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October 17, 2013

Clergy Who Protested Shutdown Say Their Prayers Answered

by Jerome Socolovsky

While lawmakers traded recriminations over the government shutdown and threat of default, the chaplain of the U.S. Senate and other clergy asked God to help Congress see the light.

On the street, and in the halls of Congress they sang and they prayed.

And even inside Congress, where Chaplain Barry Black of the U.S. Senate was blunt.

“It's time for our lawmakers to say, ‘enough is enough.’ Cover our shame with the robe of your righteousness,” he said.

"I think that prayers should not be irrelevant. I think that they should reflect the challenges that the people I serve are facing," Black said.

Black’s trenchant invocations struck a chord with the public. They were even parodied on Saturday Night Live, one of America’s favorite comedy shows.

“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 mouths and whoop’em up and down with a pillowcase full of skittles,” said comedian Kenan Thompson on one episode.

"I thought the content was a bit truculent and irreverent, but funny," said Chaplain Black.

He agrees that he wanted to give voice to the frustration of many Americans over what has been happening in Washington.

"I think that many of them hear in my prayer the reverberations of their concerns," Black said.

Religious leaders of all stripes engaged in protests. This group marched to the offices of key Republicans. They didn’t find the legislators, but one of their aides prayed with Reverend Michael Livingston.  

“We’re not here to shame or embarrass. We’re here to bring hope and courage," he said. "We’re here to pray that this government will open and do the business for which the founding fathers and mothers set it up.”

The shutdown has ended, and a debt deal has been reached, but a group of clergy have come out to remind Congress that their moral obligation continues.

Reverend Ann Tiemeyer believes God answered the prayers of those who read scripture every day during the shutdown here across from the Capitol.

“Well, I would say that God comes together as the people come together and as [the ‘faithful filibuster’] people came here and read, it was a voice of the community, it was the voice of God speaking in this place,” she said.

They hope their prayers on other issues like immigration also go from their lips to God’s ears - or at least to their elected representatives.