Senate Chaplain’s Calls for a Divine Intervention

Black: "I must be doing something right."
National Journal
Mike Magner
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Mike Magner
Oct. 15, 2013, 6:56 p.m.

After jolt­ing Con­gress with some out­spoken in­voc­a­tions dur­ing the gov­ern­ment shut­down, Sen­ate chap­lain Barry Black of­fi­cially entered the pop­u­lar cul­ture by be­ing por­trayed in a fake news seg­ment on Sat­urday Night Live last week­end.

A former Navy chap­lain who grew up on the mean streets of Bal­timore, Black, 64, caught the at­ten­tion of The New York Times and oth­er news out­lets over the past two weeks when he opened each ses­sion of the Sen­ate with pray­ers that be­came not-so-gentle ad­mon­i­tions.

“In these days that try our souls, strengthen our weak­ness, re­pla­cing cyn­icism with faith and cow­ardice with cour­age,” the chap­lain in­toned on Oct. 1, the first day of the shut­down.

“Have mercy upon us, O God, and save us from the mad­ness,” he prayed two days later. “De­liv­er us from the hy­po­crisy of at­tempt­ing to sound reas­on­able while be­ing un­reas­on­able.”

And last Thursday, Black in­voked, “In­spire them to take a step back from par­tis­an­ship and to take a step for­ward to­ward pat­ri­ot­ism, striv­ing to strengthen and not weak­en this land we love.”

It was by no means the first time that Black, the Sen­ate chap­lain since Ju­ly 2003, has summoned the Almighty to as­sist law­makers. In 2011, when a su­per com­mit­tee bogged down try­ing to reach a com­prom­ise on the fed­er­al budget and debt, Black prayed for its mem­bers:

“Re­move dis­tract­ing pri­or­it­ies from the minds of our sen­at­ors, lead­ing them to fo­cus on the things that really mat­ter. Take away dis­turb­ing doubts, provid­ing them with cer­ti­tude re­gard­ing your provid­en­tial power and pur­pose.”

But this month marks the first time that Black has be­come known bey­ond the world of C-SPAN. On Oct. 6, The New York Times ran a story about the chap­lain un­der the head­line, “Give Us This Day, Our Daily Sen­ate Scold­ing.”

The story was ap­par­ently read by the writers at Sat­urday Night Live, who had act­or Ken­an Thompson por­tray Black in a seg­ment with “Week­end Up­date” host Seth Mey­ers.

Thompson star­ted out by grasp­ing Mey­ers’s hand and clos­ing his eyes. “Let us pray,” said the faux Black. “Lord, give us strength, but es­pe­cially to those in Con­gress, and let them stop be­ing a bunch of blub­ber­ing knuckle­heads that go onto the tele­vi­sion and spout all kinds of non­sense, un­til you want to smack ‘em across the face with a bag full of quar­ters — now that’s change I can be­lieve in.”

Then after be­ing told by Mey­ers that Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, wanted to keep the shut­down go­ing, the chap­lain ex­pressed sur­prise and reached for Mey­ers’s hand again.

“Let us pray,” he said. “Lord, bless and for­give these bray­ing jack­asses, lest they do something that makes people want to pin them on the floor, shove a sweaty sock in their mouth, and then whoop ‘em up and down with a pil­low­case full of Skittles.

“May they find them­selves in a re­stroom stall devoid of toi­let pa­per, with noth­ing to use but a re­ceipt from CVS in their wal­let, a re­ceipt for a small pur­chase that they must then tear in­to small pieces, and while they are fu­tilely blot­ting their be­hinds, grant them grace to real­ize that they are des­troy­ing this great na­tion. This we humbly ask. Amen.”

Fi­nally, when told the House and the pres­id­ent still wer­en’t sup­port­ing a com­prom­ise bill to re­open the gov­ern­ment, the chap­lain ex­claimed, “Lord, send a flood to Wash­ing­ton and just drown every­body!”

In an in­ter­view Monday, the real Black called the SNL seg­ment “my 15 seconds of celebrity” and said it was well re­ceived by fam­ily, friends, and col­leagues.

“I thought that it was a tad bit ir­rev­er­ent but also pretty funny,” he said.

Black said he had no warn­ing that he would be fea­tured on late-night tele­vi­sion — he was not watch­ing SNL, but saw the seg­ment on­line later. He as­sumed the writers must have read about him in The New York Times last week. “A lot of comedi­ans use the news­pa­per as a re­source for get­ting ma­ter­i­al,” he said.

Black said he ap­pre­ci­ated that Thompson didn’t use a clip-on bow tie, but also com­men­ted that the act­or por­tray­ing him should have lowered his voice more.

“The premise and the way it was done was hy­per­bol­ic, and of course I would nev­er call for a flood on the be­loved city of Wash­ing­ton and I would not hit someone up­side the head with coins and per­ceive it as change I could be­lieve in, but it was funny,” Black said. “It’s an hon­or to be spoofed on Sat­urday Night Live. I must be do­ing something right.”

Black also said if asked, he “prob­ably would” ap­pear on the pro­gram. But only “if they would let me be­gin with, “˜Let us pray.’ “

Elahe Izad contributed to this article.
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