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My Take: 113th Congress looks like old America
November 16th, 2012
12:01 PM ET

My Take: 113th Congress looks like old America

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

(CNN) - The 2012 election has been widely hailed as a diversity moment — a coming out party for an American electorate no longer dominated by white men. And it was a triumph as well for religious diversity, thanks especially to Hawaii, which is sending the first Hindu to the House and the first Buddhist to the Senate.

But is this religious change more symbolic than real? In “Faith on the Hill,” a study on religion in the 113th Congress released Friday by the Pew Forum, the story seems to be static rather than change.

For all the talk of the election of 2012 inaugurating a new era in American politics, Protestants will continue to be overrepresented on Capitol Hill, where they will account for 56% of our representatives versus only 48% of American adults.

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Moreover, the religiously unaffiliated will continue to be scandalously underrepresented in the 113th Congress. Though 20% of American adults are “nones,” there is only one “none” (Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema) in the new congressional delegation.

That said, there are striking differences between Democrats and Republicans in the incoming 113th Congress.

The GOP delegation will be 69% Protestant, while Protestants will account for only 43% of the Democrats. Mormons also lean heavily Republican, with three Democrats versus 12 members of the GOP.

Catholics, by contrast, lean Democratic, accounting for 36% congressional Democrats and 25% of congressional Republicans. Moreover, all the Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists in the incoming Congress are Democrats. And all but one of the 32 Jewish members (Virginia Republican Eric Cantor) are, too.

The bottom line? I see two takeaways.

First, this data provides evidence for the now common wisdom that Republicans represent old-fashioned America while Democrats reflect new demographic realities. In the 113th Congress, Republicans will be disproportionately male and disproportionately Protestant. Democrats, by contrast, have a higher portion of women and minority religions.

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Second, this data shows that the much heralded “new America” is still years away. Yes, the Senate will be 20% female, but women are more than 50% of the population. And the U.S. Congress will still be far more Christian (87%) than U.S. adults as a whole (70%).

At least when it comes to religion, the U.S. Congress doesn't yet look like the voters who are sending them to Washington.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Catholic Church • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • Judaism • Politics • Polls • United States

soundoff (1,540 Responses)
  1. Ryan

    Oh yeah, because this country would be so much better off with a bunch of m8-slims in power demanding s-ha-ria law.
    I'll take the protestants CNN. Stop supporting primitive violent cultures you anti american propaganda network. Also, blacks have turned every neighborhood they move to into a ghetto. Every black majority city is a decaying cesspool of crime. You have to be mentally ill if you want blacks in charge. Severely mentally ill. Yeah, come rule my community blacks! Just what we want, failure of leadership, intense corruption a rotting infrastructure and r8pe, mu–rder and cra–ck dealing around every street corner. Black power! yeah!

    November 17, 2012 at 1:16 am |
    • Cameron

      there's a reason they were enslaved. Dumb Dumb Dumb

      November 17, 2012 at 1:19 am |
  2. tox

    How can congress be "too" anything assuming those there are fairly voted in? This is a representative democracy.

    November 17, 2012 at 1:14 am |
    • Me

      Republic with democratically elected representives. The only democracy is choosing the leaders and hope they do what they say... which as we all know is often not the case

      November 17, 2012 at 1:17 am |
    • Spinbackle

      That's what I don't get. We elect our representatives, but apparently the author isn't happy of the outcome, so he's going to complain about it. Geez, it looks like there are still a lot of white Americans who happen to have Christian values. Why is that such a surprise? Furthermore, why is it such a bad thing to have traditional values as long as you honor the separation of church and State?

      November 17, 2012 at 1:24 am |
  3. CL

    $16 trillion off...DOWN WITH OBAMACARE exclamation point

    November 17, 2012 at 1:13 am |
    • End Religion

      up with obamacare

      November 17, 2012 at 1:14 am |
  4. omg

    The NBA is too black. I want to see an NBA that is more like the diverse country I love.

    November 17, 2012 at 1:13 am |
    • Cameron

      Oh hey we can just have racial quotas for each team to meet. Like, a team can only be 50% black players, we do it in college, why not NBA /sarcasm

      November 17, 2012 at 1:15 am |
    • End Religion

      you mean more hispanics?

