Senate chaplain Barry C. Black, who urged lawmakers after the Nashville school shooting to “move beyond thoughts and prayers,” told CBS News that he felt compelled to call on them that day because “there comes a time when action is required.”
“I have been hearing, you have my thoughts and prayers, and that is valid for any person again who has been told, pray without ceasing,” Black told Scott MacFarlane on “Face the Nation.” “But I also know that there comes a time when action is required.”
The chaplain opened the legislative session on March 28 with a prayer for lawmakers to “move beyond thoughts and prayers” after the Nashville shooting, in which three children and three adults were killed at The Covenant School, a private Christian school.
When asked why he felt it necessary to make a statement after this shooting, the chaplain said this particular shooting especially moved him because it took place in a church school.
“That does not mean that every child is not precious. That does not mean that every form of education is valid,” Black said. “It just was the tipping point for me to see nine year olds dying in a place that should have been a city of refuge, in a place that was preparing them not just for time, but for eternity.”
The chaplain is an elected officer by the U.S. Senate, and his duties include opening daily sessions with a prayer, providing spiritual counseling to members and staff, and hosting a weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast. A chaplain has been elected since the first Congress opened in 1789.
When asked if gridlock was going to persist on the passage of more gun control legislation, Black called himself a “perennial optimist.”
“You know, when a house is on fire, you don’t fight with one another. It’s time to pull together,” Black said .
Black, who has served as the Senate chaplain since 2003, spoke to the personal relationship he has with many of the senators. When asked if he receives any criticism from any senators about his prayer after Nashville, Black said his relationship with senators is more like “pastor to member,” and he hears feedback through Bible study.
“For two decades, I have been teaching a Bible study for the senators every week. I had one senator who missed in 20 years, one Bible study,” he said. “Okay, so they’re there. So we talk, it’s not a soliloquy, ‘To be or not to be, that is the question.’ It is a dialogue. And, and so we share ideas, and we talk about issues. So I get feedback in that way.”
According to Black, one of these issues is mass shootings. Last year, the Gun Violence Archive recorded 647 mass shootings in the United States. The Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit organization which collects data on gun violence through police reports, news coverage, and open sources, defines a mass shooting as an incident with a minimum of four victims either injured or killed.
“These are challenging times in which people are hurting,” Black said. “And they are hoping that somehow government can help alleviate their pain. I should not have to walk as the chaplain of the Senate, or as a citizen, into a Walmart wondering as I’m looking around whether or not an AR-15 is going to start spraying bullets and you know, what do I do? The ‘Our Father’ or the ‘Hail Mary’?”
When asked if he has noticed a deterioration in the way politicians talk to each other over the last 20 years, Black said that the country has more extremism and competition in America today.
“We have extremism, compounding extremism. We have dueling echo chambers. We have people who are inspired to do mass shootings in a competitive way,” Black said. “This is insanity.”
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