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Study: New Congress showcases religious diversity but is still mostly Christian

The chamber of the House of Representatives is seen before convening for the first day of the 116th Congress, with Democrats holding the majority, at the Capitol in Washington, on Jan. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (RNS) — When the 116th Congress was sworn in on Thursday (Jan. 3), it became one of the most religiously diverse delegations in American history, with more than a few lawmakers expected to take the oath of office while placing their hands on books other than the Christian Bible.

Still, according to a new survey from Pew Research, the incoming class of legislators is predominantly Christian — even more so than the country itself.

“While the number of self-identified Christians in Congress has ticked down, Christians as a whole – and especially Protestants and Catholics – are still overrepresented in proportion to their share in the general public,” researchers wrote. “Indeed, the religious makeup of the new, 116th Congress is very different from that of the United States population.”

The number of Christians in Congress is dipping slightly compared with the 115th session, dropping from 90.7 percent to 88.2 percent. By contrast, 71 percent of U.S. adults identify as Christians. (Pew’s Christian category includes Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Orthodox Christians, Christian Scientists and other faith groups.)

Most Christians in Congress are Protestant, including 72 Baptists, 42 Methodists and 26 members each for Presbyterians, Lutherans and Anglicans/Episcopalians. Catholics make up 30.5 percent with 163 members, and Mormons claim 1.9 percent with 10 members. Five members of Congress are Orthodox Christian.

“The religious makeup of the 116th Congress” Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

Researchers noted that the proportion of Catholic lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives has shifted toward the Democratic Party in recent years.

In the 114th Congress (2015-2017), Catholic Democrats and Catholic Republicans were spread roughly equally in the House (68 versus 69), a trend that continued into the 115th (74 Catholic House Democrats versus 70 Catholic Republicans).

But the new Congress has 31 more Catholic Democrats than Catholic Republicans in the House (86 versus 55).

Meanwhile, the influx of non-Christian members in Congress is almost entirely among Democrats or independents who caucus with Democrats.

According to Pew, 61 of the 281 Democrats or independents are non-Christian: In addition to 32 Jewish members, all Muslims (three), Hindus (three), Buddhists (two) and Unitarian Universalists (two) in Congress caucus with Democrats.

One Democrat — Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — identifies as religiously unaffiliated. Eighteen “refused to specify” their religion, according to Pew.

Among the general public, 23 percent identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.”

By contrast, only two of the 253 Republican members in the 116th Congress — Reps. Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee — identify as something other than Christian (both are Jewish).

“Changes in the religious makeup of Congress (1961-2019)” Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

Pew did not include a representative from North Carolina’s 9th District, where election results have not been certified in the wake of electoral fraud allegations.

Many minority faith groups saw their representation increase this year after a wave of Democratic victories in the 2018 midterm elections.

The number of Jews jumped from 30 to 34, Muslims rose from two to three, and Unitarian Universalists ticked upward from one to two.

Hindus continue to claim three members of Congress, all of whom are returning from the 115th Congress.

Christian Scientists, on the other hand, lost both their members.

As for differences between the House and Senate, researchers pointed to one group in particular: Presbyterians make up 13 percent of the Senate, but only 3 percent of the House.

And if you’re looking for evidence of America’s increasing religious diversity on Thursday, keep an eye on Democrats Tulsi Gabbard and Rashida Tlaib as they are sworn in to the House. Gabbard, a Hawaii Hindu and a potential 2020 presidential contender, is a returning member of Congress who has used a Bhagavad Gita while taking the oath of office in the past. Meanwhile, Tlaib, a Michigan Muslim who will become the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress, plans to place her hand atop Thomas Jefferson’s personal copy of the Quran.

Finally, despite the media fervor surrounding the election of prominent Republican (and Mormon) Mitt Romney to represent Utah in the Senate, Pew researchers noted the percentage of federal lawmakers affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is declining.

“The 116th Congress also has the fewest Mormon members in at least a decade – members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now number 10, a low over the last six congresses,” they wrote.

