Government shutdowns are typically a time when the spotlight shines on lawmakers and presidents alike as they argue over the direction of the country. But Washington’s current impasse has also shed the light on an unlikely figure: the Senate chaplain.
Chaplain Barry Black may not be used to making headlines, but since deadlock in Washington caused the government to shut down, his prayers have taken on new meaning for Americans watching their leaders stumble from crisis to crisis.
"Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable," Black said during a recent morning prayer in the Senate. Other prayers have asked that lawmakers be “removed from their stubborn pride,” and to be forgiven for their wrongdoings.
While Black’s opening prayers have become surprisingly confrontational, they are decidedly non-partisan. His goal isn’t to take sides in the fight over the budget or the Affordable Care Act; rather, he sees himself as a necessary nuisance, one that challenges lawmakers to look beyond political squabbling and do the right thing.
“I'm not judging and I'm not scolding, actually,” Black said during a Yahoo “Power Players” segment. “My responsibility as a pastor is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. I need to be a gadfly of sorts. … I think that I should reflect the challenges of the environment that I'm working in.”
In the midst of politicians arguing and assigning blame, his words come like a breath of fresh air from Washington, but how do senators themselves feel about Black’s prayers? Doesn’t he ruffle their feathers at all?
“I've had senators say to me frequently, ‘Keep the prayer pressure on’,” Black said. “One senator came to me and said, ‘Chaplain, I hope our lawmakers are listening, because I've been following your prayers very, very closely … and they are really making a difference in my reflections’."
As the shutdown stretches beyond its second week, new reports indicate that Democrats and Republicans are moving closer towards reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling. Until they do, though, you can be sure that Black will continue reminding them of their duty, and urging them to do what’s best for the country.