WASHINGTON (RNS) — The chaplain to the U.S. House of Representatives chastised lawmakers during a prayer on Wednesday (March 10), asking God to “forgive them” for failing to unite around pandemic relief legislation.
Rear Adm. Margaret Grun Kibben, an ordained Presbyterian Church (USA) minister who assumed the role of House chaplain in January, included the criticism in her prayer as she opened the House session Wednesday, when lawmakers prepared for a final vote on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.
“Almighty God, as these lawmakers take their sides on this factional bill before them, we pray your mercy,” she said. “Forgive them, all of them. For when called upon to respond to a once-in-a-century pandemic that has rocked our country, upended its economy and widened the chasm of partisan opinion, they have missed the opportunity to step above the fray and unite to attend to this national crisis.”
Kibben, the first woman to hold her position, added: “In failing to address the acrimony and divisions which have prevailed in this room, the servants you have called to lead this country have contributed to the spread of an even more insidious contagion of bitterness and spite.”
She then made reference to the New Testament’s letter to the Colossians, arguing that “rather than employing the preventive measures of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience,” lawmakers have set that “armor” aside “in favor of argument, disparaging words and divisiveness.”
She recalled as well the Gospel of Mark’s third chapter — often recited as “a house decided against itself cannot stand” — and insisted that Congress now stands “in need of healing and reconciliation.”
Kibben concluded: “Merciful Lord, rebuild this House, that their labor will not be in vain.”
The House did, in fact, vote to approve the pandemic relief bill Wednesday afternoon. But division appeared to remain: The final vote tally fell almost entirely along partisan lines.
Although not even three months into her role as House chaplain, Kibben has drawn attention for her service to lawmakers. She had only been chaplain for three days when rioters broached the Capitol doors in an attempted insurrection, but she relied on her years of training and experience as a chaplain in combat to use the opportunity to serve others.