      November 17, 2012 at 1:16 am |
    • Green Hornet

      lol.....nobody wants to see that

      November 17, 2012 at 1:16 am |
  5. Me

    The United States is a Republic. 50 states, 435 districts. Congress is the representive governing body made up of those 50 states and 435 districts.

    Comparing Congress to a single body of the states and districts combined is short sighted and misleading.

    November 17, 2012 at 1:12 am |
  6. Karen

    Yes, it's an opinion piece but even opinion pieces can be racist trash. Expect no better from CNN.

    November 17, 2012 at 1:11 am |
  7. Cameron

    Better it be primarily Protestant Christians over muslims and mormons. Sure there is a flaw with every religion but at least they don't murder people for their beliefs and are sane enough to know Jesus didn't live on the north american continent. I' do believe in a God, though not necessarily the Christian one, but other religions aren't necessarily better for America. Change isn't always a good idea.

    November 17, 2012 at 1:11 am |
    • J2

      What about the history of this country: massacre of the Native Americans, slavery, Jim Crow, racial segregation/lynchings?

      November 17, 2012 at 1:15 am |
  8. CL

    dolt alert dolt alert dolt alert dolt alertdolt alert dolt alert dolt alert dolt alertdolt alert dolt alert dolt alert dolt alertdolt alert dolt alert dolt alert dolt alertdolt alert dolt alert dolt alert dolt alertdolt alert dolt alert dolt alert dolt alertdolt alert dolt alert dolt alert dolt alertdolt alert dolt alert dolt alert dolt alertdolt alert dolt alert dolt alert dolt alertdolt alert dolt alert dolt alert dolt alertdolt alert dolt alert dolt alert dolt alertdolt alert dolt alert dolt alert dolt alertdolt alert dolt alert dolt alert dolt alertdolt alert dolt alert dolt alert dolt alertdolt alert dolt alert dolt alert dolt alertdolt alert dolt alert dolt alert dolt alert

    November 17, 2012 at 1:11 am |
    • Me

      Thats professer dolt to you. He didnt spend decades in achedemia learning doltism to be refered to as simply dolt, Sir.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:15 am |
    • Mr. Gumby

      Thanks for the warning. I'll steer clear of your posts.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:19 am |
  9. Calvin

    Stephen Prothero needs to go live in an atheist country. The sooner the better.

    November 17, 2012 at 1:10 am |
    • End Religion

      You'll be living in one soon enough, comrade.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:20 am |
  10. w5cdt

    Attention CNN: This is not our biggest problem. In fact it probably doesn't make a hill of beans.

    November 17, 2012 at 1:08 am |
  11. Andrew

    I don't expect us to elect a perfect match of the demographics of this country. Only those that do end up getting elected understand the concept of the separation between church and state.
    I don't want to see demographics being represented more simply because someone feels we need to go "affirmative action" to make it possible.

    November 17, 2012 at 1:06 am |
  12. Corndog

    WHO THE F#@$!! CARES!!!! The fact is the PEOPLE voted so get over it!!!!!

    November 17, 2012 at 1:05 am |
    • Spinbackle

      Exactly. The people voted these people into their positions. Stop acting like there's been some terrible social injustice.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:14 am |
  13. tom

    I'm not exactly sure what the author's point is on this one... He seems to be dancing around the thesis statement he really wants to make, but never quite gets past the stats. First- Jews (and I love Jews- I have many in my family) are clearly, clearly the religious group that is vastly disproportionatly represented in Congress. Jews aren't even 2% of the population, yet account for 32 spots in Congress? WOW! Catholic and protestant "over representation" is a scant 20% more than their proportions in the entire country- that's really not much!
    Second- Doesn't it say something that our religious differences don't affect how we vote that much? I mean, if all these non-believers are voting for all these Christians and Jews, then that's got to say about us being able to look past differences to see candidates we must at least believe a little bit in, no? (and if you don't believe in them, why did you vote at all?)
    Finally, there is probably a higher percentage of Hindus and Buddhists in Congress than in 90% of the states, so several faiths are clearly proportionally well represented... And where to the stats on Women come from? Are they a new religion?! Going a little off topic, I dare say...

