This week’s Rapid Theology episode of The Backroads Baptist was inspired by the now infamous “A-woman” prayer by Rep. Cleaver.
Read through Proverbs 26 and you might think you’ve found a mistake in the printing of your copy, or even what at first certainly appears to be a contradiction; listen:
(4) Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
(5) Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.
Proverbs chapter 26, verses four and five.
So, verse 4 says to “Answer not a fool according to his folly,” while verse 5 says to “Answer a fool according to his folly.” What we have is not an error or conflicting directives, but general advice for how to answer the fool: sometimes, it is best not to respond in a like manner, and sometimes it is good to answer “according to … folly.” We must be wise and exercise discernment in determining what course of action is called for in a given situation. In a unique situation, I believe we can approach with both answers: pointing out foolishness with absurdity and pointing out foolishness with reason. In my humble opinion, we recently experienced such a case with Representative Emanuel Cleaver: one aspect can be critiqued with jest; another more serious aspect must be addressed with seriousness.
United States Representative Cleaver led a prayer to open the 117th U.S. Congress. I’m sure you’ve heard by now that he closed it with “Amen and a-woman,” which is folly that is absolutely deserving of the memes and tweets pointing out its ridiculousness. The word “Amen” has nothing to do with the male human after all, but is a word we get from Hebrew which means, “so be it.” It’s used to express agreement or confirmation. Representative Cleaver used the consecutive presence of the letters “m,” “e,” and “n” to attempt to draw out and correct an instance of inequality. But his absurd prayer closing has been justly met with humor.
That was absolutely not–or at least shouldn’t be–the most notable part of the prayer. What should get the attention of those in Christ is his taking our Lord’s name in vain. His attempt to pray to the One, True God of the Bible and include other gods by praying QUOTE “in the name of the monotheistic god, Brahma, and god known by many names by many different faiths” ENDQUOTE is sinful, and is the type of folly we must not answer in kind. In the Old Testament, one’s name referred to one’s character or reputation, and of course the Third Commandment makes it clear that God requires we treat his name with honor, with reverence, with awe, with respect. Therefore, we must not be afraid to publicly address those who impugn or profane God’s honor, God’s name. The Bible is replete with the idea of God moving on his people’s behalf and his saints giving him glory for the sake of his name.
Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake;
do not dishonor your glorious throne;
remember and do not break your covenant with us. – Jeremiah 14:21
O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive.
O Lord, pay attention and act.
Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name. – Daniel 9:19
For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. – 1 Samuel 12:22
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake. – Psalm 23:3
Though I do not believe the Representative prayed to the I Am, our Almighty God, I do believe he intended to. His prayer was and will be heard by many who will consider this lumping of generic and pagan deities together to be perfectly fine. Many will find it acceptable to do likewise and will do likewise. That must be publicly corrected. This is not to say we are gatekeepers who dissect and discern every statement about God and pounce mercilessly on any notion remotely heterodox, but we must strive to see God honored and revered for the sake of his name.
Does God need us to defend him? No, of course not! But does God typically use human beings as the means to the end of his purpose for our good and his glory? Absolutely. Now do I think when you speak up privately or publicly—be it from the pulpit, during family worship, around your dinner table, on social media, in a group text—do I think that will effect a change in the person who dishonored God? No, but it will likely help someone think through it. It might correct a brother or sister confused or affected by dishonorable words or actions.
Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
that he might make known his mighty power. – Psalm 106:8