Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, representative for Missouri’s 5th congressional district, is an ordained pastor in the United Methodist denomination, and as such was called upon to serve as a guest chaplain for the U.S. House of Representatives for its opening session on January 3, 2020. Congressional chaplains are called upon to open sessions of congress with a prayer, and this is what Cleaver did As Cleaver ended his prayer, he concluded with the traditional “Amen,” followed by, “and awoman.” Cleaver later explained that he thought he was being humorous and clever, making a play on words to indicate that there were women present in the congressional assembly.
“Amen,” is not actually an English word by origin. It is a Hebrew word meaning, “truth,” or, “certainty,” and it was incorporated by Greek and then Latin speaking Jews and Christians into those languages as a word of agreement, meaning, “It is so.” It has likewise been transliterated into the English tongue. It has no bearing to gender and nothing to do with the patriarchy. Quite a few church-going people of various stripes found Cleaver’s attempt at humor less than funny and the reader is left to their own judgment as to his success.
However, as one listens to the rest of Cleaver’s prayer, the focus by many on the last three words of the prayer is, to borrow a phrase, “burying the lede.”
Cleaver’s full closing of his prayer was as follows: “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.”
To focus on the silly use of the “awoman,” and miss that Cleaver, representing the Christian faith, chose to pray according to the authority and power of Brahma, a Hindu god, is to swallow a camel while straining at a gnat, so to speak. The casual replacement of Christ as the authority by which we pray, the elevation of the Hindu pantheon, and the acceptance of Hinduism and other such faiths as being pleasing to God are all, to be blunt, rank heresies which deny basic tenets of what it must mean to be a Christian. If Cleaver had prayed before his fellows as a representative of the Hindu faith, his prayer would be unworthy of discussion. But, as he purports to be a follower of Christ, and as the prayer was widely reported on, we feel somewhat compelled to offer a comment.
Biblically speaking, it is not necessary to vocally end a prayer in any particular way, or with any particular set of words. By tradition, it has become common to say, “We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen,” or words to that effect, but this is a mere acknowledgment of what we have done, not a proscribed and necessary formula for the empowerment of any given prayer. To pray in Jesus name is to acknowledge His authority, and to say, in essence, “we are praying because Jesus told us to.” The “amen,” at the end of the prayer is to say that we think the things we have said are true. Strictly speaking, it is would often be more proper, in most cases to let others say, “amen,” to our prayers, signifying their agreement. What is not proper for a Christian is to pray in the name of Brahma, as if Brahma was the authority who had told us we should pray, or as if Brahma was the savior whose commands we live under.
Jesus said concerning Himself, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no man comes to the Father except through Me (John 14:6).” To claim that other faiths, such as Hinduism, lead one into truth and life is to deny the authority and salvation of Christ. The First Amendment of the United
States gives all men the legal right to deny Christ in this way. The words of Christ give no such license to His followers.
The apostles and the early church understood this. To be Christians they had to renounce every other name which men might call upon as gods. Peter proclaimed to the Jews concerning Christ, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12; ESV).” The apostle Paul wrote, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).” Elsewhere he notes that the resurrected Jesus is “ far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (Ephesians 1:21; ESV),” and “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Colossians 2:9-11; ESV).”
To replace Jesus with Brahma, to teach that any name or authority will do as well as another when it comes to faith… these things are unacceptable in any who truly understand who Jesus is and what He has brought to man.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.