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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. flafreethinker

    There is no god, the bible is fiction and religion, all religion, needs to be removed 100% from government. I will not allow faith to intrude on my choices, and it should not intrude on the people elected to represent all of us, not just the religious idiots.

    November 16, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Sotrue

      We need a lot more voices calling for this! I agree 100%.

      November 16, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Crispycritter

      FlaFreethinker-Looks like your thinking is enslaved to your corrupt mind. And, don't you have "faith" that those you vote for will make laws according to your values?

      November 17, 2012 at 12:53 am |
    • Leif

      You are just the flip side of the same extremist coin. No thank you.

      November 22, 2012 at 5:54 am |
  2. Eli Cabelly

    Religion is one of the truest signals of culture, values, and beliefs in the world. The fact that the clutures of the members of Congress do not reflect the cultures of the people reflects that the values of Congress do not reflect the values of America.

    Furthermore, what we've seen out of Congress the past 2 years is a desire to be right and not let the opponents get anything done instead of getting to work and making government work for the people. These both indicate that Congress is working for goals that do not reflect the wishes of the American people.

    November 16, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  3. southernsugar

    I guess I don't care what religion a person is...unless I feel they are a cultist. I don't even look at a person's skin color. I listen to their message and where they want to lead the people. I think most religions are heretical, so there is no point in judging anyone...unless they are a cultist.

    November 16, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • Scotty

      All religious people are cultists....

      November 16, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
  4. Christopher

    Two thoughts: Secularism is its own religion with its doctrines, dogmas, and even demons just like Christianity. So before we go celebrating our diversity and the coming of the secular age of Aquarius by having a "Christian free Congress" in the future, it shouldn't be forgotten that we haven't done away with religion, just the one that is older and has, in the main, a fairly good track record and fairly sound philosophy. Second, when did we start applying a religious test for those holding office? I vote for men and women with a decent platform and good ideas and integrity. I don't ask for their doctrinal statements and religious views.

    November 16, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  5. FG54

    '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.' So, the 'old-fashioned' America is 'ba-a-a-ad!', with all those pesky old white protestant males, but the 'new' America – is invariably 'go-o-o-o-ood!!!'. Let's look at this from a different angle now: 'old-fashioned' America was a strong, UNITED superpower with a backbone and common shared ideas and goals. It was established BTW and built (mostly) by those same hated now protestants, including 'old white males' and females, who were young at some point too. Their religion was one of the many things contributing and cementing their unity. Now, look at the 'new' cheered on every 'liberal corner' America – a 'Balkanized' collection of people without any really great universally shared and uniting on NATIONAL level idea, often having nothing in common, being rather ethno-centric and looking for anything benefitting 'their' people first and foremost. History shows all diverse (another overused mantra) multi-cultural societies ended up in infighting, bickering, mutual distrust, blaming and eventually destruction, often violent. America has been following that direction and will end up as another 'Babylon tower'. Bottom line: 'New' does NOT automatically means it is 'better', and 'old' does not necessarily means it is 'bad' as author of this article implies.

    November 16, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  6. Jameson

    Sir – perhaps you are unaware, but the Congress is democratically elected by the People, not appointed by you according to religious quotas. As it should be. Glad we cleared that up.

    J

    November 16, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  7. Dave

    It is almost impossible to be devoted to your religion and be in politics knowing you must slant and spin the truth to place your position in a more favorable light. Frankly it is difficult to believe that anyone in the GOP can claim to have any religion whatsoever is remarkable. They must not be reading the same Bible as me and if they are they would be witness to the hypocracy they deal with daily.

    November 16, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Truth Squad

      It is almost impossible to be devoted to your religion and be in politics knowing you must slant and spin the truth to place your position in a more favorable light. Frankly it is difficult to believe that anyone in the Democrat Party can claim to have any religion whatsoever is remarkable. They must not be reading the same Bible as me and if they are they would be witness to the hypocracy they deal with daily.

      November 16, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  8. Reality

    CNN attracts the fringe elements.

    No wonder its ratings SUCK !

    November 16, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • kenny

      i love it when religious people freak out when their delusion of how the world should be gets smacked in the face by reality... things are great as long as you can maintain the delusion, but as soon as reality creeps in, like there are people that don't believe what you do and think you are nuts .... they go nuts... its pretty funny(small picture) but of course big picture sad ... deep down we all know religion is bs, and those of us that can't handle that reality do nothing but cause problems trying to force us to believe their delusion... (ie sept 11, war in iraq, etc)

      November 16, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • Charles

      At least you are welcome to Speak Your Mind here. Fox, not so much.

