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So help me who?

The 116th Congress convenes with an eclectic mix of religious and nonreligious views

So help me who?

Vice President Mike Pence administers the oath of office to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema during a mock swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 3. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

This week’s Whirled Views offers a roundup of religious news and views from around the United States.

Choosing my religion 

When newly elected Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., took her congressional oath of office on Jan. 3, she raised her right hand high and placed the other hand firmly on a law book. The book contained copies of the Arizona and U.S. constitutions. 

Sinema wasn’t the only freshman in the 116th Congress taking an oath on something other than the Bible. Texts included the Quran, a Buddhist sutra, and the Hindu Vedas.

Members aren’t required to swear on any book or text, but the variety offered a glimpse into the array of religious beliefs in Congress.

According to a Pew Research survey, only two of the 252 Republican members of Congress didn’t identify as Christian: Reps. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., and David Kustoff, R.-Tenn., are Jewish. 

Sixty-one of the 282 Democrats didn’t identify as Christian: Thirty-two are Jewish. Other affiliations among Democrats include three Muslims, three Hindus, two Buddhists, and two Unitarian Universalists. 

Sen. Sinema—first elected to Congress as a House member in 2012—was the only member to check “none” for religious affiliation. But 18 Democrats also checked “don’t know/refused” to answer. 

Among Christian designations, 293 members identified as Protestant and 163 as Catholic. Mormons were listed under the Christian designation as well, with 10 members identifying with Mormonism. Five members identified as Orthodox Christians.

Among Protestant members, affiliations included Baptist, Methodist, Anglican/Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and seven other groups. 

But the highest number of Protestants (80 members) checked “unspecified/other”—a designation that includes “those who say they are Christian, evangelical Christian, evangelical Protestant or Protestant, without specifying a denomination.” (This was a separate category from “nondenominational Protestants.” Ten members checked that box.)

The “unspecified/other” category included some members who do belong to denominations, but chose to identify apart from denominational lines. Since denominational categories didn’t offer breakdowns to differentiate between mainline churches and more conservative ones, it’s possible some members chose this category to make the distinction.

Whatever the case, the oath of office new members took includes a pledge to faithfully discharge their duties “so help me God.” Bible-believing Christians should pray God will help them, whether in His saving grace or in the common grace He shows to all people—even those who don’t acknowledge Him. 

Confidence in princes

Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, gave a one-word answer to a complex question about his support for President Donald Trump. A Washington Post reporter asked: “Is there anything President Trump could do that would endanger that support from you or other evangelical leaders?” 

Falwell answered: “No.”

He went on to explain he believes anything Trump does will be for the good of the country: “I can’t imagine him doing anything that’s not good for the country.”

To state the obvious: That’s a dangerous level of confidence to have in any fallible human being. 

Pastoral cares

Speaking of fallible human beings, the best of Christian pastors certainly fall into that category too, but it’s sad to see a new Gallup poll showing Americans’ views of the clergy continuing to decline.

The poll reported only 37 percent of respondents said they had a high or very high view of the honesty and ethics of members of the clergy. That’s nearly 50 points below the public’s high confidence in nurses. The lowest regard went to members of Congress, who scored below telemarketers and car salesmen. 

Gallup surmises the sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church drove much of the decline in Americans’ regard for clergy. That scandal is indeed a tragedy, and evangelicals should do their own hard work in this area too. 

But as a church member who knows plenty of fallible but godly pastors (including my own), here’s hoping 2019 will lead many spiritually lost or hurting sinners to the doors of churches with pastors and members ready to offer Christ in all His perfections.

The year ahead

If you’re still looking for a Bible reading plan, I recommend the ambitious but rewarding M’Cheyne reading schedule. If you’re looking for ways to reach out to neighbors, here are 52 ideas for inviting people to church this year.