About the author

Jack Jenkins

Jack Jenkins is a national reporter for RNS based in Washington, covering U.S. Catholics and the intersection of religion and politics.

68 Comments

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  • Not a single soul said “I am a personal Christian, and I don’t rely upon, attend, identify with or advertise any particular denominational brand name”?

    Or, maybe such a statement, if any, gets one stuck inside the group of eighteen who “refused to specify”?

  • I support Tulsi Gabbard and hope she runs for President. She is a true progressive. “Whether we are Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, any other faith, or atheists, we are all children of God, and we should love and respect each other as brothers and sisters.”–quote from Tulsi Gabbard

  • THIS CAN’T POSSIBLY BE TRUE, Jack Jenkins: That “among the [American] general public, 23 percent identify as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular.'”

    TRUTH IS: (1) Per “the 2015 Pew Religious Landscape survey”: “Of the American population … atheists made up 3.1%”!

    TRUTH IS: (2) According to “The World Factbook [of 2013]”: “Non-religious people [in the U.S.] make up 9.66%, while one fifth of them are atheists”!

    TRUTH IS: (3) As reported in 2009 by “Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project”: “In the United States, only 5% of the population did not have a belief in a god and out of that small group only 24% self-identified as ‘atheist'”!

  • CHIN UP:

    (1) Nick Grube, “Tulsi Gabbard For President? ‘I Am Seriously Considering It’: Speculation has been mounting, but at an appearance in New Hampshire she said she’s thinking of how she can ‘best be of service to the people of this country'”, Honolulu Civil Beat, December 2, 2018.

    (2) Jeff Powers, “Close Adviser: Tulsi Gabbard Considering 2020 Presidential Run”, Independent Voter Network, October 24, 2018.

    (3) John Bowden, “Gabbard considering 2020 run: report”, The Hill, October 20, 2018.

    (4) Alex Thompson, “Tulsi Gabbard weighing 2020 presidential bid”, Politico, October 19, 2018.

    (5) Kevin Dayton, “Tulsi Gabbard encouraged to run for president in 2020”, Honolulu Star Advertiser, September 23, 2018.

    (6) Nick Grube, “Gabbard’s Climate Stance Gets Her Listed As A Presidential Contender: An environmental publication lumped the Hawaii congresswoman into a field of possible Democratic challengers to President Donald Trump”, Honolulu Civil Beat, August 20, 2018.

    (7) H. A. Goodman, “Only Bernie Sanders, Nina Turner and Tulsi Gabbard Defeat Trump in 2020”, Huffington Post, February 10, 2017.

  • God’s kingdom, or heavenly government, as God’s son, Christ Jesus, mostly preached about on earth (Matthew 4:17), will soon intervene in man’s affairs and thankfully put an end to, and replace ALL human governments (Daniel 2:44), and their injurious rule over their masses!

    Its following loving, peaceful and just millennial rule over all meek persons on earth (Isaiah 11:1-5; 9:6, 7) will only bring REAL peace to all of them (Micah 4;3,4), no matter their race, culture, or nations, which man’s governments love to separate and divide!!

    It’s rule will also end all sickness, disease, old age, and even death on earth (Revelation 21:3, 4)!

    These grand blessings will never, ever, be realized from man’s imperfect, selfish, and greedy governments, many of whom claim “nuclear power” to destroy mankind; but from loving, compassionate and righteous God, who greatly loves his earthly children on earth (Micah 4:3, 4; Revelation 21:3,4), until the end of time!!!!

  • Good to see Rashida Tlaib is keeping it classy on day one. It just proves again how vile the left is.
    What a piece of trash she is. Good job Michigan.

  • What a person says they are and what they are in reality are often two different things. A good example of this is Pelosi who claims to be Catholic supports abortion and many other issues which a Catholic cannot support. To call yourself a Catholic when you support what the Catholic Church teaches against makes you a fraud. In essence a Catholic who practices their faith cannot be a democrat.

    And a democrat who claims they are pro-life has about the same credibility as a nazi who claims they are pro-jewish.