      November 16, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • Leif

      Charles speaks truly. I have registered with FOX. I have yet to find a place to express an opinion.

      November 22, 2012 at 5:51 am |
  9. Sane Person

    When someone tells me they are religious, what I hear is "I am an irrational person. I haven't the critical thinking skills to reject the illogical beliefs that were drilled into me as a child. I just accept them without thinking about it."

    Not exactly the type of mind that I would want making important decisions for an entire country.

    November 16, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Truth Squad

      When someone tells me they are not religious and don't believe in God, what I hear is "I am an irrational person. I haven't the critical thinking skills to reject the illogical beliefs that were drilled into me as a child. I just accept them without thinking about it."

      Not exactly the type of mind that I would want making important decisions for an entire country.

      November 16, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • Joe

      So figures like St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Ghandi, MLK, etc were all illogical people with no ability to think critically? Sounds like someone needs to get out more and understand that theology and religion, like it or not, are an important part of humanity- both intellectually and practically. You might find some value in learning about why these people believe what they do and how it has impacted the world for the better. True religion shapes the world for the better.

      November 16, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • Sane Person

      @truth squad. I was raised Christian and I grew out of it shorty after I stopped believing in Santa Claus, so your comment is meaningless.

      November 16, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • Sane Person

      @ joe. Religion is intellectually worthless, in fact it's anti-intellectual. "True" religion divides humanity and has been the main source of hatred, bigotry, ignorance and violence in the world.

      November 16, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • kenny

      joe and truth, you both believe in god but are deluded ignorant morons and understand very little about the world around us. The people who understand and know the most about the world around us DON'T believe ... U.S. National Academy of Science, 7.0% of whom believed in a personal god ... i'll go with the smart people...

      November 16, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • Primewonk

      @ Truth – how, exactly, is not believing in magical mythical sky daddies irrational?

      November 16, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Joe

      @ Kenny: So why then is the vast majority of the world religious? Why does the human race have this natural yearning for something beyond this world? Your division between ignorant morons and smart people based on one's religious leanings is complete BS. It just drips with your elitism and lack of understanding about the human condition. Humanity knows how to tarnish the religious ideals, but that doesn't mean the ideals themselves are bad. Moreover, seeking to eliminate religion through science is a completely worthless effort seeing as though they answer different sides of the same coin. Science understands the "how" and can explain the universe and how it works. Religion and metaphysics explain "why" things are the way they are. Both point to ultimate Truth, and different religions offer reflections of that truth- some more than others- but it is naive to argue about scientists or theists knowing everything. You're clearly siding on one extreme of an issue that deserves your openness and willingness to see both sides.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  10. Charles

    Please keep your religion in the church and out of Government. "We should be proud and accepting of our elected officials who have high religious values". Really??? Actions speak louder than words.

    November 16, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  11. Sam Yaza

    yeah the first Hindu, i forgot to make a big deal out of that,

    Hindu is in the Pagan alliance

    so technically we have a "Pagan" "official"

    look out America up next we will have a Druid, a Hellenist, or even a Wiccan

    or even, a Shintoist .. [and all the Christians scream]

    November 16, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Charles

      Whats the Diff?

      November 16, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • The Truth

      My vote is for an all agnostic congress, senate, President and supreme court. People more concerned with the public and real peoples needs than with which God/God's they think they should pray too for guidance.

      November 16, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • I wonder

      An agnostic/atheist would probably be the ONLY one who could have a chance at settling that ol' Israeli(+Christian) vs Muslim debacle.

      November 16, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  12. ndc

    Absolutely moronic article. The representatives are all ELECTED, not appointed, therefore the supposition in this article–and apparently by most of the people on this blog–is that the electorate is racist/bigoted. Maybe you libs should bus in some Muslims to the various voting districts in 2014. How about helicopter-dropping some Hindus? Why not let a million of these atheists parachute in to certain voting districts on election day?

    This is patently ridiculous. The voters of these "Protestant" representative are racist/judgmental because they vote for people who purportedly believe in the same general principles that they believe in? That has now become "wrong" and "unfair"? Okay, fine, let's play this asinine game–I am not fairly represented by our president because he and I aren't the same race. Come on people. And to you militant atheists: When you can get a majority of the electorate to believe in your creed, i.e., "My belief is to believe in nothing," then you will see more representation in Congress. Good luck with that.

