In late June, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist selected Rear Admiral Barry Black as the legislative body's 62nd chaplain to replace Lloyd John Ogilvie, a Presbyterian minister who retired in March. Formerly chief of chaplains for the U.S. Navy, Black, 54, is the first African American and first Seventh-day Adventist to serve in this position. Black began his Senate duties July 7.
Ken Walker interviewed him.
Do you see yourself as a groundbreaking figure?
I see myself foremost as a servant of God and a steward of the mystery of Christ. So in that sense I don't see myself as a groundbreaker. I see the baton being handed to me by Dr. Ogilvie. I haven't given much thought to ethnicity. For most of my professional career, I have been the first African American in various positions.
What do you hope to accomplish?
First, to build on Dr. Ogilvie's ministry. There are a lot of programs in place, such as Bible studies for senators, family members, and staffers, that I will continue. I hope to learn where the needs are. I already see some things I can do, such as using computer technology for devotional outreach.
You've been selected as someone who can minister to people of widely differing faiths under tense circumstances. What are the non-negotiable essentials of your faith?
I basically give a fervent amen to every aspect of the Apostles' Creed. Those are pretty non-negotiable as far as I'm concerned. I don't see ministry in this pluralistic setting as [forcing me to] a point where I would say with Martin Luther, "Here I stand." I was a professional chaplain in a pluralistic setting of religious diversity for 27 years. This milieu is very similar.
How do you stand for Christ in a pluralistic environment?
The apostle Paul talks about how you are a living epistle, and the only epistle some people will ever read is the epistle they see in your life. So as Edgar Guest puts it, "I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day." Being above reproach, hospitable, sober, monogamous … I think that kind of life enables your light to shine.
What difference do you think you can make in an institution in which partisanship is so rife?
I think true religion unifies. This is an opportunity for a pastor to be a force for unity. The nature of the Senate, with the procedure of debating issues, tends to do some polarizing. But when you have enough opportunities for people on both sides of the aisle to sit down and get to know one another in a nonpartisan setting, you move people toward unity.
What's the spiritual temperature in the Senate?
I've attended two prayer breakfasts with just senators present. I've been impressed with the number who profess faith, the theological sophistication in inductive Bible studies, and the testimonies of senators whom I have encountered. Many Americans would be pleasantly surprised at how many people of [Christian] faith—the proverbial saints in Caesar's household—are in the Senate.
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The U.S. Senate has a history and description of the office of the chaplain.
Other articles on Black's appointment are available from The Washington Times, The Adventist Review, Adventist News Network, and the National Association of Evangelicals. The Navy Newstand also offers video.
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