Magazine article The Christian Century

By Number, Christians Overrepresented in Congress

Magazine article The Christian Century

By Number, Christians Overrepresented in Congress

Article excerpt

Even as the percentage of Americans who claim no religious identification has risen to nearly a quarter of the population, 91 percent of representatives in the current Congress call themselves Christian--about the same amount as in 1961--according to an annual analysis from the Pew Research Center.

That doesn't mean the religious composition of Congress hasn't changed at all: the share of Catholics has climbed substantially, from 19 percent in 1961 to 31 percent today, while the share of Protestants has fallen from 75 percent to 56 percent over the decades. And while the share of Jews has remained roughly the same since the early 1980s, more Buddhist, Mormon, and Muslim politicians have been elected to Congress, in proportions that more or less reflect those of the general public.

"The group that is most notably underrepresented is the religiously unaffiliated," according to Pew, whose study uses data compiled by CQ Roll Call. Only one member of Congress, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.), lists no public religious affiliation.

That gap may illuminate the enduring importance of religious institutions in American public life, despite a decrease in the number of people who actively identify as members. Among Christians alone, the percentage of the population dropped from 78.4 to 70.6 between 2007 and 2014.

Part of the reason has to do with the social characteristics associated with success in politics, said John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron. "Members of Congress tend to be well-educated people, from professional backgrounds--particularly lawyers--well into their professional careers, so they're middle-aged, and active and engaged in the community. Religious organizations are really important parts of most communities in the United States."

The connectedness afforded by religious denominations often contrasts with the habits of the nones, who tend to be less engaged in community life, he said.

"They also tend to be younger and well-educated, though, so it could be that over time, as younger unaffiliated people come into middle age and get well established into their professions, you could see greater representation in Congress," he said.

Such networking also happens on Capitol Hill, including at weekly prayer breakfasts, one of the few venues on the Hill where members of both parties mix socially. …

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