In the Most Diverse U.S. Congress to Date, Christians Still Majority

116th congress
From left in center row, Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y, hold hands during an opening prayer as the House of Representatives assembles for the first day of the 116th Congress at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Despite some increased religious diversity, the 116th Congress that was sworn in on Thursday remains predominantly Christian—at rates higher than that of the general U.S. population. By analyzing self-reported data, Pew Research Center found that 88 percent of Congress members are Christian, compared to 91 percent in the previous Congress. In the general public, by comparison, 71 percent of American adults say they’re Christian.

Pew summarizes: “While the number of self-identified Christians in Congress has ticked down, Christians as a whole—and especially Protestants and Catholics—are still over-represented in proportion to their share in the general public. Indeed, the religious makeup of the new 116th Congress is very different from that of the U.S. population.”

Out of the 11 congresses for which Pew has collected faith-related data, the 116th has the fewest Christians (471) and the fewest Protestants (293). For its purposes, Pew categorizes Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, Christian Scientists and other groups as Christians.

Diversity Emerges in 116th Congress, Especially Among Democrats

Of the 253 Republican members of Congress, only two don’t identify as Christians; both are Jewish. But of the 281 Democratic members, 61 don’t identify as Christians. Of those, 32 are Jewish, 18 didn’t specify a religion, three are Hindus, three are Muslims (including the first two Muslim women in Congress), two are Buddhists, two are Unitarian Universalists, and one is religiously unaffiliated.

Pew notes: “By far, the largest difference between the U.S. public and Congress is in the share who are unaffiliated with a religious group.” Only Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., identifies as religiously unaffiliated, yet 23 percent of the general public identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” (Sinema, 42, also is the first openly bisexual Congress member.)

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., one of the 18 Democrats who didn’t specify a religion, says he’s a humanist and not sure God exists.

Still, “Christians remain over-represented in both parties’ congressional delegations compared with their coalitions in the general public,” Pew states. In Congress, 78 percent of Democrats are Christians, while among the general public 57 percent of registered Democrats are Christians. And 99 percent of Congressional Republicans are Christians, while among the general public 82 percent of registered Republicans are Christians.

Data wasn’t included for North Carolina’s 9th District, where allegations of election fraud have kept results from being certified. The Republican candidate, Mark Harris, is a Southern Baptist pastor.

Additional Findings About Congress Members’ Faith

According to Pew, most Christians in Congress are Protestants. Those include 72 Baptists, 42 Methodists, and 26 each of Anglicans/Episcopalians, Lutherans and Presbyterians. Of the 534 members of Congress, 163 (or 30 percent) are Catholics; that’s down five members from the previous Congress.

Among Protestants, the largest gain is in Congress members who didn’t specify a denomination. One Protestant group that’s under-represented is Pentecostals, with just 0.4 percent of Congress but 5 percent of the general public.

Six percent of Congress members are Jewish, though just 2 percent of the general population adheres to that faith.

Only 10 members of Congress (1.9 percent) are Mormon, “a low over the last six congresses,” notes Pew. Among the general public, 2 percent of Americans are Mormon. Prominent Utah Republican Senator—and 2012 presidential candidate—Mitt Romney was recently critical of President Trump’s character.

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Stephanie Martin
Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 26 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her husband and two teenage daughters.

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