African-American congressional staffers and representatives stage a walkout on the steps of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Dec. 11, 2014 to protest the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Senate Chaplain Barry Black, center, leads the group in prayer. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Chaplain Black gave us a new piece of our oral history

(RNS) Our country has many voices, and at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast one rose to an epic volume. Senate Chaplain Barry Black, a retired Navy rear admiral, gave us a new piece of our oral history, recognized by a thunderous crowd. With his Darius Rucker voice, Martin Luther King Jr. prose, G.K. Chesterton depth and Billy Graham anointing, he provoked our minds and prodded our emotions.

He said he wanted to talk about “making your voice heard in heaven.” He challenged us to pray for all people, and do so “out of a sense of need,” “with intimacy,” and “for those who govern.” When he finished, we could join him in stating that we “feel the palpable presence of God in this place.”

He reflected on his life’s intersection with 1 Peter 1:18-19. At 10 years of age he had the logical awareness to realize that “the value of an object is based upon the price someone is willing to pay.” And that Jesus had paid the ultimate price for him. And as his life unfolded, everywhere he went he kept running into “that man.”

Producer Mark Burnett, certainly one of the world’s best judges of giftedness, immediately classified it as “one of the most impassioned keynotes I’ve ever heard.” The crowd stirred with agreement.

President Donald Trump relayed high praise for the chaplain with a preface that might become a moniker for our times. “I don’t know if you’re a Democrat or a Republican, but you’re appointed for another year.” Then realizing the chaplain was appointed by the Senate, amid obvious bipartisan approval he noted that Chaplain Black had job security either way.

Barry Black addressing the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast. C-SPAN video

My mind went back to last year’s keynote remarks from Roma Downey about her journey through war-torn Northern Ireland. A holy hush enveloped the crowd as she recalled a bullet ripping through her coat, and that the bridge through her home city of Derry divided sides. And then, invoking a picturesque moral imperative, she recalled her return trip after the fighting ended — and the need to build bridges and keep existing ones open.

As Black finished, my mind also rested on Eric Metaxas’ 2012 keynote from the same stage. From his Veggie Tales humor and his reflections on his years of searching at Yale, to his gripping Dietrich Bonhoeffer challenges, he had taken the crowd on an unexpected and provocative ride.

But this morning prompted even deeper reflections. My mind dwelled on the event in 1851 when Sojourner Truth interrupted an otherwise routine gathering, and left an indelible impression on the national conscience with “Ain’t I a Woman?” The moderator, Frances Dana Barker Gage, reflected:

"Amid roars of applause, she returned to her corner leaving more than one of us with streaming eyes, and hearts beating with gratitude. She had taken us up in her strong arms and carried us safely over the slough of difficulty turning the whole tide in our favor. I have never in my life seen anything like the magical influence that subdued the mobbish spirit of the day, and turned the sneers and jeers of an excited crowd into notes of respect and admiration. Hundreds rushed up to shake hands with her.”

Chaplain Black indeed gave us one of the most impassioned keynotes of modern history, and the final four minutes, like the end of Dr. King’s speech, will be replayed millions of times in the coming decades.

I often sit and reread about Truth, King, Mandela, Churchill, Shusaku Endo, C.S. Lewis, Presidents Reagan and Clinton, and others who have defined our earthly journey.

And during these “mobbish” days with “streaming eyes” and a heart “beating with gratitude,” I still don’t know if Chaplain Black is a Democrat or a Republican, but concur that we need to be more concerned with our voices reaching heaven.

(Jerry Pattengale is an author, biblical scholar and professor at Indiana Wesleyan University. He serves on the board of Religion News Service)


  1. Luv the picture of the flock of sheeple with the eyes closed. Too appropriate. Open yer eyes folks; ain’t no Jeebus there and never was.

  2. “Producer Mark Burnett, certainly one of the world’s best judges of giftedness.”

    Let’s see, Producers Harvey Weinstein, Francis Ford Coppola, Stephen Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Scott Rudin . . . Mark Burnett? Sorry, but the guy who picked Donald to star in the Apprentice does not belong on this list, though I’ll grant you, Shark Tank was truly brilliant.

  3. So, please enlighten:

    Exactly how do you know that there “ain’t no Jeebus there and never was”?

  4. All you can do is prove that the bible is generally historically and scientifically inaccurate and inconsistent. You can reasonably infer that it is man-made and the deity it describes doesn’t exist.

  5. That’s a good, concise explanation Jim. Thanks for providing it.

    On my side of the fence, I smile and say, “He’s right, that’s exactly how they’re playing the game over at the secular universities.
    That’s exactly what they are doing at the skeptic and evolutionist websites, and that is what many members of the media are supporting.”

    And so your paragraph becomes a jolting, unexpected reminder of my life’s purpose.

    My life purpose is to go to the public marketplace of ideas, set up a vendor booth, and spend the rest of my life supporting and defending the proposition that the Bible is “generally, historically, and scientically” accurate, consistent, reliable, and trustworthy. And to show that God is real, Jesus is real.

    I apologize to you, for going off on a personal tangent like this. But that’s what comes to mind.

    What about you, by the way? You’ve likely read or studied a bit of Christian apologetics. You’ve seen some examples of how the historical and doctrinal claims of the Bible can be strongly, ratonally defended and supported.

    So why don’t you, umm, consider defecting from your current side of the fence? Come use your rational skills for God instead, yes?

  6. You are welcome to proudly espouse your views. I’ve been on your side of the fence during my teenage years. Like in the Bible parable I was the rocky soil and the seed failed to thrive. It was my thirst for knowledge that compelled me to study the bible, history and archaeology and that, along with my love of science, made me an atheist.

  7. Understood, but you better be watching your back, all the same. You say “the seed failed to thrive”, but more than one atheist has said the same thing. Then later a Christian comes to them, casually asks “Hey didja see the basketball game last night?”, nd the atheist suddenly breaks down crying and asking to pray the Sinner’s Prayer. Go figure!

    And a guy like you, who has already devoured tons of Bible, history, archaeology, and science…shoot, you got enough seedlings in your soul to fill a greenhouse. God is just splashing water and Ortho Max on your spirit every day, and He’s just sitting back to see which bulb gets to you first.

    So honestly? You may as well stop stalling and get it over with, sincerely ask Christ to save or re-claim your soul right now, and tell Him you will trust in Him and serve Him for life. God is always hunting down you science types anyway. (Just ask Dr. George Washington Carver.)

    But in the meantime, you do write some interesting posts and I enjoy reading them.

  8. You would do well to do much more serious pondering of why Jim rejects your (idiotic) god stories, given how much you acknowledge that he knows about them. Some critical thinking, done correctly and honestly, will get you past your god delusion.

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