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The Religions Of Congress

January 16, 2023 Frontpage No Comments

By DEACON MIKE MANNO

The Pew Research Center has released its findings of the religious makeup of the 118th Congress which took office at the beginning of this month. Among its findings is that the number of Catholic members is down ten members, to 148 from the 158 in the previous 117th Congress, which ended in December.
The report noted that those members of Congress who claim Christianity as their religious preference was at 88 percent, while at the same time in the population at large the percentage of those claiming to be Christian had dropped from 78 percent to 63 percent since 2007. Going back a bit further, the report noted that in the 96th Congress (1979-1980) 91 percent of the members of Congress had self-identified as Christian.
The religious views of twenty members are unknown, since they either failed to respond to the question, or their religious beliefs are otherwise unknown. This includes the new New York Republican Cong. George Santos, who told his hometown newspaper that he was “clearly Catholic” but had campaigned as being “Jew-ish.” We’ll probably hear more about him and his conflicted resume later. As we went to press this week, calls for his resignation had begun.
Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, identified as “unaffiliated” while another, Cong. Jared Huffman of California, described himself as a “humanist.”
Pew reported that “the 469 Christians (out of 534 total members) at the start of the 2023-2024 session comprise — by a smidgen — the lowest number since Pew Research Center began analyzing the religious affiliation of the House and Senate for the 2009-2010 session. During the eight most recent [Congresses], the number of Christians in Congress was above 470, and it exceeded 500 as of 1970.”
While the number of Catholics in Congress declined nearly two percent over the last Congress, the number of Protestants rose by six members to 303, an increase of a little over one percent. It was the first time in four Congresses that the Protestant total topped 300. Of the Protestants, the Baptists and Methodists were the largest singular denominations, with the Baptist numbers remaining the same at 67 members for 12.5 percent of the total. Methodists declined by four and make up 5.8 percent of the total with 31 members.
Of the Protestants, the number that did not specify a particular denomination, but identified as: just Protestant, evangelical Protestant, or just Christian rose from 96 to 107 members.
Other Christian Protestants included in significant numbers were Anglican/Episcopal, 22 members, down from 26 last term; Presbyterian, 25; down one from 26, while Lutheran stayed the same at 22. The report noted that the Anglican and Presbyterian denominations have suffered from a general decline in membership overall. The total of Mormons remained at nine.
Of the non-Christian religions, Jews lost one member from last term to a new total of 33, giving them 6.2 percent of the total membership in Congress. Buddhist, Muslims, and Hindus remained at their previous levels, two members, three, and two, respectively.
One new member from Florida, Cong. Anna Paulina Luna, listed herself as a Messianic Jew. Three members identified as Unitarian Universalists.
Reporting on the differences between the chambers, the report said, “Both the Senate and the House are numerically dominated by Christians, with each chamber having a similar Protestant majority (57 percent in the House, 56 percent in the Senate). Looking at Protestant subgroups, Baptists make up a slightly larger share of the House (13 percent) than the Senate (10 percent). Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Congregationalists comprise larger shares in the Senate than in the House.
“Catholics account for a slightly greater share of House than Senate members (28 percent and 26 percent, respectively). There are eight Orthodox Christians in the House, but none in the Senate.”
Of the non-Christians, Jews have a more significant presence in the Senate with nine percent of that body while they have only six percent of the House membership. There is a Buddhist in each chamber, and all the Muslims, Hindus, and Unitarian Universalists are in the House.
When viewed by party, the congressional religious make-up is more Christian than the general population. While Christianity is the dominant tradition of both parties, Republicans are — by percentage — more heavily represented than the Democrats, 99 percent (268 out of 271) to 76 percent (201 of 263). However, a greater share of Democrats identify as Catholic, 31 to 25 percent.
Among the total numbers of Democrats, 12 percent are Jewish, of the members whose religious preferences are not known, seven percent are Democrats. All Unitarians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus are Democrats.
Sixty-nine percent of the Republicans in Congress identify as Protestants. Baptists make up 15 percent of the total; Methodists and Presbyterians, five percent; nondenominational Protestants, 25 percent. All nine Mormons in Congress are Republicans; two members are Jewish.
For the purposes of analysis, the authors of the study included the three Independents in Congress, Senators Kyrsten Sinema, Angus King, and Bernie Sanders as Democrats.
While the percentage of Protestants is declining in the adult population, the “newcomers to Congress are substantially more likely than returning members to identify as Protestant: Nearly two-thirds of freshmen (64 percent) are Protestants, compared with 55 percent of incumbents,” the report said. However, it points out that nearly 30 percent of the incoming members claim an unspecified denomination of Protestantism.
Catholics make up 22 percent of the newcomers to Congress while incumbents make up 29 percent. The report concluded:
“There also are nine members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Mormons] and eight Orthodox Christians among the incumbents. No newcomers identify with either of these groups. Jewish members of Congress make up six percent of all freshmen, identical to the share of Jewish returning members. There are no Buddhists, Muslims, or Hindus among freshmen members of Congress, and the religious affiliations of five congressional newcomers — including Santos — are unknown.”
Interesting breakdown. At least, on paper, there are a lot of God-fearing gents and ladies all primed to do us well. Problem, of course, is that we can only see what is on paper: numbers, breakdowns, and affiliations. You can’t see what is in their hearts, and, as we all know, just because someone calls himself a believer, or even a Christian, doesn’t mean that they are or will even act as if they do.
We can, however, pray that these public affirmations of faith will play out in the real world to our benefit and the glory of God.
If we want to truly petition Congress we might first start by praying that the members will be true to God’s will.
(You can reach Mike at: DeaconMike@q.com and listen to him every Thursday on Faith On Trial at https://iowacatholicradio.com/faith-on-trial/)

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