By Adventist Today News Team, October 7, 2013
The chaplain of the United States Senate is generally expected to say nothing of consequence regarding the governance of the nation; to quietly minister to the personal, spiritual needs of the Senators and their families and staff. In the last week Chaplain Barry C. Black, the first Seventh-day Adventist minister to fill the role, has included some pointed remarks in his daily invocations regarding the current impasse in the Congress and caught the attention of the media for doing so.
An article in the Sunday New York Times (October 6) called his prayers "an epic ministerial scolding." Jeremy Peters, the journalist who wrote the piece interviewed Black in his office in the U.S. Capitol and reported that Black, like many government employees, is currently getting paid, but still discharging his duties, although his Bible classes and weekly prayer breakfasts have been canceled for the duration. The Bible studies usually meet several times each week and have 100 to 125 participants, and the prayer breakfasts regularly attract 20 to 30 of the 100 Senators.
"Save us from this madness," he stated in one invocation on the Senate floor. "We acknowledge our transgressions, our shortcomings, our smugness, our selfishness and our pride. Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable," reported National Public Radio last week.
On Friday he prayed for the Capitol Police who had been involved in a confrontation with a woman who tried to ram officers with her car and was shot dead with a year-old baby in the vehicle, noting that although they were putting their lives on the line to protect the Senators, they were not being paid. Then praying for the Senators, he said, "remove from them that stubborn pride which imagines itself to be above and beyond criticism. Forgive them the blunders they have committed."
Black's words have "cut through as powerful persuasive," the Times stated, in a legislative session "where debate has degenerated into daily name-calling; the Tea Party as a band of nihilists and extortionists and Democrats as socialists who want to force their will on the American people." He has clearly caught the attention of some of the politicians because he was invited on Friday to also give the invocation for the House of Representatives, which has its own chaplain, and Senator Harry Reid, majority leader in the Senate, at one point made reference to "the suggestion in the prayer of Admiral Black."
Black was a Navy chaplain for 30 years after serving as a local pastor in the Adventist denomination, retiring as Chief of Chaplains with the rank of Rear Admiral. He was selected by a Republican leader in the Senate ten years ago to be chaplain, a tradition that dates back to the beginning of the nation.
The role is by definition nonpartisan "and he prefers to leave his political leanings vague," the Times said of Black. "I use a biblical perspective to decide my beliefs about various issues," he explained to the report. "I'm liberal on some and conservative on others, but it's obvious the Bible condemns some things in a very forceful and over way, and I would go along with that condemnation."
Surveys by Adventist scholars have shown in the past that relatively few Adventists in the United States consistently agree with either the conservative or liberal views on politics. Instead, most Adventists have a mixture of views and tend to be equally skeptical of both the left and right. This could be one reason why an Adventist minister is particularly well suited for serving as the chaplain of a legislative body.
Black is also the first African American to serve as chaplain of the Senate. This is also not surprising considering that about a third of the members of the Adventist denomination in the U.S. are from this racial group while it makes up only about 13 percent of the entire American population. The church membership is significantly more ethnically diverse than the national population and no longer has any ethnic majority.
"The situation right now is so extraordinary and so volatile that anything could tip it one way or the other," an Adventist who has worked in politics and lived in Washington DC told Adventist Today. "Who knows, Admiral Black's push might be what brings resolution to the crisis. It really only takes a couple of Senators to get together in a corner and begin to work out something."