Sunday, January 9, 2011

Faith on the Hill

The report on the religious composition of the new One Hunnered and Twefth Congress that was released earlier this week by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life contains some rather interesting data.  It measures the self-stated faith affiliation of each of the members of our Congress, which can then be compared to the broader populace and dissected by the talkocracy.

Which would be me, I suppose.

Several things strike me.  In Pew's own analysis of their data, they note that the most significantly underrepresented group are the "nonaffiliated."  Meaning, the agnostics, the atheists, and the people who basically just couldn't care less.  While such souls are about 16% of the overall population, there are no unaffiliated folks in Congress.  Six members, or around 1%, didn't reply to the survey.  Two members, or around 0.3%, indicated their faith didn't fall into any measurable category.  But none of them explicitly said they were without faith.  Not one.  Is this a question of bias or just the inherent democratic unelectability of being a minority that articulates an unpopular worldview?  Six of one, half dozen of the other, I suppose. 

Pew also notes that while the oldline denominations are in decline, they are significantly overrepresented in Congress.  While Presbyterians and Episcopalians combined make up only 5% of the U.S. population, we're 16% of the Congress.  Perhaps it's a factor of our love of decency, order, and mind-numbingly pointless bureaucratic wrangling over issues rather than actually solving them.

What wasn't noted, and seems worthy of it, is the number of self-identifying "nondenominational" Christians.  Nondenominational Christianity least in terms of the public face of Christianity...a significant player in the American Jesus People world.  The nondenominational churches are supposedly everywhere.  They range in size from the teeny bitty little house fellowships to the big Bible megachurches.   They make up, depending on what research you look at, somewhere around 15% of congregations.  But a grand total of two Congressmen self-identify that way.  That's means there are as many self-identifying nondenominational types in Congress as there are Muslims.   The only non-zero category they beat out are the Quakers, who are usually just too darn nice to get elected.

Except for Nixon.  Man, that was one wacky Quaker.

Still and all, I was particularly struck that this category, which is so prevalent in the American Christian world, should be such a non-presence.  Perhaps it's that folks don't see it as meaning anything.  A non-denom might be more prone to calling themselves "evangelical."  Or "Bible-believing."  Or perhaps they just all plopped themselves down into the largest Pew subcategory of Protestant lawmakers after the Baptists:  "Unspecified/Other."

It might be nice to see that on some church signs.  "The First Unspecified/Other Church of Wabash."