    November 16, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Charles

      Of all the problems in the world today and throughout history most are the result of religions.

      November 16, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • BhutBhut

      exactly ncd!! Good luck with that!

      November 16, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • BhutBhut

      exactly ncd!! Good luck with that!

      November 16, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • ndc

      Charles, please enlighten me as to how your post relates in any way to the points I made? In any event, I didn't know that religion was to blame for our country's current economic condition, our horrible public schools, the homeless, the hungry, etc. But now, thanks to your post, I am aware.

      November 16, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Leif

      Those are your suppositions, not those of the author. If you are capable, point to one false statement in this article.

      November 22, 2012 at 5:57 am |
  13. Scott

    Must we continue to play the label game? The Supreme Court has no Protestants. So what? By continually labeling people and bracketing them into categories, you just contribute to division in the country, so when real discrimination happens, no one listens because we're bombarded everyday with this garbage.

    November 16, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  14. Nicodemus Legend

    We need some Jedi in Congress. They are compassionate yet firm and are strong with the Force.

    November 16, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • Professor Bartok

      I agree!

      November 16, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Christopher

      You do know that the Jedi are just pretend.......right?

      November 16, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Primewonk

      @Christopher – You do know that all gods are just pretend – right?

      November 16, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • Nicodemus Legend

      @ Christopher

      Oh yeah? There is actually a Jedi religion created since the Star Wars movies began. Literally tens of thousands have declared Jediism as their religion in countries such as Australia, England, Czech Republic, Canada, and other countries where the question of religion is asked on a census. If you google "Jedi" and "religion" you will come across many sites that teach this spiritual path.
      So why not have Jedis in congress? It sounds as good (or bad) as any other religion. Why are you against it? I sense the Dark Side in you!

      November 16, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  15. Barry Obama, community organizer

    actually, the Supreme Court is comprised of 6 Catholics and 3 Jews.

    I look forward to appointing the first Muslim justice.

    November 16, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • Charles

      Oh, and you left out Leader of the Free World.

      November 16, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  16. HuggyPuppy

    The author of this article needs to get a life. If he had any credibility he would suggest that Jews are way overrepresented in the House of Representatives, Senate, and the Supreme Court. The Jewish justices were all appointed by Democratic Presidents, who surely must not believe in diversity on the Supreme Court. Catholics, comprising 5 of 9 justices on the Supreme Court, are also way overrepresented. Ironically, all Catholics were appointed by Republicans. Since women are a majority of the electorate, it stands to reason that they must prefer voting for men.

    November 16, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Jesus is never coming back

      Prejudice much?

      November 16, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • The Truth

      A President nominating a supreme court justice usually wants to pick someone who has a chance of getting confirmed, so that pretty much excludes all the evangelicals and half the protestants who are insane whack jobs with way to much baggage to ever be considered. And thank goodness. I could not imagine a more vile and disgusting thing than the supreme court stacked with protestant evangelicals who can't help but inject their religious vomit into our judicial system.

      November 16, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • kenny

      "protestant evangelicals who can't help but inject their religious vomit" ......... is an AWESOME phrase, most of the nutters on here prolly fall into that category... what is it about these clowns that make them want everyone to believe their delusion? since most americans are morons it would make sense they elect other morons, not necessarily that they believe the same thing... but they share a common moron gene... lol

      November 16, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  17. JohnBoy

    My guess is that the religion of most is money, not God.

    November 16, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  18. Eric Smith

    There is nothing wrong with being a protestant and a politician. I do not understand how there can be too many "protestants" in congress. We should be proud and accepting of our elected officials who have high religious values and honor them in office. These individuals are elected into congress, so clearly Americans do not see Protestant Christianity as large of a problem.

    November 16, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  19. Jesus is never coming back

    I don't care what your religious affiliation is, just work together and get some sh.it done. The past 12 years show us the Republican ideals of cutting the wealthiest peoples taxes so their money can "trickle" down has fvcked us. Their "deregulation" of many industries has fvcked us. And they are totally wrong when it comes to environment, women's rights and immigration. Science proves this. When will they stop being wrong?

    November 16, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  20. stgilbertinkz

    So when did religion become a test to run for and win congress? That appears to be a direct contradiction to the founding fathers intent, that religious preference shouldn't even matter. As it is, by this opinion making an issue of it, it's a subtle form of religious persecution. But, since it has to do with Christianity, we'll just ignore that little point.

    November 16, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
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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.