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Senate chaplain's bully pulpit amid US shutdown

The US Capitol is seen in Washington on October 4, 2013 on thre fourth day of a government shutdown
The US Capitol seen in Washington on October 4, 2013, on the fourth day of a government shutdown

God, give us strength to end this shutdown.

Many lawmakers seek divine guidance in the midst of legislative crises, but during the ongoing US government closure the Senate's chaplain is offering a blunt message: work it out, people.

"Have mercy upon us, oh God, and save us from the madness," Senate Chaplain Barry Black said in a daily prayer which doubled as a startling ministerial chiding last week on Day 3 of the federal work stoppage.

As members of the Senate and House of Representatives feud over government funding, Black, a Seventh-day Adventist and retired US Navy rear admiral, is using the centuries-old ritual of the morning invocation to all but upbraid the Senate's 100 members for their inability to compromise.

"We acknowledge our transgressions, our shortcomings, our smugness, our selfishness and our pride," the chaplain said.

"Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable."

In his floor prayer Monday, with Republicans and Democrats locked in stalemate, Black implored: "Forgive us also when we put politics ahead of progress."

Black, 64, has held his post since 2003, when he was appointed by Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

The chaplain's position is one of the few non-partisan jobs in the Senate, but Black, raised in low-income housing in Baltimore, has not hesitated to use a ministerial bully pulpit to offer timely, persuasive calls for compromise.

Last December during acrimonious debate on fiscal hurdles, he asked the Lord to "save us from self-inflicted wounds."

On Friday he reminded that the Capitol Police who protect Congress are not paid during the shutdown and urged lawmakers to "ensure their timely and fair compensation."

Black then offered a gentle scolding over the tone of the Senate debate in recent weeks, in which Democrats have called their Republican rivals "anarchists" and hostage-takers.

"Remove from them that stubborn pride which imagines itself to be above and beyond criticism," Black said.

The chaplain's remarks can carry significant weight for the 100 members of the Senate. His deep baritone is a lone voice of non-partisan reason in a fractious Senate, where he often uses his one minute of uninterrupted prayer as an appeal to good conscience.

Republican Senator Johnny Isakson said Monday that Black's words were worth heeding.

"The message in the prayers of the last seven or eight days in the Senate, and the message to all of us right now is, we need to grasp a little humility and find common ground among consternation," Isakson told the Senate.

Like hundreds of thousands of federal employees, the chaplain is not getting paid during the shutdown, and his Bible study classes for senators and staff have been put on hold.

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