New Congress has fewer Christians, more religious diversity
From left in center row, Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y, hold hands during an opening prayer as the House of Representatives assembles for the first day of the 116th Congress at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
The 116th Congress is less religious and more diverse than the previous class, though changes are almost entirely on the Democratic side.
More than 99 percent of the Republican members identify as Christians, as opposed to 78 percent of Democrats, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center. But in both parties, Christians are overrepresented when compared to the general population -- about 71 percent of U.S. adults describe themselves as Christians.
Just two members of the 252 Republican members do not identify as Christian: Reps. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., and David Krustoff, R-Tenn., are Jewish.
In stark contrast, of the 282 Congressional Democrats, 61 do not identify as Christian. Over half are Jewish, with 32, while 18 declined to specify a religious affiliation. Three members are Muslims, three are Hindus, two are Buddhists, two are Unitarian Universalists, and one is religiously unaffiliated.
The results, based on the members' reporting of faith identities, show Christians dropped by 3 percent in the new class, from 91 percent of members to 88 percent. There are four more Jewish members, one additional Muslim, and one more Unitarian Universalist, as well as eight more members who decline to state their religious affiliation or lack thereof.
Among the class, Catholics and Protestants make up the largest portion. Catholics are 30 percent and Protestants -- of whom Baptists, Methodists, Anglican/Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Lutheran make up the biggest chunk -- are almost 55 percent of the class. One significantly underrepresented denomination is Pentecostal, which only has two members. Pentecostals make up 5 percent of the U.S. adult population.
The most significant disparity, however, is with "unaffiliated" Americans. Only one member, Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, reported no affiliation at all, as compared to 23 percent of all U.S. adults.
A probable explanation for members of Congress overrepresenting faith could stem from voter backlash. A 2016 Pew survey found that 51 percent of U.S. adults said they would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who does not believe in God.