A US congressman who caused a stir after finishing a public prayer with the phrase "Amen and a woman" has said that the remark was intended as a light-hearted joke. Many thought Democrat Representative and pastor Emanuel Cleaver was making some sort of divisive political statement on gender when he delivered the bizarre prayer ending at the opening of the 117th Congress, but he insists that it was nothing more than a "pun".
Cleaver said that he believes his prayer to have been "misinterpreted and misconstrued”.
"I am 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," the politician explained to The Kansas City Star.
"I believe prayers to be a personal conversation between El Shaddai and the invocator. With this conversation, in the presence of the 117th House of Representatives, I concluded with a light-hearted 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.”
Last week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed retired Navy Rear Admiral Margaret Grun Kibben as the first female House chaplain in US history.
Cleaver added that people "latched on to the final word of this conversation in an attempt to twist my message to God and demean me personally".
“In doing so," he continued, "they have proven one point of my greater message — that we are all ‘soiled by selfishness, perverted by prejudice and inveigled by ideology.’”
Many criticised Cleaver's prayer as politicising a word which embodies important religious meaning.
Former Democrat Rep Tulsi Gabbard told Fox News that Cleaver's prayer was the "height of hypocrisy for people who claim to be the champions of rights for women to deny the very biological existence of women".
"Their first act as this new Congress could have been to make sure elderly Americans are able to get the Covid vaccine now alongside front-line healthcare workers," she continued. "Instead of doing something that could actually help save people's lives, they are choosing instead to say, 'You can't say, mother or father.'"