This report provides an interesting picture of the religious landscape of the new Congress, and even compares it with its predecessors.  The authors note that Protestants are overrepresented in Congress, by comparison with their share of the population as a whole, and that the religiously unaffiliated are substantially underrepresented.  Among Protestant denominations, the “old line” (Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians, for example) are overrepresented, and Baptists and Pentecostals are underrepresented.  Over the long term, old line denominations have lost “market share” in Congress, while Baptists and Catholics have been among the big gainers.  The “most overrepresented” groups are (in order) Episcopalians, Jews, and Presbyterians.

Those from Lake Woebegone will be relieved to know that the Lutheran proportion of Congress is just right.

The reports authors don’t know quite what to make of the members of Congress who call themselves Protestant, without either specifying a denomination or indicating that they’re nondenominational (which is either vaguely Pentecostal or, as someone once put it, “Baptist with a cool website,” no?).  I’d be willing to bet that a significant proportion of these “mere Protestant” members are functionally unaffiliated (16% of the population as a whole and allegedly unrepresented in Congress).  My only hesitation about this supposition is that many more Republicans (42) than Democrats (16) fit into that category.  Perhaps the Republicans are functionally unaffiliated but unwilling for political reasons to admit it?

The report also provides a nice pdf that lists the religious identification of every member of Congress.  Perhaps someone with a lot of time on his or her hands can figure out what “mere Protestant” means.

Update: Given the average age of members of Congress (I read somewhere recently—can’t quite remember where—that the average age of Republicans in the House is about 51-52, while the average Democrat is pushing 60), it is not surprising that old line Protestant denominations are “overrepresented.”  There’s clearly a connection betweeen the social class and educational attainments of the generation that came of age in the Sixties and Seventies and the current religious composition of the Congress.

While I’m not given to straight-line projections, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see evangelicals of various stripes (some of them even products of homeschooling !)  as the largest single religious grouping in Congress within a couple of decades.  This will in some measure reflect, say, the Nineties.  At the same time, I’m not sure I expect them to comprise a Congressional majority, certainly not on their own, and perhaps not even as part of a larger group of those who identify loosely as Protestants.

Someone more versed in demography will surely set me straight.

Articles by Joseph Knippenberg

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