    November 17, 2012 at 1:03 am |
  14. Preston

    I am just curious, what is so bad about having Protestant Christians in office in the United States? When has it all of a sudden become a crime to be a Christian in this nation? Looks to me like Christians are continuing to face discrimination, and that is disgusting. Shame on CNN for posting this article.

    November 17, 2012 at 1:03 am |
    • JaiLai

      Yes, just like the American settlers from England discriminated against homeland English by wanting some (any) representation. What are you smoking?

      November 17, 2012 at 1:11 am |
    • Cameron

      agreed.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:12 am |
    • Flavius Claudius Julianus Augustus

      "I am just curious, what is so bad about having Protestant Christians in office in the United States?"

      Nothing, as long as they heed the words of their 'savior': "Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's and give unto god what is god's" (ie, when the people vote in favor of things like SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE and a woman's right to choose, respect that decision even if you don't agree with it)

      "When has it all of a sudden become a crime to be a Christian in this nation? "

      Never, not even close. If you think it's anywhere near that state today, you should be on medication.

      Looks to me like Christians are continuing to face discrimination, and that is disgusting.

      I wouldn't call it "disgusting"; more like what your religion calls "an eye for an eye". Historically, since their contemptible beliefs came into this world, Christians have always been (and to this day continue to be) the ones discriminating against everyone else. For instance, did you know that in the Roman Empire more Christians were killed because of inter-religious conflict over interpretations of scripture than were killed by the supposedly "anti-Christian" Romans? An inconvenient truth, which I'm sure your Sunday school never taught you

      Shame on CNN for posting this article.

      Shame on whoever taught you to read and write, for indirectly diminishing the intelligence of everyone who has to read your opinions.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:22 am |
    • End Religion

      it's no crime to be christian, it just shows bad taste. Choosing any religion shows you are not a proponent of rationality. This nation is moving on from medieval religious thinking.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:26 am |
    • Spinbackle

      Drumming up the actions of Christians of the Roman era and extrapolating that onto modern American Christians is fallacious and silly. And by saying that having any religion denotes irrationality is also fallacious, even ridiculous.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:40 am |
    • End Religion

      "And by saying that having any religion denotes irrationality is also fallacious, even ridiculous."

      Religion is believe in the supernatural. This is medieval thinking for which there has never been any proof. Religion is irrational, therefore my comment is sensible and accurate.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:08 am |
    • End Religion

      * i keep spelling belief wrong tonight... *sigh*

      November 17, 2012 at 3:16 am |
  15. deepthinker

    I'm sick of this crap. Religion needs to be completely removed from politics and before you label me some blaspheming Liberal, just know that I've voted Republican since I turned 18 and earned the right. I believe in a GOD of some kind, but I don't align myself with any modern religion/theology/church/belief system. I don't think that the universe's existence was an accident. Big bang, okay I'll bite atheists, but where did the thing come from that went bang? Science will tell you that something can't come from absolutely nothing. Take it down to the smallest molecule that went bang, where did that come from?? No one will ever know that truth, as much as we would all like, so everyone just shut up and stop arguing and killing each other over it!!

    Religion has no place in politics and the world would probably be better off without ANY established religion. Now for you liberals wondering why I've voted Republican my whole voting life after saying all of that... Well for all the faults I see with the Republican party, I see even more with the Democrats.

    For starters, I don't want the nanny state Democrats are always trying to push. I believe in the idea of personal responsibility, smaller government, and low taxes. (Before you jump on the tax comment, just know I'm thousands of miles away from the 1%). Do I believe in the Republican party's stance on abortion yes and no. I don't believe in abortion, but at the same time I don't believe it's the government's business. Death penalty, I'm pro, but I find it hilarious that the party against it is all for killing babies. Can we say hypocrites on both sides? I feel the Republican party was hijacked by the religious right long ago and needs to get back to its roots.

