Ending his prayer with "Amen and awoman" was supposed to be a "light-hearted pun", says Democratic Congressman Emanuel Cleaver.
Cleaver, Democratic Representative for Missouri, was ridiculed for the gender-inclusive ending to his opening prayer at the 117th Congress on Sunday.
The 76-year-old, who is an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church, was accused of virtue-signalling and misusing a religious term that has nothing to do with gender.
Cleaver has now responded to the criticism by saying that his prayer was intended as a reference to the record number of women entering Congress this term.
"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," he said in a statement to The Kansas City Star newspaper.
"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."
He then suggested that his critics had ideological motives.
"Rather than reflecting on my faithful requests for community healing and reversion from our increasingly tribal tendencies, it appears that some have latched on to the final word of this conversation in an attempt to twist my message to God and demean me personally," he said.
"In doing so, they have proven one point of my greater message — that we are all 'soiled by selfishness, perverted by prejudice and inveigled by ideology.'"