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. Otasawian

    The day that religion and politics are completely separate from one another is the day that the country will truly be able to move forward. This is why the founders of the United States recognized the importance of the separation of church and state.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  2. Benjamin

    As an atheist, I'm actually not too threaten by the current religious makeup of the US Congress since religion in general has diluted a great deal over the last century, albeit slower here in the states than the rest of the developed world, but I also feel less threaten because, In God We Trust and Under God aside, the first amendment does a fairly adequate job of protecting us. At least, that is to say, at the federal level - state legislators can be extremely nutty.

    But in any case, check out that Supreme Court: that is far, far more unrepresentative of America than Congress, with 6 catholics and 3 jews, and not a single protestant, much less a nonbeliever.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  3. Ugh

    Please! Do I have to even say this?...if it weren't for these types of people building congress, None of you would be able to openly post, speak your minds. Your grandfathers and theirs before them would not have come here for the freedoms and values these guys stand for. This is the greatest country in the world. And It was founded on freedom of religion and to escape religious persecution. People like you constantly knocking believers makes me sick. Go find another place where you can spew your mess. oh Wait! I hear Greece is nice this time of year.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:10 am |
  4. matt

    Just a thought after rapture i often wonder what all these sites will be writing about to each other ?

    November 17, 2012 at 12:10 am |
  5. Abdul Al-Sharrif

    America needs to submit to Islam .
    Diversity leads to sin and haram and kafir behavior .
    Submit to Islam , and know peace .

    November 17, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • Anonymous

      Seriously? Just look at the Middle East and you'll see that Islam offers the exact opposite of peace.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:13 am |
    • Answer

      Submit to a bomb. Tic toc.

      Once you blow up you can have those v-i-r-g-i-n-s. XD

      November 17, 2012 at 12:15 am |
  6. Commentary42

    I am getting so tired of the intrusion of religion into politics and into every day life. I am subjected to Christmas carols when I shop starting in late October, even though I care nothing about the Holiday.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:06 am |
    • Peter

      You should move to Cuba. You'd love it there! They are mostly atheists. And if you get tired of that..there is always China!

      November 17, 2012 at 12:10 am |
    • David

      And I'm subjected to your athiest opinion here on this comment line- I suppose you pride yourself as being tolerant too!

      November 17, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • johnh1625

      Gasp! Having to hear Jingle Bells...Disgusting

      November 17, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • Gigi

      Cuba is primarily Catholic.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • Peter

      Gigi. I know better than to argue with someone who uses the word "bloviating". You are correct, however, Cuba did start out as mainly atheistic. Then....to China with the atheists!!

      November 17, 2012 at 12:20 am |
  7. Linda

    Well duh. It's difficult for an "unreligious" person to get elected. The voters like Protestants. That's why there are an abundance of Protestants and a small number of "unreligious" members in Congress.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:06 am |
  8. Earthling

    There ought to be a rule prohibiting candidates from declaring their religion. There really ought to be a law against parents indoctrinating young uneducated children in religious nonsense in the first place. Let them get a solid grounding in reality through education – REALITY-based education – and then if as educated adults they want to choose a set of myths and fairy tales to believe in, they can go into it knowing it's all smoke and mirrors.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • Crispycritter

      Sure, that will solve all of our problems, Adolph.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:13 am |
    • JKee

      Earthling, you are uneducated in religion. The historicity of Jesus Christ existence, death and resurection is without question by the majority of serious scholars. Put in your searth engine the secular evidence of Jesus Christ and read it. There is more compelling evidence about the subject than any other ancient person, such as Alexander the Great and Caesar. To say Christ is a myth is without authority and reveals your lack of knowledge in the matter.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:17 am |
  9. TrollAlert

    My Take: The author has a room temperature IQ.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • Gigi

      I think you're giving him too many points.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:09 am |
  10. Mabel

    Coming soon – the average height of Congressmen must be within 1/2 inch of the height of the average adult American.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  11. Jim

    If you want to talk about diversity in congress (or the judiciary), I propose we talk about diversity of background, education, or profession. We've got WAY, WAY too many lawyers in there. They should only be represented at the same percentage as the population - I'm guessing that would give us about 5 lawyers in congress, split between the House and Senate. If you want to see practical solutions, readable laws, and real action, reduce the percentage of lawyers.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:02 am |
  12. Scott

    Has stupid is this? All the things going on and all the problems and we are worried about this?

    November 17, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • mike

      don you get it?? this is the problem!

