Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) has pushed back on criticism he received after ending his opening prayer before Congress Sunday with the phrase, “Amen and awoman.” Cleaver, an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church, said his purpose in saying, “awoman,” was to honor the women serving in the 117th Congress.
“I concluded with a lighthearted pun in recognition of the record number of women who will be representing the American people in Congress during this term as well as in recognition of the first female chaplain of the House of Representatives whose service commenced this week,” Cleaver told The Kansas City Star. “I personally find these historic occasions to be blessings from God for which I am grateful.”
There are 144 women serving in the House of Representatives and the Senate this term, surpassing the previous record of 129 women serving in Congress. Rear Adm. Margaret Grun Kibben was recently appointed to be the new House chaplain. Cleaver led the search committee that chose Grun Kibben, and she is the first woman to serve as a chaplain in either the House or the Senate.
Cleaver: ‘Awoman’ Critics Missed Greater Message
When Cleaver opened the 117th Congress Sunday, he concluded his prayer as follows:
May the Lord lift up his light of countenance upon us and give us peace; peace in our families, peace across this land, and dare I ask, oh Lord, peace even in this chamber now and evermore. We ask it in the name of the monotheistic God, Brahma, and god known by many names by many different faiths. Amen and awoman.
While some have expressed their concern about an ordained minister praying to the Hindu god, “Brahma,” the congressman drew widespread criticism from conservatives for his play on the word “amen,” a Hebrew word that means “so be it.” Critics took issue with the fact that “amen” is not a gendered word. Donald Trump, Jr., called Cleaver “insane,” and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) accused the congressman of virtue signaling.
Cleaver said he was taken aback and “deeply disappointed” by the negative reaction to his play on words. The congressman said his detractors were demonstrating one of the very problems he addressed earlier in his prayer when he asked God to help Congress members to avoid tribalism.
“Rather than reflecting on my faithful requests for community healing and reversion from our increasingly tribal tendencies,” said Cleaver, “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. In doing so, they have proven one point of my greater message.”