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Monday, September 21, 2015

You Say Government Is Godless? Well, 92% of Congress Are Christians

"According to the Pew Research Center, the 114th Congress contains 491 Christians, of which 306 are Protestant, split between 13 sects though without any declared Anabaptists, Quakers or Pietists. Another 164 members of Congress are Catholic, while 16 are Mormon and five Orthodox Christian. As well as the two Muslims there are 28 Jewish and two Buddhist members of Congress; there is one Hindu member, one Unitarian Universalist and one 'unaffiliated.'

"Nine members of Congress either told the Pew researchers they didn’t know what religion they were, or refused to answer the question."

("Faith On the Hill." Pew Research Center. January 05, 2015.)

When breaking down percentages, the facts show the following:

* 91.8% of Congress are Christian, and 73% of American adults are Christian
* 57.2% of Congress are Protestants, and 49% of American adults are Protestants
* 30.7 of Congress are Catholic, and 22% of American adults are Catholic
* 5.2% of Congress are Jewish, and 2% of American adults are Jewish
* 1% of Congress are Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus, and 2% of American adults are Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus 

Representation Surprises?

To no one's surprise, the 114th Congress is overwhelmingly white, male, and Christian.

As an observer looks at the numbers in Congress and in the U.S. population, he finds that Protestants and Catholics continue to be overrepresented as members of Congress. And, though the percentage of Protestants continues to be the highest in Congress, it is actually down from the 1960s when three-quarters of Congress identified as such.

Yet, the biggest difference between Congress and other Americans is the number of people who say they are religiously unaffiliated. Just 0.2 percent of Congress say they are religiously unaffiliated, compared with 20 percent of the general public. In fact, the only member of Congress who publicly identifies herself as religiously unaffiliated is sophomore Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

Time magazine takes into account the research and concludes that "about one-in-five Americans don’t consider themselves members of any particular religion, but in the 114th Congress there’s only one." It is evident that America is getting more nonreligious while Congress is not.

(Maya Rhodan. "America Is Getting More Non-Religious, But Congress Is Not."
 Time. January 05, 2015.)

Party differences?

Two-thirds of the Republicans in the incoming Congress (67 percent) are Protestant, about a quarter are Catholic (27 percent) and 5 percent are Mormon.

Democrats in Congress are somewhat more religiously diverse than Republicans, though, in many small religions groups, Democrats are not as diverse as the population as a whole. Of the 234 Democrats in the 114th Congress, 44 percent are Protestant, 35 percent are Catholic, 12 percent are Jewish, 1 percent are Mormon, two are Buddhist, two are Muslim, one is Hindu and one does not identify with a particular religion.

Domenico Montanaro of PBS says ...

"The bottom line though is that it is very difficult to get elected in most places without having a religious affiliation. And, as is the case with racial and ethnic minorities, candidates are trying to win a majority of a district. That’s why it continues to be difficult for underrepresented groups to win seats in Congress."

(Domenico Montanaro. "Congress is still really religious and really Christian."
PBS Newshour. January 05, 2015.)

Crying Wolf About Lack of Religious Influence

The 114th Congress has a Republican majority in both houses. And, while many conservatives continue to complain about how liberals have driven God and Jesus from public places like schools and court houses, the facts show, at least on Capitol Hill, that is not true. Of the 301 Republicans in Congress, only one -- freshman Representative Lee Zeldin of New York’s 1st District -- is not a Christian. Zeldin is Jewish.

When Congress is overwhelmingly Christian, how can people rant about the lack of religious concern by the government? The people with professed Christian faith are in control of the bureaucracy. Just ask politicians if they are religious: Almost all will contend to be most reverent.

So, could it be that the wall of separation between church and state is being dutifully maintained by Christian politicians despite their pledges before election to the House and the Senate?

The fact is that even if hard-right congressional conservatives want more religious influence in governmental affairs, they are going to have to deal with an electorate comprised of voters 20 percent of which claim to be religiously unaffiliated and 4 percent of which are Jewish, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus. That is nearly one-fourth of all ballots.

I am sure their reluctance to lose support for re-election is great, and the risk of having this large opposition keeps many politicians from putting themselves out too far on a religious limb.

My point is that the cries of America being governed by a "Godless horde" are simply not true. If these people want to blame themselves for electing Christians who don't govern according to a belief that religion should play a much bigger part in American government, then fine, but when they point the finger of blame at "heathen liberals," they should really know better.

How about the Constitution and Christianity? Nowhere is Christianity named in the United States Constitution.
Article 6, at the end of the third clause, reads ...

"[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification."

And, the First Amendment reads ...

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

So, despite the furor over the degree to which religion, particularly Christianity, should govern the laws and rulings of the land, the original intent of the Constitution clearly favored separation.

I believe American sociologist Robert N. Bellah's interpretation is accurate. He contends that although separation of church and state grounded firmly in the Constitution of the United States, this does not mean that there is no religious dimension in the political society of the United States.

Bellah uses the term "Civil Religion" to describe the specific relation between politics and religion in the United States. His 1967 article analyzes the inaugural speech of John F. Kennedy: "Considering the separation of church and state, how is a president justified in using the word 'God' at all? The answer is that the separation of church and state has not denied the political realm a religious dimension."

Bellah concludes (And, please read this very carefully because the delineation is crucial) ...

"Behind the civil religion at every point lie biblical archetypes: Exodus, Chosen People, Promised Land, New Jerusalem, and Sacrificial Death and Rebirth. But it is also genuinely American and genuinely new. It has its own prophets and its own martyrs, its own sacred events and sacred places, its own solemn rituals and symbols. It is concerned that America be a society as perfectly in accord with the will of God as men can make it, and a light to all nations.

"It has often been used and is being used today as a cloak for petty interests and ugly passions. It is in need—as any living faith—of continual reformation, of being measured by universal standards. But it is not evident that it is incapable of growth and new insight.

"It does not make any decisions for us. It does not remove us from moral ambiguity, from being, in Lincoln’s fine phrase, an 'almost chosen people.' But it is a heritage of moral and religious experience from which we still have much to learn as we formulate the decisions that lie ahead."
(Robert Neelly Bellah.  "Civil Religion in America". Journal of the American Academy
of Arts and Sciences 96 .Winter 1967.)
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