The Washington Post

Senate Chaplain puts debt debate into fervent context

Senate Chaplain Barry Black has been invoking prayers with ever-increasing intensity for the chamber to reach an agreement on the debt ceiling. (Drew Angerer/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

As the Senate has mired itself in bickering and deadlock this week, there has been at least one voice reflecting the panic rising in the country.

It’s been the deep, solemn intonations of the Senate’s chaplain, retired rear Adm. Barry C. Black.

A longtime Navy chaplain and Seventh-Day Adventist minister, Black opens Senate sessions with a brief prayer. Over the past few days — as the country slid closer to a national default — those prayers seem to have revealed Black as one of the most worried people in the chamber.

Back on July 20, Black was speaking only in hopeful generalities. In the prayer that began that session, he asked the Almighty to “give to our lawmakers the wisdom to know the role they should play, in keeping freedom’s holy light bright.”

But as the days passed by, it became apparent that the Senate was not showing any more wisdom than it had previously. By last Tuesday, Black’s request indicated that his senators might need more divine help.

“Keep them,” he prayed, “from the pit of disunity and discord. And empower them to build bridges of cooperation. Give them the courage and humility to do what is right, knowing that you are the only constituent they absolutely must please.”

But lawmakers only descended further into that pit of disunity.

So Black’s prayers began to warn of the consequences if the Senate did not straighten up and act right.

“Lord,” he prayed on Wednesday, “as our nation faces the potentially catastrophic, inspire our lawmakers to seek your counsel which will stand forever.”

Still nothing. The two sides remained far apart, and the “potentially catastrophic” crept closer.

On Friday, Black dialed it up another notch.

“Lord, help them to comprehend the global repercussions of some poor decisions, and the irreversibility of some tragic consequences,” he prayed. “Quicken their ears to hear. Their eyes to see. Their hearts to believe and their wills to obey you. Before...”

And here, Black slowed down his usual stately cadence even further, in case people weren’t getting it.

“ is. too late.”

Nothing. On Saturday, Black seemed to be more specific with God: “We need you on Capitol Hill,” he said.

And his warnings to the lawmakers became even more dire. He spoke of “when night comes” — a reference to a verse from the Bible’s Book of John, where night is a metaphor for death.

“Deliver our lawmakers from the paralysis of analysis, when constructive and prompt action is desperately needed,” he asked. “Faced with potentially disastrous consequences, give the members of this body the wisdom to work while it is day. For the night comes, when no one can work.”

Finally, on Sunday morning, Black gave a prayer that might have fit for the crew of a sinking ship.

“The waters are coming in upon us,” Black said. “We are weary from the struggle, tempted to throw in the towel. But quitting isn’t an option.”

After he spoke, the Senate said the Pledge of Allegiance. And then Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) got up to speak, hopefully, of the possibility of a deal to end the crisis.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The Democrats debated Thursday night. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Chris Cillizza on the Democratic debate...
On Clinton: She poked a series of holes in Sanders's health-care proposal and broadly cast him as someone who talks a big game but simply can't hope to achieve his goals.

On Sanders: If the challenge was to show that he could be a candidate for people other than those who already love him, he didn't make much progress toward that goal. But he did come across as more well-versed on foreign policy than in debates past.
The PBS debate in 3 minutes
We are in vigorous agreement here.
Hillary Clinton, during the PBS Democratic debate, a night in which she and Sanders shared many of the same positions on issues
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the polls as he faces rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz heading into the S.C. GOP primary on Feb. 20.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
Fact Checker
Trump’s claim that his border wall would cost $8 billion
The billionaire's claim is highly dubious. Based on the costs of the Israeli security barrier (which is mostly fence) and the cost of the relatively simple fence already along the U.S.-Mexico border, an $8 billion price tag is simply not credible.
Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio
Upcoming debates
Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.