Controversy and partisanship on Capitol Hill may not be something new, but Senate Chaplin Barry C. Black says the election of President Donald Trump has taken things to another level.
“There were people on Capitol Hill and away from Capitol Hill who were almost traumatized by the experience,” he told theGrio.com in an interview. “I’ve had to do counseling [both inside and outside] the Senate. Obviously, our nation was polarized, and obviously, a significant number of African-Americans did not vote for [President Trump.]”
As Senate chaplain, Black is the spiritual counsel for lawmakers and serves as pastor to more than 7,000 people who make up the Senate side on the Hill. He works around the clock, making himself available for counsel when lawmakers are torn or grappling with making decisions for the American voters who put them in office.
Black describes his work as a “blessing.”
“I have an opportunity [to sit in] the front row of human history,” Black explains. “That’s very exciting. The people you are serving in an ecclesiastical way are lawmakers whom you’ll see on television when you come home.”
Getting to this position took some navigating for Black. He grew up in a single-parent household in Baltimore, where he says, statistically, the odds were against him to succeed. But Black, 68, says he always knew he had a calling to bring people together through ministry.
“My mother was baptized while she was pregnant with me and prayed a special prayer that the anointing of the Holy Spirit would be on her unborn child.”
Black made history in June, 2003, when he become the first African-American Senate Chaplain — advising lawmakers on various decisions and dilemmas and gaining their trust along the way.
Before he would become the first black president, then-Senator Barack Obama sought out Black for counsel. The question he asked Black was staggering.
“He actually came to me and asked me if I believed God wanted him to run for the presidency,” Black said. “And we talked about it, and we prayed, and I asked God to give him a dream. I basically made the case if God would give Pharaoh of Nebuchadnezzar a dream, why wouldn’t he give a Christian senator on his knees a dream? And God did indeed give him the dream.”
Black wouldn’t elaborate more on the details of his exchange with Obama, but the moment has stuck with him to this day.
“I never expected to see an African-American president in my lifetime, let alone have him as a personal friend,” Black said.
Eight years later, Donald Trump’s presidency has created a different type of feeling in Washington, Black said.
“[I] have the opportunity of reframing what is going on from a biblical perspective to bring them some ability to comprehend that God is still in charge,” Black said. “That is a great blessing for me.”
As a part of his job, Black strays away from being political. He says his counsel is rooted in his Christian faith and scripture. He presides over a weekly prayer breakfast where lawmakers from both sides of the aisle join together and hold hands for opening and closing prayer.
It’s a weekly gathering Black recently joked should be televised on CSPAN.
“The nature of the legislative process is adversarial, ” Black said. “The Senators are away from home, and they just can’t run to their pastors, so I am their pastor away from home.”
For those concerned about the state of American politics, Black has this message:
“I would tell them to remember Romans 8:28, which states: in everything God is working for the good of those who love him. Just trust that promise that nothing is going to happen that God can not transform into a positive.”
Ashantai Hathaway is a reporter at theGrio. Keep up with her on Twitter @ashantaih83