Rev. Blossom Matthews is a United Methodist elder serving in the New Mexico Conference, where she serves on conference staff and co-pastors with her husband, Rev. Nick Matthews. Blossom served on the Board of Ordained Ministry and as the Chair of the Order of Elders for eight years in the NWTX Conference.
She originally posted the following on Facebook, and it is reposted here with permission.
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Quite a few clergy colleagues are sharing articles detailing Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s opening prayer for the 117th Congress. Given that this is more about theology than politics, I feel comfortable speaking to it.
First, I will note that Emanuel Cleaver is an ordained United Methodist minister (as am I), as well as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. I do not personally know Rev. Cleaver, but I expect that he is a kind man whom I would be honored to call a friend. Because he is an ordained United Methodist minister, however, I will speak to his spiritual and theological leadership demonstrated in prayer, not to his personhood or character.
The aspect of this prayer which has caught most people’s attention is that Cleaver ended the prayer with “Amen and A-woman.” Most everyone knows that Amen is not a gendered term (it means “so be it” or “this is true” in Hebrew). Cleaver later clarified that he intended to recognize the record number of women serving in Congress, as well as to celebrate the first female Chaplain of the House of Representatives. This is indeed noteworthy, and I trust that it was Cleaver’s intention to celebrate these women’s accomplishments. However, it seems that Cleaver, in trying to be clever, actually drew attention away from God and focused the attention on his own wit. This is not the role of prayer.
Interestingly, this story is coming out after a committee proposed changes in house rules to “honour all gender identities,” and eliminate gendered words like “mother,” “father,” “he,” and “she” in favour of gender-neutral terms.” In a strange way, Cleaver’s attempt to honor the achievements of women actually contradicts the focus on *removing* gendered terminology.
Let’s talk about that for a moment. When I was a little girl, I remember hearing the suggestion that gender-neutral terms should be used for words such as “chairman” or “fireman.” I thought it was silly at the time, but once I grew up, I realized that I didn’t want to be referred to as a man! I doubt that I will ever be a firefighter, but I have served as a chairperson! There are times when gender neutral language is appropriate.
However, this does not mean that we need to neuter the concept of gender altogether. Gender is a gift of God. Both men and women are created in God’s image (Btw, if you were raised with oppressive gender stereotypes, check out Christian egalitarianism for a breath of fresh air.)
To dismiss the concept of gender altogether stirs up a theological hornet’s nest. I understand that some will disagree with me here. I’m ok with that, and hope that we can all be respectful towards one another in our differences. But I would encourage those who are Christian to consider what Scripture says about the creation of men and women. Part of honoring God’s creation means that we honor gender.
Still, what concerns me most about the prayer in Congress is that Cleaver prayed “in the name of the monotheistic god Brahma.” In a very odd choice of words, he chose to reference a Hindu God. Cleaver could have offered a neutral closing, but he instead prayed to a Hindu God.
United Methodist theology is Christian. We are not universalists or pluralists. We love and respect people who believe differently, but we do not compromise centuries of Christian theology in order to do so.
United Methodist theology does not teach that there are many gods or many ways to salvation. United Methodist theology is centered in Jesus the Christ. Read John Wesley’s sermons. Read our Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith in the UM Book of Discipline.
Dear friends, I realize that this post is (sadly) controversial. But I will stand for the truth that, as a Christian, I worship the God described in the Old and New Testaments, and I truly believe that Jesus is Lord. And as an ordained United Methodist clergy, this is what I teach and preach.