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Congress Remains Far More Christian than the Country

Denominational identity is dropping among lawmakers, but few are “nones.”
Congress Remains Far More Christian than the Country
Image: Win McNamee / Getty Images

For the first time in the history of Pew Research Center’s Faith on the Hill report, you’re more likely to find a Baptist inside the halls of Congress than outside it.

As major denominations continue to decline, there’s a widening gap between Americans’ religious affiliations and those of their representatives.

In the 118th Congress, 88 percent of legislators identify as Christians, compared to 62 percent of US adults. Just one of Congress’s 534 members is unaffiliated (0.2%), compared to 29 percent of the country.

In 2023, the number of Baptists in Congress—the most popular denominational identity—held relatively steady at 13 percent, while Baptist affiliation declined nationally, down to 11 percent from 15 percent two years before.

There are currently 57 Baptists in the House and another 10 in the Senate, including Southern Baptists Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and James Lankford. Other Baptists, such as Raphael Warnock, come from predominantly African American Baptist denominations like the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

Going back to 2008, the percentage of Americans who identified as Baptist had always exceeded Baptist representation on the Hill. For years, mainline traditions were overrepresented in the House and Senate, and members of Congress had been less likely than the US overall to identify with affiliations like Pentecostal and nondenominational.

Recently, though, more Christian lawmakers are picking generic labels rather than identifying with a particular denomination. In the 118th Congress, representatives were nearly twice as likely to call themselves “unspecified/other” Protestants (20%) or nondenominational (2.8%) than the most popular denomination (Baptist, with 12.5%).

The trend is even stronger with newcomers to Congress. Among the 52 freshman legislators who are Protestant, half are “unspecified” or nondenominational Protestants, many of them evangelical.

Eli Crane, an incoming congressman from Arizona who falls in that category, has shared his testimony in a series on Pray.com and referenced a formative period under the leadership of Miles MacPherson at The Rock Church, an evangelical congregation in San Diego.

Another new unspecified Protestant in Congress, Missouri Rep. Mark Alford, who attends Evangel Church in Kansas City, posted Proverbs 3:5-6 ahead of Monday’s swearing-in.

“Give me discernment and wisdom and courage in the decisions I make here in Washington and give me compassion and understanding for … our constituents back home,” he prayed.

While unspecified Protestants gained 11 seats in Congress and nondenominational Protestants added three, denominational groups either kept the same numbers—like Baptists and Lutherans—or declined—like Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians.

Those three mainline groups each have fewer members in this Congress than they did the session before, with Methodists losing four members and going down to 31; Presbyterians losing one member and going down to 25; and Episcopalians losing four and going down to 22. There are also ten fewer Catholic lawmakers this session.

While the religious makeup of Congress is beginning to reflect the decline of denominations and the rise of nondenominational evangelicalism, it’s missing the other major component of America’s shifting religious landscape: the “nones.”

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona remains the only member of Congress who is religiously unaffiliated, a category that now comprises nearly a third (29%) of US adults and is the country’s fastest-growing faith affiliation. Another 15 Democrats and one Republican did not specify a religious affiliation.

Some smaller Christian traditions got a boost from newly elected leaders. There’s one more Orthodox Christian, Rep. Mary Peltola, a member of the Russian Orthodox Church who’s a Democrat from Alaska, bringing the Orthodox total to eight.

Just two members of Congress identify as Reformed, and both are from Michigan. Freshman lawmaker and Democrat Hillary Scholten (whose 2020 campaign CT covered) attends LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church, while Republican incumbent Bill Huizenga is a Calvin University alumnus.

One new member, Florida Republican Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, identifies as a Christian and says she was “raised as Messianic Jew.” She is the only Messianic Jew in Congress.

[ This article is also available in español. ]

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