    Republicans and Democrats reading this I respect your religious beliefs, but please do the whole country a favor and leave your religion or lack thereof out of our political discourse. Let our country try a different approach please. All we have to do is look at the craziness in the Middle East right now and over the millennia to see the result of two religiously polarized societies warring against each other. It only leads to madness.

    November 17, 2012 at 1:02 am |
    • tom

      Yeah i hate the effect religion had on Gandhi, MLK jr, The red cross, the soup kitchen run by your local church, Mother theresa, Albert Schweitzer, St. Jude's Hospital (and all the other hospitals run by churches and other religious organizations), Bishop Tutu... God damn religion! Hey... I think someone threw that baby out with the bathwater.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • deepthinker

      I'm not going to deny that people who believe/have believed in a given religion have done great things, but unfortunately the concept of religion has done more overall to cause divisiveness and war than it has good for the whole of society since the dawn of man.

      I find it funny how even Christians seem to forget about the atrocities committed by their religion during the Crusades while today they condemn Muslims for their acts.

      Muslim extremists, Christian Extremists, Zionists, I see no difference. You might say, well those are just the fringe extremes of the religions, but the unfortunate fact is these are the most vocal and give all religions a bad name. Until every modern religion denounces their own extremists and fights just as hard to eliminate them as they do those from other religions we won't see a peaceful or tolerant society anywhere.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:30 am |
    • End Religion

      i feel embarrassed for you to believe people and organization need a fear of a violent god' reprisal just to be nice. They do not. Those people and organizations, or something like them, would be just as kind without religion, maybe kinder, since we wouldn't have the added divisiveness and hate that religion spurs.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:30 am |
  16. Joseph White

    How about the Supreme Court? For the first time in the history of the U.S., there are no Protestants on the court – 7 Catholics and 2 Jews. This is ridiculous.

    November 17, 2012 at 1:02 am |
    • LinCA

      @Joseph White

      You said, "How about the Supreme Court? For the first time in the history of the U.S., there are no Protestants on the court – 7 Catholics and 2 Jews. This is ridiculous."
      You have a point. Having the highest court in the land staffed with adults that still believe in fairy tales is disconcerting, to say the least.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:23 am |
    • Cameron

      @LinCA your calling of something you can't disprove "fairytales" just shows how ignorant you truly are. You're just as bad as the people who shove their religion down others' throats. Loserr

      November 17, 2012 at 1:34 am |
    • LinCA

      @Cameron

      You said, "your calling of something you can't disprove "fairytales" just shows how ignorant you truly are."
      There is no fundamental difference between gods that adults believe in and the Tooth Fairy. Without evidence to support these gods existence it isn't reasonable to believe they exist.

      Just because we let children stop believing in the Tooth Fairy but not shed their religious delusion, doesn't mean gods are more likely to exist.

      You said, "You're just as bad as the people who shove their religion down others' throats."
      Appeasing adults who hold infantile isn't helpful. You should consider evaluating yours.

      You said, "Loserr"
      Ah, strong argument.

      November 17, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  17. Dave

    You, sir, are an idiot

    November 17, 2012 at 1:01 am |
  18. Ryan

    White male this... white male that. Shut the **** CNN. Racists.
    This is the kind of divisive racial hatred that leads to mass killings like what happened in Norway. That guy killed 77 left wingers because of crap like this. Are you trying to start another mass killing CNN?

    November 17, 2012 at 1:01 am |
    • tom

      ? Really? Thats a terrible analogy. I can't figure out if your trolling or really just that ignorant.... Yes. This article is sure to inspire a mass murder. Well thought out argument. Bravo

      November 17, 2012 at 1:09 am |
  19. hollistergrant

    Get over it. These are the people who run for office. And I don't care for the whites are old-fashioned conclusion. Racist, racist, racist.

    November 17, 2012 at 1:01 am |
  20. moderate man

    This tripe gets front page billing? This is more evidence of the decline of CNN as a "news organization".

    November 17, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • Mrs. Pepperpot

      Um.......it's an OPINION PIECE. Says so right in the article.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:03 am |
    • Humberto

      Reagan/Bush illegally sold weapons to a foreign power and funneled funds to another foreign power while Congress and the Bar did nothing but reach across the aisle.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:12 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.