9, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • Will

      "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."

      Read Much?

      October 9, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
  11. Changry

    Chaplain? For politicians??? How ironic.

    October 9, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • SDCinNS

      Who needs more confession than a politician?

      October 9, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
  12. sly

    Funny, I never hear TeaBillie Ted Cruz suggesting we reduce the budget by cutting military spending or oil subsidies.

    So McDonnel Douglas and Enron get our Trillions to fight wars, but 48 MILLION Americans get denied health care because of Big Insurance.

    Sure ... let's balance the budget. Don't cut Affordable Health Care, cut the Military. Hmmm... haven't heard that from Pork Cruz.

    October 9, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
  13. CommonSensed

    Yet another fabulous mis-placement of an article by CNN. Please put this in the political trash heap.

    October 9, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
  14. Harald

    The chaplain is right to be angry, however, God isn't going to be much of a help.
    The only thing that's needed is for the GOP to get their act together, show their tea party radicals the finger and get back to work.

    October 9, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  15. CNNhatesfreespeech


    October 9, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
    • Observer

      There's always Faux News. Are those dumbbells still claiming that President Obama is financing a Muslim museum?

      October 9, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
      • sly

        Yep. Yesterday Ted 'Pork' Cruz's father called the President of the United States a 'muslim'.

        That's what we need – a Senator who's father is a wacked out Nazi.

        I wish some of these illegal immigrants like Cruz would go back to Mexico. I like most Mexican immigrants, but somehow we need to keep the Nazi's out.

        October 9, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
        • Akira

          Cruz is Cuban, not Mexican. But Cruz is still bs crazy. Notice his resemblance to Joe McCarthy...

          October 9, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
        • sly

          The neo-cons seem to really dislike Mexicans, but they love their wealthy Bautista Death Squad Cubans ... hard to figure out what goes on inside a Tea Billies brain.

          October 9, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
        • Akira

          Wonder if they would put Rafael Cruz through the "birther" garbage if he chooses to make a run for the Presidency?
          Nah, that's for people with a (D), I suppose.

          October 9, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          Born in Canada to a Cuban father (and American mother). The single-payer worked pretty well for him there.

          October 9, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
      • Akira

        You would be surprised at the amount of people who believe that. Or maybe not, depending on how high your threshold for hypberbole is, lol.

        October 9, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
  16. James

    Why do we even have a senate chaplain? Is he on the government payroll? I would hope not.

    October 9, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
    • CNNhatesfreespeech


      October 9, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
    • vr13

      Not only that but why does the chaplain do speeches there? Isn't it a violation of separation between the church and the government? He should stay clear from any speeches around there and from anything that has political or government business.

      October 9, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
      • william wiltfong

        They aren't speeches – they are prayers. From 1789 forward – the Republic has survived. Not sure seperation of church and state is a strong position for you.

        October 9, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
    • CommonSensed

      The Senate Chaplain has a staff that includes a Chief-of-Staff, Director of Communications, and Executive Assistant,[11][12] and works with a volunteer liaison in each Senate office.[2] While the annual salary for the first Senate Chaplains was $500,[13] the salary is now set as a Level IV position in the Executive Schedule, which is $155,500.00 in 2011.[1] The total annual budget for the office, including salaries and expenses, is $415,000 as of 2011.[14][15]

      Source: Wikipedia

      October 9, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  17. CNNhatesfreespeech


    October 9, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
  18. CNNhatesfreespeech


    October 9, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
  19. GIUK

    So as the power of the American Taliban grew in the Senate/House did this chaplain oppose it with word and deed? No, he sat on his a-s and did nothing. Now he speaks out when it's too late.

    October 9, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
    • Anonymous

      It's not really appropriate to refer to the Democrat and GOP leaders as the American Taliban. Though the concept is basically true since the leadership of the Dems and GOP the past 13 years have done more to harm America and destroy its culture than the raggedy-ass regular taliban.

      October 9, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
    • Taliban

      Hey! Don't slam us by comparing us to these criminals. At least we are honest with our insanity; these guys aren't!

      October 9, 2013 at 6:43 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.