  • Interesting how some denominations or religions are over and under represented. The term Protestant tells us very little ever since the rise of Calvinism and the Anabaptist with the various fragments. Perhaps a survey that is more precise should be made of the Congress to better understand the make up of Congress.

    I suspect many list an acceptable church in their state or community that the individual or their family of origin have some loose connection to in order to be more electable. From the actions of congressional members, most religions have little moral impact on the behavior of legislators

  • You know comments like this would resonate a little better were it not for the equally vile occupant of the Oval Office, don’t you?

  • We were told democrats were going to change the tone of Washington.
    We were told that democrats were going to go high when republicans go low.
    And yet we are told to focus on trumps words while ANTIFA trashes cities on the west coast.
    Maybe if trump called stormy a mother effer like a us congressman did from the state of Michigan; democrats would be okay with trump.
    Also, to disqus and RNS; why is my post quoting a us congressman who used a profanity being deleted?

  • Pelosi lines up on abortion with a majority of US Catholics. Note that last May voters in Ireland, where the Catholic church runs 95% of the tax-supported elementary schools, voted 2 to 1 in favor of abortion rights.

  • Meet the new face of your democrat party ed. The schools you brag so much about have created a bunch of 30 and 40 year old petulant children.

  • I understand why the religious affiliation of members of congress IS of interest — the citizens of the USA are religiously tribal.

    I also understand why the religious affiliation of members of congress should NOT be of interest — our government is designed to be religiously neutral. Religious affiliation of members of congress should be neither a qualifying nor a disqualifying factor.

  • Apparently, that makes the 98% of Catholic women in the United States to use birth control not Catholics at all. And your confusion of faith of Catholicism with the practicalities of Democratic Party n a SECULAR DEMOCRACY Is part of the problem, if not the whole problem. And your appeal to Godwin’s law in the perverse way that you did it simply underlines that you don’t understand anything.

  • Au contraire, mon ami. What I wrote was that most Catholics support abortion rights, quite different from the insulting remark by “im4”.

  • Again, you overgeneralize. And these Dems you slam are far less petulant that the narcissist misogynist awful oaf in what has become the Offal Office.

  • They are not your dads blue dogs Ed; they are die hard socialists on a mission – although you probably like that.
    Anyway, the end justifies the means; yes?

  • Recently Nancy Pelosi (a Catholic) was seen crossing herself as she prepared to vote for a budget that contained funding for abortion. Apparently killing babies takes a back seat to funding the welfare state.

  • “I suspect many list an acceptable church in their state or community that the individual or their family of origin have some loose connection to in order to be more electable.” No need to suspect — that is precisely what they do.

  • You continue to overgeneralize. The Dems in Congress are a very diverse lot, much more so than the Repubs. Also, you did not comment on my quip that Trump is far more petulant than any of the Dems.

  • Duncecap looks good on you, with the words, Atheists Aren’t Nones.

    Also calculate “one-fifth” TIMES “9.66%” EQUALS what.

  • Not to worry, David, because I won’t hold my breath! But I’m relieved to know it isn’t that far away from us!!

  • The potty mouth you seem to be defending is part of the young socialists. Their fearless leader; the poor, Jewish, Puerto Rican who still can’t describe the three “chambers” of government just proposed a 70% income tax rate. Be afraid Ed; she’s coming after your pension.
    I’ll condemn trump when you condemn congressman mother effer.

  • Here, let me spoonfeed you some more:

    (1) “In almost all Western countries, including the relatively pious United States, the number of people who acknowledge no religious affiliation (known as religious nones) is surging. But that is not necessarily the same as being atheist. … [Of] the proportion of Americans who call themseles ‘unaffiliated’ … [ONLY] 3% of the total population … call themselves atheists and [ONLY] 4% … identify as agnostic.”

    (2) “The Nones are hardly all atheists or agnostics – lots of Nones still believe in a god. It would be nice to have a clear demographic category dealing with non-belief in god, to match non-affiliation in religion.”

