Religious makeup of the 117th Congress is 88% Christian

U.S. Capitol | Unsplash/Joshua Sukoff

The 117th United States Congress is made up of 88% Christians, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center.

In a report called “Faith on the Hill,” the Pew Research Center analyzed the religious affiliations of all 531 members of the 117th Congress and compared them to the religious demographics of the U.S. as a whole. Pew obtained the data from a questionnaire conducted by CQ Roll Call asking members about their religious backgrounds.

The publication of the Pew report came just one day after the 117th Congress was sworn into session on Jan. 3. Pew has been analyzing the religious composition of members of Congress since the 111th Congress, which met from 2009 to 2011.

While the House of Representatives has 435 members and the Senate has 100 members, two House seats and two Senate seats were either vacant or undecided as of Jan. 4, when the report was published, leaving the number of senators and representatives analyzed at 531.

Since the publication of the report, Democrats won two Senate runoffs in Georgia while Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District remains vacant due to the death of Representative-elect Luke Letlow. The outcome of the race in New York’s 22nd Congressional District remains undecided.

Four hundred and sixty-eight (88%) of members of the 117th Congress are Christian, compared to 65% of the American public as a whole. A majority of the Christians on Capitol Hill identify as Protestant. While 55% of lawmakers in the 117th Congress are Protestants, just 43% of the American public identifies as such.

A plurality of the Protestants in Congress describe themselves as “unspecified/other.” The largest single Protestant denomination represented on Capitol Hill is Baptists, which has 66 adherents serving in the 117th Congress. Baptists on Capitol Hill make up 12.4% of the 117th Congress, compared to 15% of the American public.

The other Protestant denominations represented on Capitol Hill include Methodists, which has 35 adherents in Congress, Anglicans/Episcopalians, with 26 adherents, Presbyterians, with 24 adherents, Lutherans, with 22 adherents and nondenominational Protestants, with 12 adherents. With the exception of nondenominational Protestants, all of the aforementioned religions have higher representation in Congress than they do in the public at large.

The 117th Congress has 158 Catholics, equivalent to 29.8% of the total Congress. Catholics comprise 20% of the U.S. population. Nine Mormons and seven Orthodox Christians are members of the 117th Congress, accounting for 3% of the membership.

The religious denominations, including Protestant denominations, with less than 1% representation on Capitol Hill are Restorationists (0.8%), Congregationalists (0.6%), Muslims (0.6%), Unitarian Universalists (0.6%), Pentecostals (0.4%), Adventists (0.4%), Hindus (0.4%), Buddhists (0.4%), Reformed (0.2%) and Pietists (0.2%.)

While religiously unaffiliated people make up more than a quarter of the U.S. population (26%), just one member of the 117th Congress identifies as religiously unaffiliated: Sen. Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., describes himself as a humanist, he is listed as the sole member of the “other” category.

Compared to the 116th Congress, the number of Christians overall has declined. The total number of Protestants has increased by one, with the sharpest increases among the “unspecified/other” protestants (+16) and Restorationists (+3). The Protestant groups that saw the largest decreases in members from the 116th Congress to the 117th Congress were Methodists (-7), Baptists (-6) and Lutherans (-4).

The number of Catholics in Congress has decreased from 163 to 158, while the number of Mormons has decreased from 10 to nine. The 117th Congress has seven Orthodox Christians, an increase from the five Orthodox Christians in the 116th Congress. One fewer Jew and Hindu sit in the 117th Congress compared to the 116th Congress, while the number of Unitarian Universalists has increased by one.

The religious makeup of the House does not differ significantly from the religious composition of the Senate. Christians make up a slightly higher proportion of the membership of the House than the Senate (88.5% vs. 86.7%), while Jews make up a higher share of the membership of the Senate than the House (8.2% vs. 5.8%).

Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Unitarian Universalists have no members in the Senate while each religion has less than 1% membership in the House. Orthodox Christians, which make up 1.6% of the House, do not have any members in the Senate.

The Pew report also analyzed the religious affiliations of members of the 117th Congress by party. Some 98.9% of the Republicans in Congress identify as Christians compared to 77.8% of Democrats. Jews comprise a significant portion of congressional Democrats (11.5%) while just 0.8% of congressional Republicans identify as Jewish. Rep. Chris Jacobs, R-N.Y., declined to state his religious affiliation.

All (100%) of the Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Unitarian Universalists and unaffiliated members of Congress are Democrats. Meanwhile, 100% of the Mormons in Congress are Republicans.

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