At the swearing-in of the 116th United States Congress today, nearly 100 new legislators will take the oath of office, pledging to “well and faithfully discharge” their new duties, “so help me God.”
After last year’s campaign and midterm elections, the ceremony represents answered prayers for dozens of incoming evangelical politicians.
Though the overall number of Christians in Congress fell slightly from 91 percent from 2017 to 88 percent in 2019, a vast majority of freshmen—78 of the 96 newly elected lawmakers—identify as Christian and around half—47—are Protestants, according to Pew Research Center’s Faith on the Hill report.
With the largest freshman class since 2011, these representatives bring historic levels of diversity to Washington, a range of backgrounds outside politics, and deep convictions about faith in governance. The group includes Sunday school teachers, deacons, Christian college graduates, missions trip participants, prayer advocates, a former aspiring pastor, and plenty of churchgoers.
“In Romans 13, government officials are described as ministers of God,” said Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who assumes Claire McCaskill’s seat, in an interview last year about his faith. “That’s how serious God is about politics.”
Former counsel with the religious liberty legal group Becket (where he helped defend the Hobby Lobby and Hosanna-Tabor cases before the Supreme Court), Hawley belongs to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, speaks before Baptist crowds, and is one of 22 freshmen who identify as unspecified/other Protestants in the congressional questionnaire from CQ Roll Call, the basis for the Pew report released today.
Newly elected members were more likely to use this religious designation—which includes “those who say they are Christian, evangelical Christian, evangelical Protestant, or Protestant, without specifying a denomination”—than members of Congress overall (23% of freshmen members vs. 15% of Congress).
Following the midterms, the unspecified/other Protestant category saw the biggest bump of any faith tradition, adding 16 seats in this session—double as many as the next largest gain of 8 seats, which came among those who declined to provide a religious identification.
Congress now includes total of 80 unspecified/other Protestants. Though the catchall affiliation is among the most overrepresented in the legislature (15% of representatives compared to 5% of American adults), the disparity may be in part due to elected officials opting not to indicate a particular tradition.
Several of the incoming representatives who selected the unspecified/other Protestant category do attend denominational churches, such as Representative Dusty Johnson of South Dakota, who built houses in Haiti on a short-term missions trip with his Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA) congregation earlier this year; Representative Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, a Southern Baptist-turned-Episcopalian who prayed the words of St. Francis of Assisi every day of her campaign, according to a Religion News Service report; and Representative William Timmons of South Carolina, a member of Greenville’s Christ Church Episcopal whose faith inspires him to advocate for victims of domestic violence.
Two new lawmakers belong to Church of Christ congregations: Representative Lance Gooden of Texas, who attends Rockwall & Brin Church of Christ and identifies as Congregationalist, and Representative John Rose of Tennessee, who attends Buffalo Valley Church of Christ and identifies with the unspecified Protestant designation.
Six of the new class are Baptist, with half attending Southern Baptist churches: Representative Chip Roy of Texas, Representative Michael Guest of Mississippi, and Representative Ross Spano of Florida.
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Source: Christianity Today