Adventists Play Important Role
in Obama Inaugural Events
U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black prays, Pastor Wintley Phipps sings
eventh-day Adventists played important, visible roles in the inaugural festivities and early celebrations for President Barack Obama, the first African-American elected as chief executive of the United States.
Moments after President Obama’s inaugural address, Seventh-day Adventist pastor and U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black gave the invocation at the inaugural luncheon held in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall on January 20. The next morning, Wintley Phipps, a noted soloist and Seventh-day Adventist pastor, sang at the Inaugural Prayer Service at Washington National Cathedral.
Black’s two-minute, 148-word prayer was broadcast live.
“Lord of all nations, Whose Kingdom is above all earthly kingdom, and Who judges all lesser sovereignties,” Black began, “look with favor upon President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, and members of the Cabinet. Empower them with the wisdom, courage and strength needed for our times. And protect them from any moral arrogance that obstructs the making of a world of justice, peace and righteousness.”
He continued, “Infuse them with a passion to act in ways pleasing to You. Lord, preserve their families in health and strength by Your mercy and power and may they find Your grace sufficient for every need. We ask also that You would shower Your blessings upon the American people. Give us the wisdom to support our new President with our prayers, patience, and perseverance.”
Black concluded, “Bless now this luncheon and the nourishment we receive from Your bounty. We pray in Your Sovereign name, Amen.”
Before the ceremonies, Black noted that an inaugural prayer isn't something to take a red pen to, he said. Unlike speeches, prayers are not "another act in the drama," said Black, former chief of chaplains for the U.S. Navy and a retired Naval Rear Admiral. Rather, he said, prayers ought to be reflective and deeply sincere. "I would be very concerned if someone or some committee was standing by to scrutinize what someone had passionately felt compelled to say to God on behalf of the people for a particular occasion," Black said.
Black said those on Capitol Hill have heard him pray enough -- he opens every session of the Senate with a prayer -- to be assured he won't say anything "out in left field."
Black said some might argue that prayer during state events, such as inaugurations, is little more than a formality or tradition -- George Washington initiated the first such prayer after he was sworn in by a chaplain who used the Book of Common Prayer. Others have gone so far as to claim that an inaugural prayer is unconstitutional and violates the separation of church and state.
However, Black said the country's need for prayer is as crucial as ever. "The Framers, despite their commitment to keep church and state separate, recognized the need for a spiritual dimension of government." Black's position itself was established in 1789, at the suggestion of Framers such as Benjamin Franklin, who Black said is credited with saying that it was "highly unlikely" for a nation to rise without God's assistance if a "sparrow cannot fall without [His] notice."
Black noted as many as 35 of the country's 100 senators -- from both sides of the aisle -- regularly attend weekly prayer breakfasts and Bible studies. Among those who attended, when they were each Senators, were Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden, both of whom Black said are "very spiritual individuals."
Black said he's had the opportunity to interact on a regular basis with Obama, whom he considers a friend. The then-Senator from Illinois provided an endorsement printed on the back cover of Black's 2006 book, From the Hood to the Hill.
The chaplain, whose office overlooks the National Mall, said the "awe-inspiring" view contributes to the "sense of wonder" he experiences each time he enters the nation's Capitol.
"I have the opportunity to interact with some of the brightest people I know of, and they're interested in my opinions on the ethical dimensions of the issues they're debating in the chamber. That privilege -- that responsibility -- is sobering, and very, very exciting," Black said.
Another Seventh-day Adventist who was featured during the early hours of the Obama administration was Wintley Phipps, a soloist at past inaugurals who sang “Amazing Grace” at the Washington National Cathedral, site of the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service on January 21. Phipps was the only solist.
“What was particularly interesting was that the Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton and [former] President Clinton were present,” Phipps told Adventist Review in a telephone interview. “A number of members of the Cabinet and Sen. John McCain [President Obama’s 2008 rival] and Sen. Joe Lieberman were also there. It was a very powerful service. It’s an awesome place to sing at.”
Phipps, whose U.S. Dream Academy works with children who need help succeeding in challenging environments, also reflected on what the new President will mean to a particular segment of American society.
“We have no idea of the impact that President Obama’s ascendency is going to have on the hearts and in the minds of young African-American children. It is beyond anything we can really calculate or imagine,” he said..
-- by AR staff; Chaplain Black was interviewed by Elizabeth Lechleitner, Adventist News Network.