On January 3 2021, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver led a Daily Congressional Prayer, drawing intense scrutiny from certain circles for purportedly concluding with “amen and awomen” (or “awoman”) in lieu of the standard “amen”:
"Amen and Awoman" is the dumbest thing ever uttered in the US capitol.
We are ruled by idiots.
— thebradfordfile (@thebradfordfile) January 4, 2021
When you say a prayer, you now have to say amen and awoman pic.twitter.com/0cStIiIrZs
— The Daily Wire (@realDailyWire) January 3, 2021
Readers were quick to point out that “amen” has a specific meaning unrelated to gender — and as such, unnecessarily making it “inclusive” was stupid:
Dems open congress with a prayer that ends “amen and awoman.” Amen is a Latin word that means “truly” or “so be it.” Awoman is a nonsense word that means nothing. Dems find a way to make everything stupid and nonsensical. Utter clowns, all of them.
— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) January 3, 2021
In the above tweet, right-wing blogger Matt Walsh asserted that amen “is a Latin word that means ‘truly’ or ‘so be it,'” and that “awoman is a nonsense word that means nothing.” Walsh embedded video of Rep. Cleaver’s prayer and concluding remarks.
On January 3 2020, Rep. Cleaver tweeted a clip his recitation of the Daily Congressional Prayer:
I was honored to deliver the opening prayer for the 117th Congress. May God bless each and every Representative with the courage and wisdom to defend our democracy and the liberties we all hold so dearly. https://t.co/z3vkWOk7lc
— Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (@repcleaver) January 3, 2021
His generalized statement in that tweet made no reference to novel usage of “awoman” or “awomen”:
I was honored to deliver the opening prayer for the 117th Congress. May God bless each and every Representative with the courage and wisdom to defend our democracy and the liberties we all hold so dearly.
C-SPAN also provided a longer version of the session on January 3 2021.
Who is Rep. Emanuel Cleaver?
Critiques of Cleaver’s prayer often — as seen in Walsh’s tweet — included an explanation for the purported etymology of “amen.”
According to a biography on cleaver.house.gov, Cleaver is a seven-term representative from the state of Missouri. He also achieved a master’s degree in Divinity (M.Div.) from a theological school and served as a Methodist pastor for decades.
It seems likely that at some point in his theological study or during his nearly four decades as a pastor, he came across the etymology of the word “amen” — assuming that he had not discounted Cleaver’s academic and professional background, but reporting on the controversy typically framed Cleaver’s prayer as ending in “amen and awomen” or “amen and awoman” regardless.
Is ‘Amen’ is Latin for ‘So Be It’ or ‘Truly’?
Amen, expression of agreement, confirmation, or desire used in worship by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The basic meaning of the Semitic root from which it is derived is “firm,” “fixed,” or “sure,” and the related Hebrew verb also means “to be reliable” and “to be trusted.” The Greek Old Testament usually translates amen as “so be it”; in the English Bible it has frequently been rendered as “verily,” or “truly.”
C-SPAN’s Transcript of Cleaver: ‘Amen and Awoman’?
A brief description for C-SPAN’s video read:
House Session, Part 1
Following the opening prayer offered by Representative Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) and Pledge of Allegiance, the clerk of the House announced receipt of certificates of election from the states, and directed a call of the House by electronic vote. The vote was taken in groups of 72 members each, in observance of coronavirus pandemic safety precautions.
Each portion of the video included a transcript, and at the bottom of the sections, a note explained:
*This transcript was compiled from uncorrected Closed Captioning.
Cleaver’s complete prayer on January 3 2021 was transcribed as follows in its entirety (errors intact):
Let us pray.
Eternal god, we bow before your thrown [sic] of grace as we leave behind the politically and socially clamorous year of 2020. We gather now in this consequential chamber to inaugurate another chapter in our roller coaster representative government. Control our tribal tendencies and quicken our spirits. That we may feel thy priestley [sic] presence even in moments of heightened disagreement. 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 invagueled by ideology. Now may the god who create [sic] the world and everything in it bless us and keep us. May the lord make his face to shine upon us and be gracious unto us. May the lord lift up the light of his countnence [sic] upon us and give us peace. Peace in our family, peace across this land and dare i ask, o lord, peace even in this chamber. Now and ever more.
We ask it in the name of the monotheistic god and the god known by many names and faiths. A man and a woman — amen and awoman. Cows [sic] the representatives elect —
Consequently, Congress recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Notably, the transcript suggested that Cleaver said “the monotheistic god and the god known by many names and faiths … a man and a woman,” after which he either repeated the phrase, or ended with “amen and awomen.” Audio on all of the clips was not expressly clear — and neither was the manner in which Cleaver concluded the prayer.
Social media users and bloggers leaped on Rep. Cleaver for purportedly changing “amen” to “amen and awomen” or “amen and awoman,” but no ancillary information or context from the entirety of Cleaver’s remarks suggested he intended to replace “amen.” Cleaver obtained a master’s degree in divinity, and spent nearly four decades as a pastor — presumably knowing the meaning of “amen” due to his background in the Methodist church. Finally, the context of Cleaver’s final sentence held that “the monotheistic god … known by many names and faiths” was “a man and a woman,” and it was just as likely that Cleaver’s comments were misconstrued. However, Cleaver has not yet responded to the controversy as of January 4 2021.