Missouri Congressman Emanuel Cleaver caused quite the stir Sunday after he ended his two-minute prayer — the first congressional prayer of the new session — with the words “we ask it in the name of the monotheistic god, Brahma, and god known by many names and by many different faiths. Amen and awoman.”
The three monotheistic religions are Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Brahma is a Hindu deity.
Cleaver is a United Methodist pastor and a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives who is beginning his seventh term.
Most of the backlash Cleaver has received is over his use of “amen and awoman” to close the prayer.
The Rev. Weldon Bares, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Lake Charles, said he does not know the purpose behind Cleaver ending his prayer as he did.
“ ‘Amen’ is the phrase that we always use at the end of the prayer,” Bares said. “It comes from the Hebrew meaning, ‘so be it’ or ‘truly.’ Not only Christians use it to end prayers; Jews and Muslims also say ‘amen,’ a very appropriate way of ending a prayer.”
Bares said Cleaver’s prayer is “between him and God.”
“I know personally that I would not personally do that,” Bares said.
Baruch “Barry” Weinstein, Temple Sinai’s resident rabbi, said “amen” comes from the Hebrew word “ahmanyn.”
“It is from the word meaning to believe or to have faith in,” Weinstein said. “That Hebrew word is ‘ehmunah,’ the infinitive of to believe or to have faith in.”
He said the word in English has no gender relation tied to it.
“It is simply a derivative of the Hebrew, which is based on having faith or in a sense to have trust in or ‘is true’ and can be believed in,” he said.
Cleaver acted in the capacity of guest chaplain when he delivered the prayer, which did not sit well with U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana.
“Amen/Awoman?! Really? This is ignorance combined with political correctness gone crazy,” Cassidy said on his Facebook page. “Ridiculous.”
Cleaver’s prayer comes after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rules Committee Chairman James P. McGovern introduced a new code of conduct ahead of the opening of the 117th Congress to “honour all gender identities”, and eliminate gendered words like “mother,” “father,” “he,” and “she” in favour of gender-neutral terms.
Retired McNeese State University English professor and “grammarian” Delma Porter said she has given Cleaver’s closing some thought.
“I think his intentions were based on a desire to be inclusive,” she said. “However, as near as I can tell, the word is not gender marked so the ‘woman’ designation is meaningless.”
She said she did not take his “faux pax” as “offensive or blasphemous.”
Cleaver later told the Kansas City Star he was “surprised by the backlash caused by his pun at the end of his opening prayer on the first day of the new Congress.”
He said his reference was intended to “recognize the record number of women serving in the new Congress.”
“Rather than reflecting on my faithful requests for community healing and reversion from our increasingly tribal tendencies, it appears that some have latched on to the final word of this conversation in an attempt to twist my message to God and demean me personally,” Cleaver said.