Was Rep. Cleaver right to add "awomen" to House prayer?


Fact Box

  • Emanuel Cleaver serves as a representative of Missouri’s 5th Congressional District. He serves in the House Committee on Financial Services, Subcommittee on Houwing, Community Development, among others. 
  • On Sunday, January 3, Rep. Cleaver prayed over the 117th Congress with a unique ending statement of “Amen and awomen.” 
  • Many criticized his genderization of the non-gendered word ‘amen’ as wrong.
  • He defended his statement saying, the term was meant to honor the “record number of women serving in the new Congress.” There are currently a total of 144 women in the House and Senate; the previous high was 129.
  • Amen is derived from Hebrew āmēn, meaning “truth,” but also “so be it.”

Stephanie (No)

In an unbelievable attempt to be inclusively politically correct, Democratic Missouri Representative Emanuel Cleaver caused a stir by concluding a House prayer with 'amen and awoman' (a made-up term). Firstly, 'amen' is not a gendered word, as it is a Latin and Hebrew translation for the phrase 'so be it.' Even if gender neutrality was the goal, the term did not need altering. While seeking to be inclusive may be considered admirable, there is obviously a limit to this goal. Pennsylvania Rep. Reschenthaler called out the ridiculous rhetoric, stating that 'Unfortunately, facts are irrelevant to progressives.' There is dangerous truth to this seeing as necessary gendered terms, including 'mother' and 'father,' are currently under scrutiny by the same congresspeople citing the need for erasing common gender distinctions on elusive 'inclusion.' 

Further, uttering 'awoman' is unlikely to impact gender issues positively, as the story gained almost solely negative media attention. There are social reasons why Cleaver's new terminology is problematic. Coming up with gibberish words such as 'awoman' may confuse those attempting to follow politics, or even professional politicians debating in chambers. Likewise, rituals such as opening and closing prayers value upheld traditions, so it is highly inappropriate to mock such an importantly associated word, nor is such a trend likely to catch on with those who practice them. As a minister himself, Cleaver should have considered this.

Cleaver's response was even more laughable, and perhaps an attempt to backpedal, in claiming that his remark 'was intended to recognize the record number of women serving in the new Congress.' While his intentions were fine, attempting to slip the praise into a prayer by way of a 'pun' obviously did not resonate positively with many.

Tyler (Yes)

House Democrat Emanuel Cleaver's joke during the opening prayer of Congress was misinterpreted by many as an attempt to gender the word 'amen.' After digging into the situation's context, Cleaver's odd wording appears to be a bit more reasonable. Cleaver claimed that by adding 'awomen' to his prayer, he intended for it to come off as a of the prayer. It was meant to recognize the record number of women in Congress this year. As the 117th Congress was appointed, a record 144 women were selected this year. While many may not have been aware of this, Cleaver was simply aiming to acknowledge the accomplished impressive feat. 

According to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Cleaver led a group of lawmakers in a search to appoint the first female chaplain to the House of Representatives. On December 31st, Pelosi appointed Admiral Margaret Grun Kibben as House chaplain. This is another example of recent advances in politics by women that Cleaver may have been referring to. 

Although the word 'amen' isn't tied to any gender, the ending 'men' pairs with 'women.' Cleaver's choice to alter the prayer's commonly used ending words may bring alarm to those with traditional biblical values, but he clarified his intentions were not malicious in any way. While Cleaver's joke may have been misinterpreted, it was not meant to do any harm.

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