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David Otten: The problem with attempting a politically correct prayer

 
By David Otten
Contributing writer
updated: 1/13/2021 12:15 PM

Greetings from Faith Lutheran Church in Eldorado.

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver's prayer that opened the 117th session of Congress this past week received a lot of attention because of this line, "We ask it in the name of the monotheistic God, Brahma, and god known by many names by many different faiths. Amen and awoman."

The majority of the prayer is a good prayer. The vocabulary is around the 8th grade level though a few words like "inveigled" may be outside what the average American would use on a daily basis. He used the word "tribalism" in a negative way, which may have offended Native Americans. The tone was stately, contrite and relevant for those assembled. Rep. Cleaver is wishing that people would pay attention to the rest of the prayer but when there is a fly in the soup, it is hard to enjoy the soup as the intruder swims around in your bowl.

Public prayer, especially in a politically correct charged secular environment is not easy. The pressure to be inclusive, that is to include all and not hurt anyone's feelings, is intense.

In the last line of his prayer, he was attempting to include all people's idea of god. He could have done this with merely saying "god" instead he said, "monotheistic God, Brahma, and god known by many names." This is a problem for those who understand that the name communicates who God is. An Orthodox Jew would never substitute Jesus for Jehovah/Lord. He really said names don't matter, Jesus, Jehovah, Brahma: it is all the same god.

If you're a universalist, that is not a big deal, but if your belief is steeped in the Bible, there is a problem. That would mean the Baals, the ancient pagan gods of Egypt, Babylon and so forth are just other names for Yahweh. Both the Old and New Testament are clear on honoring any other god but Yahweh and properly using His name.

Now "Amen and awoman." Rep. Cleaver is totally aware that "Amen" has nothing to do with gender and "awoman" is word he made up. He admitted it was to be a pun and defends his prayer as such. The text of his prayer, as I mentioned, is a very stately and formal prayer. The idea of throwing in a pun, though not a federal crime, is poor form at best and can be viewed as flippant and insulting.

Second, this came across to me attempting to be hyper-inclusive, as if women have always felt excluded from a prayer because of the word "amen."

Rep. Cleaver seems to be more about pleasing man than honoring the true God who made heaven and earth and send his Son to earth to redeem mankind who he never mentioned. He mentions Brahma but not Jesus. If he were Hindu, I would understand that, but he is United Methodist.

As I support religious freedom, I would never say Rep. Cleaver couldn't pray what He prayed, but I don't believe we need to compromise our Christian beliefs for political correctness.

David Otten is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Eldorado.