Why all the uproar over a prayer at Congress? To open the 117th Congress, practicing Methodist Preacher and Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver ended his prayer with “amen and a-women.” The Twitter world was set ablaze with proper criticism, anger, and bewilderment. Honestly, my first thought was, “The stupidity of the liberals never ceases to amaze me.” For a couple of days, I’ve been watching the reaction of people on social media. Honestly, Heidi and I have been amused at some of the memes of “amen and a-woman.” However, is our reaction to this offensive prayer doing any good? What if God has given us this as an opportunity to teach people why Christians were so offended.
The word “amen” is a Semitic word meaning “truth.” It means “to be true, let it be granted, or confirmed.” It is the Hebrew word, אָמֵ֔ן, a-men. It is derived from the Hebrew root ‘mn meaning “to prove to be firm.” “Amen” can be used in a few ways. First, “Amen” is used as a solemn formula to confirm a covenant or oath. In Deuteronomy 27:15-26, you can see the people affirming the law with a commitment of “Amen” or let it be.
In Isaiah 65:16, you see another way the Hebrew word is used. In this passage, the Hebrew word is used twice as a noun to describe God. Twice God is called the “God of truth.” He is the “God of the ‘amen.’” Finally, in the Old Testament, you will find “Amen” as a response to prayer or used in ancient Israel’s corporate worship. In Psalm 89:52, you read, “Blessed be the Lord forever, Amen and Amen.” In other words, “Blessed be the Lord forever, let it be, or it is so. The word is an agreement to the truth of the prayer or statement. The “Amen” acknowledges the validity of a word spoken. It’s as if we are saying, “I agree,” or “this is true.”
In the New Testament, the Greek word is a transliteration of the Hebrew word, “Amen.” Again, the word is used in various ways. For instance, in Revelation 3:14, it is used as a title for Jesus Christ. Also, in the New Testament, Paul will often use “amen” after a doxology (see Romans 1:25; 9:5; 11:36; 15:33, 16:27; Philippians 4:20, Ephesians 3:21; 1 Timothy 1:17 and 6:16 as examples). Again, at the end of a doxology, we are acknowledging the validity of the word spoken. As a Christian, it is a way we affirm the basis of our praise, adoration, and belief in God.
One of the interesting ways it is used in the New Testament is by Jesus. There are times in the Gospels Jesus is driving a point home to His listeners, and he will use the phrase, “Verily, verily.” In modern translations, He says, “Truly.” For instance, in John 3:3, He says, “Truly, I tell you, unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The word “Truly” is the word “Amen.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “Amen, I tell you …” In Greek, He uses the word “amen” twice as, “Amen Amen, I tell you…” That is why the King James Version uses the phrase “Verily, verily.” The words chosen by Jesus gives His statement authority. It is analogous to the Old Testament messenger formula of “Thus says the Lord.”
Why do we care so much? Why are Christians offended by Cleaver’s use of “amen and a-woman.” For the Christians, “amen” is a word of worship and praise. When we utter the phrase at the end of a prayer, we acknowledge our dependence and reliance upon God. We affirm His provisional care in our lives and are praising the character and nature of God and Jesus Christ. In faith, we say “amen” believing God can do all that is needed for us. It is important to note, “amen” has absolutely no gender connotation to it at all. It is a word of faith and praise to our God.
By the way, Cleaver’s closing words were not the only offensive words. His last sentence was, “We ask it in the name of the monotheistic god, Brahma, and god known by many names by many different faiths.” It is my prayer you understand why his entire sentence is so offensive. We pray to the one true God, and Yahweh is His name. Amen and amen. If someone asks you why the uproar, try telling them how important the word “amen’ is to us. God may be using this as a teaching moment.