    Source: (1) The Economist, May 16, 2018, “The elusive phenomenon of churches without God: When a group sings, talks and bonds like a religion but may not be one”. (2) John Shook, “Where Are All The Atheists? The NONES, The NONS, And The SHUNS”, Center for Inquiry, February 25, 2012.

  • Had Theodore McCarrick not spiked the letter from then Cardinal Ratzinger pointing out that Canon Law required that pro-abortion politicians be denied Communion, she’d be doing her thing at a parish of the Episcopal Church or the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

    https://catholicexchange.com/controversy-heats-up-over-cardinal-mccarrick-downplaying-vatican-direction-on-communion

    A few bishops did follow Canon Law.

    Kathleen Sebelius, Obama’s House Catholic at HHA, had her access to Communion terminated by her bishop.

  • He did not exhibit any “confusion of faith of Catholicism with the practicalities of Democratic Party n a SECULAR DEMOCRACY”.

    The Catholic Church has rules and if you reject them, you’ve effectively removed yourself.

    You’ve removed yourself without regard to the “practicalities” of the Democratic Pary or a SECULAR DEMOCRACY.

    If it is a SECULAR DEMOCRACY – whatever you think that is – explain Nancy Pelosi crossing herself before votes.

  • I take it you borrowed “religiously tribal” from the National Catholic Reporter.

    If the sex or color of the members of Congress are of interest, why should the religious affiliation of the members of Congress NOT be of interest?

  • Yah – it is called “politics”.

    Thus Nancy Pelosi visibly crosses herself on the floor of the Senate, although she is diametrically opposed to essentially everything her church teaches.

  • So, if the President does it, everyone can do it?

    Perhaps you’ll share with us a single documented instance of the President cursing someone?

  • OH AND UH THIS QUASI-ELECTORATE CAN’T POSSIBLY BE NEWSWORTHY, Jack Jenkins: “The general public … identify[ing] as … ‘nothing in particular.'”

    According to Michael Lipka and David McClendon, however (in Pew Research Center, April 7, 2017, “Why people with no religion are projected to decline as a share of the world’s population”):

    “In coming decades, the global share of religiously unaffiliated people … which includes atheists, agnostics and those who do not identify with any religion in particular … is actually expected to fall, according to Pew Research Center’s new study on the future of world religions. … [Their] growth is projected to occur at the same time that other religious groups – and the global population overall – are growing even faster. … [And so] people with no religion will make up about 13% of the world’s population in 2060, down from roughly 16% as of 2015. This relative decline is largely attributable to the fact that religious ‘nones’ are, on average, older and have fewer children than people who are affiliated with a religion … [and because] the number of deaths will begin to exceed the number of births to unaffiliated mothers by 2030 [in Asia and] by 2035 … in Europe … [And because] the Christian population in China is rising while the religiously unaffiliated population is falling … – religious ‘nones’ could decline as a share of the world’s population even more than the Pew Research Center study projects.”

    BWA-HA-HAppy New Year, R.N.S.!

  • Isn’t it time that Catholics, not only in the US but the world over, abandon their ancient and tribal concept that abortion and engaging the use of contraceptives is irrelevant to the modern world whose population levels have reached and is about to cross the 7.5 billion mark? By the end of 2020, the population will have touched almost 8 billion. The rate at which human population is growing is not only frightening, to say the least, but it is a devastation which people can hardly afford to experience and should be prevented from happening.Why don’t the Catholics the evangelicals and the fundamentalists realize and understand they cannot rely on what God had ‘promised’ to Abraham in the O.T. 4,000 years ago that his inheritance will be as abundant as the stars in the sky? There is so much poverty resulting in wars, famines, diseases and global warming that people in the African countries as well as in China (at least this is one country that was able to reign in population growth), India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Brazil, Egypt and even the USA are literally dying of terrible scourges like malaria, TB, HIV, and a host of innumerable communicable diseases. (I agree that most deaths in the US and other western countries are caused by NCD’s). Rivers are so badly polluted that people cannot even get clean water (USA again), underground wells are drying, crops are failing due to droughts, farmers are committing suicides by the thousands in India, children are not getting nutritious food and good education, soils are polluted (USA), and so is the air, fish in the oceans are shrinking due to over consumption and so on and yet, the so-called faithful Christians (Catholics and Protestants) as well as the Pope who is supposed to empathize with environmental concerns) will not allow abortions and other family planning measures.What is a greater sin- to see a year old baby dying of starvation and lack of nutrition or early abortion before he enters this frightening and unforgiving world. Will the so-called theologians in the US and in the west please answer this without any bias.

