WASHINGTON — The Democratic congressman and former United Methodist minister who ended his prayer opening the 117th Congress with “amen and a woman” says that he was only making a pun to recognize the record number of women serving in the legislative body.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, who led St. James United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Missouri from 1972 to 2009, told reporters that he was also recognizing Rear Adm. Margaret Grun Kibben, the first woman to become chaplain of the House of Representatives.
“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, which noted that 144 women are currently in office.
“I personally find these historic occasions to be blessings from God for which I am grateful,” he stated.
“With that kind of gender and inclusion in the Congress, the most diverse Congress in history, I ended my prayer by saying ‘a woman,'” Cleaver likewise told KCTV5 News.
He said that he is “deeply disappointed that my prayer has been misinterpreted and misconstrued by some to fit a narrative that stokes resentment and greater division among portions of our population.”
“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 remarked.
“In doing so, they have proven one point of my greater message: that we are all ‘soiled by selfishness, perverted by prejudice and inveigled by ideology.’”
“We’ve got 300 some thousand people who have died of COVID and some people are concerned because I used two words — a woman? It’s mind-boggling,” he stated.
As previously reported, Cleaver delivered the prayer on Sunday, citing the supremacy of God and noting that “without His favor and forbearance, we enter this New Year relying dangerously on our own fallible nature.”
“[M]ay we model community healing, control our tribal tendencies, and quicken our spirit that we may feel thy priestly presence even in moments of heightened disagreement,” he stated. “May we so feel Your presence that our service here may not be soiled by any utterances or acts unworthy of this high office.”
“Insert in our spirit a light so bright that we can see ourselves and our politics as we really are: soiled by selfishness, perverted by prejudice, and inveigled by ideology,” Cleaver said.
However, in ending his invocation, Cleaver cited the Hindu and Buddhist god Brahma and suggested that all faiths worship the same god — who is simply known by different names.
“We ask it in the name of the monotheistic God, Brahma, and God known by many names by many different faiths,” he said.
Cleaver concluded his prayer with “amen and a woman.”
Video footage of his invocation generated a flurry of commotion online, with some wondering if Cleaver was attempting to be funny, others using strong words to censure Cleaver, and a few noting that it was not just the “a woman” that posed issue for them but also the citation of Brahma.
The public appears to remain divided over Cleaver’s prayer even after his explanation, with some commenting that “the outrage is pitiful,” others remarking that puns do not belong in prayers, and some opining that his use of “a woman” is what “stoked … division” in the first place because of how it came across.
1 Corinthians 8:5-6 states, “For though there be that are called gods, whether in Heaven or in Earth (as there be gods many and lords many), but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things and we in Him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by Whom are all things and we by Him.”
Isaiah 3:12-13 laments, “As for my people, children are their oppressors and women rule over them. O My people, they which lead thee cause thee to err and destroy the way of thy paths. The Lord standeth up to plead and standeth to judge the people.”