      November 17, 2012 at 12:09 am |
  13. Dan J

    I tire of having unqualified people offer their opinions. To suggest that there are too many of any religious persuasion is to admit to having no clue how the political dynamic works. The author looks to infer that Congress is not reflective of society, but this article only shows that the author doesn't understand society or math for that point. We are a very diverse society but statisticians want to break us down into definable categories and use that to predict behavior. The flaw in that assessment is to assume that all people of a particular category behave in an exact manner. The majority of our nation is protestant, so it should be no surprise that the majority of our politicians are the same. While I understand the authors intent of expressing the need for a diverse point of view, I do no appreciate the author implying that we support an intolerant society. There are many social issues that we need to address as a society, but we one of the most free and tolerant societies in the world. Declaring Congress to be intolerant, which is what this article attempts to do, is bad form and does nothing to help us become a more welcoming society.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • Gigi

      This author, Stephen Prospero, is a frequent contributor that never renders anything remotely relative when it comes to religion in politics...I consider him an expert on bloviating, and nothing more.
      Of course, it is only his opinion, and as such, one is welcome to dismiss his opinion, which is what I usually do.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:06 am |
    • callnews

      Yes, very good. Thank you

      November 17, 2012 at 2:54 am |
  14. Thomas Murray

    The rather large fly in the ointment here is that no unaffiliated group is representable. If so, I ask: which one?

    November 16, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
  15. deborah

    why is this seen as a bad thing? This guy makes faith sound like a sin.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • Peter

      Perhaps the author of this article forgets that the Democrats voted 3 times at their convention to prevent their platform from mentioning God. How's that for diversity buddy?

      I thought it was hilarious when it was shoved down their throats even though they voted against it. It reminded me of our stupid health care law that got shoved down our throats...ha ha.....

      November 17, 2012 at 12:06 am |
  16. Reality

    For posting in the Congressional Record:->>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Only for new members of this blog ("prof" P can also look and learn that his job is in jeopardy unless he is willing to switch to the Department of Myths )

    Putting the kibosh on religion in less than ten seconds- Priceless:

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

    November 16, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
    • sosimplyput

      Do people actually let you get away with this BS? One statement does not a legitimate argument make.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:04 am |
    • callnews

      Your nihilism knows no bounds.

      November 17, 2012 at 3:05 am |
    • Reality

      As requested:


      New Torah For Modern Minds

      “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. (prob•a•bly
      Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell).

      The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

      Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

      The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

      The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."

      Information on the infamous resurrection and angelic cons is also available upon request.

      November 17, 2012 at 7:11 am |
  17. LinCA

    Anyone who is surprised by this over representation of protestants in Congress is probably unfamiliar with the basic workings and obvious effects of a district system for representation.

    By slicing the country into districts and electing only one representative from each district, the system strongly favors the dominant group. Any district, where protestants form a significantly large fraction of the voters, will likely send a protestant to represent it. This fraction doesn't even need to be a majority, as long as the other groups are sufficiently scattered across the political spectrum.

    Only districts that are sufficiently diverse will be able to escape the stranglehold. Gerrymandering is a pretty effective, and oft used method to stifle such diversity.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
    • callnews

      Gerrymandering is a planned effort to promote an evil. This is clear; but to call every district who votes for a certain person guilty of that kind of evil is ludicrous.

      November 17, 2012 at 3:00 am |
  18. Wolfen

    Hey Stephen,

    Why don't you do an article on the supreme court's religious make-up? Let's see 48% adult U.S. population protestant 0% representation on the Supreme Court, 2% U.S. adult population Jewish 33% representation on the Supreme Court with Catholics having the remaining 66%. Just further attacks on WASP's by the openly biased CNN, not even a news organization. Pathetic.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
  19. Craig

    Has anyone told you that your a moron? If so, they're right!

    November 16, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • Ken Drive

      "your a moron" ROFL

      November 17, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  20. JDonald

    And the Supreme Court is too Catholic and Jewish. Why on earth a country like the USA has to have 6 Catholics and 3 Jews on a Supreme Court to oversee a country that is almost 50% Protestant is beyond the pale. And why is there a dispropostionate number of the Jewish faith in the House and Senate? I'm all for equal representation but lets get it right for all the legislative bodies.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • Carmen

      Stupid remark! this is a diverse nation, changes are happening (like it or not).

      November 16, 2012 at 11:59 pm |

      hindu Jew's self centered masters and their hindu gentile ignorant slaves sitting together, way of hindu Jew's, crook self centered to rule America in denial of truth absolute GOD, foundation of America.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:02 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.