2021 is already off to a very silly start. There was the whole Bean Dad thing, which you probably heard about. President Donald Trump tried to get officials in Georgia to “find” votes, while his election lawyer Lin Wood is tweeting about something called the Lizard Squad. And then there’s Democratic Representative Emanuel Cleaver, who was invited to open the 117th Congress in prayer on Sunday, and closed with “amen and a woman.”
Gender equality is a big priority for the Democratic Party in 2021, with freshly re-elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introducing new rules that replace gendered pronouns and terms with more inclusive language. That’s all well and good, but critics rolled their eyes at Cleaver’s prayer since despite the phonetic similarity, “amen” doesn’t have any gendered connotation in the original Hebrew.
In the wake of Cleaver’s prayer, a number of critics jumped at the chance to dunk and ended up getting a little tripped up in their shoelaces. Fox News Representative Guy Reschenthaler tweeted “amen is Latin for ‘so be it,'” — a claim repeated by Fox News, which is also inaccurate. The word “amen” (or אָמֵן) is Hebrew for something like “so be it” or “verily,” and is used throughout the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. It’s commonly used to close prayer in Judaism, Christianity and Islam all over the world and, of course, sometimes just gets thrown around in casual conversation as a way of saying “right on.”
Cleaver is a United Methodist pastor with an M.Div from Kansas’ St. Paul School of Theology. In other words, he probably knows “amen” means. Whether his unconventional prayer ending was meant as a basic dad joke, an earnest strike at the patriarchy or just a way to signal some Democratic aims in the New Year, it started a firestorm that has clearly muddied the waters more than cleared them.