  • 1 Corinthians 5:11-12

    11 But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality? or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber—not even to eat with such a one.
    12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the Church whom you are to judge?

  • “We shall find out at the day of judgment that the greater number of Christians who are lost were damned because they did not know their own religion.” – St. Jean-Marie Vianney

  • I never said or even hinted that all “nones” are atheists. “Nones” are quite varied,and only 1/3 or fewer are atheists.

  • “We shall find out at the day of judgment that the greater number of Christians who are lost were damned because they did not know their own religion.” – St. Vianney

  • Connelly/Arnzen scorns freedom of conscience abd wants all Catholics to bend to the bishops and the Vatican. Most Catholics ignore that.

  • Good comment. Most Catholics ignore the Vatican on contraception and abortion. It’s politicians like the despicable Trump who kowtow to the Vatican on thid matter.

  • Pelosi is like most other Catholics. She thinks for herself, unlike Connelly/Arnzen who trolls for the Vatican.

  • Today you denied absolution to a woman because she had voluntarily undergone an abortion. Why have you been so rigorous with this poor unfortunate?” (Padre Pio would sometimes refuse to give absolution to a penitent if they showed insufficient contrition; often they would return and he’d give absolution if they were sincere).

    Padre Pio responded: “The day that people lose their horror for abortion will be the most terrible day for humanity. Abortion is not only a homicide but also a suicide. Shouldn’t we have the courage to manifest our faith before those who commit two crimes within one act?

    “Suicide?” asked Father Pellegrino.

    “The suicide of the human race will be understood by those who will see the earth populated by the elderly and depopulated of children: burnt as a desert,” Padre Pio replied.

  • Atheists – only 3% – identifying with “lots of Nones still believ[ing] in a god”, can never make it. Might as well Kiss Existence Goodye!

    Duncecap still looks pretty on you, though.

    BWA-HA-HAppy New Year, Ashiest!

  • CORRECTION: It’s your philosophy, science, politics & species that really are “irrelevant to the modern world whose population levels have reached and is about to cross the 7.5 billion mark”! Because:

    (1) “Governmental measures to reduce population have been opposed both by religious conservatives and by many liberals, especially liberal feminists. Liberal critics have claimed that ‘utilitarian’ population policies violate a ‘fundamental right of reproductive liberty’.”

    (2) “By the 1980s, neo-liberal and socially conservative demographic revisionists, grounded in the Demographic Transition Theory (DTT), were promoting population skepticism and pushing population concerns out of the sphere of public debate. … For neo-liberal policy makers, the attempt to guide people’s reproduction smacks of leftwing statism and curtails their reproductive freedom, in the same way that regulations prevent the adequate functioning of the economy. The invisible hand of the market is presented as a solution for the population problem, since economic freedom necessarily leads to rational behaviour, which includes making the right reproductive choices … The link between neo-liberal proponents of economic and population growth is not fortuitous. … We have entered a stage of ‘liquid modernity’, predicated primarily on consumption, rather than production … Growth is an inescapable part of such a social arrangement. Consumption creates the need for more commodities that, in turn, require more consumers to purchase them. The population needs to increase to maintain economic growth and the economy has to expand so that the growing population keeps its living standards, the two expansionist trends feeding upon one another in a vicious circle from which there is no escape.”

