Baptists in the 111th Congress
by Aaron Douglas Weaver
Baptists in the United States make up the largest branch on the Protestant family tree. According to a 2008 religious landscape study conducted by the Pew Forum On Religion & Public Life, Baptists account for one-third of all Protestants and 17.2 percent (38.7 million) of the overall adult population in the United States. Baptists make up a plurality (41 percent) of the “Evangelical Tradition,” 64 percent of the “Historically Black Tradition,” and 10 percent of the “Mainline Tradition.”
A survey released in December by the Pew Forum, based on data from the Congressional Quarterly, found that a majority of the new 111th Congress are Protestants. Of the 239 Protestants in the 111th Congress, 66 or 12.4 percent are Baptists. The Pew Forum survey notes that Congress as a whole is much more religiously diverse now than in decades and includes Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons, Unitarians, Seventh-Day Adventists, and a Christian Scientist.
Baptists who are the second-largest religious group after Catholics are actually underrepresented in the 111th Congress. Baptists 12.4 percent share of Congress is significantly less than their 17.2 percent share of the national adult population. Meanwhile, Methodists make up 10.2 percent of Congress while only accounting for 6.2 percent of the national adult population. Despite the increased religious diversity, the percentage of Baptists in Congress has changed very little (+.7 percent) in the pasty fifty years. The 87th Congress (1961-1963) included 11.7 percent Baptists. Nearly twenty years later, Baptists in the 96th Congress (1979-1981) accounted for 10.3 percent of Congress. This number increased to 13.1 percent by the 105th Congress (1999-2001).
The 100-member Senate of the 111th Congress is comprised of eight Baptists including seven Republicans and just one Democrat. Four of the eight Baptist Senators are members of Baptist churches that affiliate with the Southern Baptist Convention. Southern Baptists in the Senate include John McCain (R-AZ), North Phoenix Baptist Church; Roger Wicker (R-MS), First Baptist Church Tupelo; Tom Coburn (R-OK), First Baptist Church Muskogee; and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Corinth Baptist Church, Seneca. As the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, the SBC includes slightly over 15 million Baptists or 39 percent of Baptists in the United States.
Senator Charles “Chuck” Grassley (R-IA) is a member of Baptist General Conference-affiliated Prairie Lakes Church in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The BGC, a national evangelical Baptist body with roots in Swedish Pietism, is comprised of 194,000 members in 950 churches located throughout the United States. The lone Baptist Democrat in the Senate, Robert Byrd (D-WV), is a member of Crab Orchard Missionary Baptist Church which is affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA. Formerly known as the Northern Baptist Convention, ABC-USA is an ethnically diverse “mainline” denomination made up of 1.4 million Baptists in 5,780 churches that affiliates with the National Council of Churches.
Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) is a member of Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi. Northminster is aligned with both the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a renewal movement among Baptists that includes individuals and approximately 1,900 affiliated churches, and the Alliance of Baptists, an alliance of individuals and 125-affiliated congregations. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who according to data from the Congressional Quarterly is a “Baptist” now identifies with Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Southeast Christian Church is an evangelial megachurch associated with the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. Senator McConnell was formerly a long-time member of Crescent Hill Baptist Church also in Louisville.
The House of Representatives includes 58 self-identified Baptists from 26 states. Baptists in the House of Representatives are equally divided with 29 Democrats and 29 Republicans. House Baptists are also racially diverse with African-Americans accounting for 33 percent of Baptists in the lower chamber. However, only 10 percent of Baptists in the House are female. There is also great denominational diversity among House Baptists. Forty-seven percent of House Baptists (27 Representatives) hold membership in a Baptist church that affiliates with the Southern Baptist Convention. African-American Baptists who are part of the “Historically Black Church Tradition” comprise 33 percent of House Baptists (19 Representatives). Historically black Baptist denominations represented include the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., National Missionary Baptist Convention of America and the Progressive National Baptist Convention. Other Baptist groups represented include the American Baptist Churches USA (3), Alliance of Baptists (2), Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (2), Conservative Baptist Association of America (1), North American Baptist Conference (1), Independent Fundamental Baptist (1) and Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (1).
Included among the Baptists in the 111th Congress are two ordained Baptist ministers (Ed Towns (D-NY) and Bobby Lee Rush (D-IL)), current and former Deacons and Sunday School teachers (Gregg Harper (R-MS), Bobby Bright (D-AL), John Barrow (D-GA), John Fleming (R-LA)), a renowned Civil Rights leader (John Lewis, D-GA), staunch proponents and opponents of the Iraq War, anti-abortion rights Democrats, an anti-online gambling Democrat and a pro-medical marijuana Republican. Three of the top leaders in the 111th Congress are Baptist. They include Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) the House Majority Leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) the Senate Minority Leader and Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) who serves as Senate President Pro Tempore. Seven members of the 111th Congress’s freshmen class identify as Baptist. For a complete list of Baptists in the 111th Congress and their church membership information, see below.
*The list of Baptists in the 111th Congress was obtained from the Pew Forum via the Congressional Quarterly. Members of Congress supplied their religious affiliation information directly to the Congressional Quarterly.
**Church membership information is based on independent research and in some instances correspondence with staff members of the individual Senators and Representatives.
***This report lists Rep. Bobby Lee Rush (D-IL) as an ordained Baptist minister. However, based on data from the Congressional Quarterly, Rush no longer self-identifies as a Baptist. Instead, Rush lists his religious affiliation as simply “Christian.” Since he was ordained in a Baptist church, I still count Rush as an “ordained Baptist minister.” Rush is the only practicing minister in the 111th Congress.
****This report does not include Senator-designate Roland Burris (D-IL) who various sources have listed as Baptist.
*****John McCain is “technically not a member of North Phoenix Baptist Church. However, North Phoenix is his “church home” (the church he attends) as Baptists like to say.
******Baptists in the 111th Congress is the research project of Aaron Weaver of www.thebigdaddyweave.com. No outside assistance has been given. This list will be updated as information regarding church membership is given by congressional staff members that I personally contacted.
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