    Source: (1) Carol A. Kates, “Reproductive Liberty and Overpopulation”, Environmental Values 13 (1):51 – 79 (2004). (2) Patricia Vieira, “Is Overpopulation a Growth? The Pathology of Permanent Expansion”, The Oxford Literary Review 38.1 (2016): 67–83.

  • As usual, it’s an argument from the lower depths of the slippery slope. Nobody gets an abortion because it’s fun. I doubt people do it for frivolous reasons. I’ll have a horror of abortion when the anti abortion industry does all of the things necessary to make abortion safe, legal, and rare, and when it likewise becomes the anti war industry, the anti “interfering in other country’s business” industry, the anti “arms proliferation” industry. At that point, padre pip’s warning will make some sense.

    Meanwhile, there is no danger that the world will become under populated. Quite the opposite.

  • “We shall find out at the day of judgment that the greater number of Christians who are lost were damned because they did not know their own religion.” – St. Jean-Marie Vianney

  • The greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion, which is war against the child. The mother doesn’t learn to love, but kills to solve her own problems. Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want.” – Mother Teresa

  • Mother Teresa, whatever her good points may have been, is often full of it. She advised that it was good for the poor to suffer, for people to be in constant pain. I doubt she did too much of either. And if she did, it is STILL no excuse to “recommend” it for others.

    Abortion is essentially a private act. Whatever wrong it may represent, that is essentially private as well. It’s consequences are also private.

    On the other hand, War, hatred, institutionalized bigotry, hunger, arms sales, environmental destruction, fascistic government, dictatorship, unregulated access to arms, endemic poverty, easily preventable but not prevented disease are all quite public things that affect everyone.

    So between the two, I think I’ll go for abortion. As I said, when the anti-abortion industry is actually concerned about life, rather than abortion, I’ll pay a lot more attention to it

  • A hundred years from now Mother Thereas will be remembered.

    You won’t be.

    That pretty much says it all.

    Oh, and the platitudes remain platitudes.

  • I doubt that professional hit men do hits for frivolous reasons.

    The question really has to with morality, not with the reasons.

  • “We must not be surprised when we hear of murders, of killings, of wars, of hatred. If a mother can kill her own child, what is left but for us to kill each other.”
    ~ Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta ~

  • And of course, no one ever killed anyone before legalized abortion. The ARMIES of the catholic church, for example, spread cocolate and rainbows.

  • A personal Christian is someone who went into personal prayer alone, and prayed something like this (and meant it). Dear Jesus: “Thank you for hearing my prayer. I believe you died on the cross to save me from my sins. Please forgive me for the wrong things I have done. I want you and your Holy Spirit in my life. Please be with me, help me to keep you in my mind and heart, help me to do right, to do better, to treat others with grace and love. Thank you. Amen.”

  • Christians believe in the redemptive power of suffering offered up to God in penance for our sins. Indeed tbe whole point of Christianity is that Jesus went through agony and suffered OUT OF LOVE, because it was necessary in order for us to be forgiven four our sins and hace eternal life. Hence the Church ‘s emphasis on fasting and offering up one’s suffering for others. Read about the lives of saints, Such as Padre Pio who was in agony much of his life with the stigmata, wounds of Christ but how many souls were saved as a result.

  • Fetus worshipers are such bad liars. She did nothing of the sort. She did not have the power to do so (See Hyde Amendment).

    I guess when you are so willing to sell out your economic interests for the vague promise of attacking the personhood of women, who needs to be honest?

    BTW babies are born. The only people who want to kill them are Republicans. People who want to literally take food from the mouths of poor families in order to kick more money towards the wealthy and corporate interests. People who oppose access to medical coverage. People who make excuses for putting children in cages.

  • You can’t be CATHOLIC and a democrat. That’s not possible now thanks to the HARD LEFT TURN that cabal took under Ocoma. The last Blue Dog in that party was Bart Stupak. It’s so fitting that he was the LAST of the pro-life democrats. Since he left, not a single one of those democrats is worth the air they breathe. They’re radical, LEFTIST, God-hating, America-hating, baby-killing Marxists . . . by THEIR OWN admission.

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