What about the two Buddhists?

hank johnsonThe Washington Post ran a short story on page A17 Friday about the religious makeup of the 110th Congress that highlighted the record-high number of Jewish lawmakers.

Reporter Elizabeth Williamson also mentions the other Congress members within the Judeo-Christian tent, but for the most part she focuses on the high number of Jewish Democrats:

About 2 percent of Americans identify themselves as Jewish. But in Congress, the proportion of Jewish members is now four times that. Six new Jewish House members were sworn in last week, bringing the total to 30. In the Senate, the 13 Jewish members include freshmen Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) and Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), according to the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Other faith-related facts: This Congress includes its first Muslim member and, in Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), its highest-ranking Mormon ever. Catholics remain the largest single faith group in Congress, at about 30 percent — slightly larger than their proportion of the U.S. population. Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians outnumber Jewish members, who outnumber Episcopalians.

In making its count, the NJDC, which bills itself as the national voice of Jewish Democrats, counted only those lawmakers who identify themselves as Jewish. (So even if he had won, Virginia’s George Allen wouldn’t have made the cut.)

mazie hironoI know everyone finds it deliciously ironic that George Allen found out amid a heady campaign that his family background was Jewish, but it’s not the first time this happened to a politician. A more prominent but less local character for the Post to highlight would be John Kerry.

The article mentions that GOP attempts to court Jewish votes have been to no avail. This is true for many reasons — much of what Republicans believe goes against what a majority of Jews believe — but there’s also the Republican Party in Texas:

Pollsters say the GOP failed to counter Jewish voters’ opposition to Republican stands on issues such as reproductive rights, stem cell research and the Iraq war. And then there’s the Republican Party platform in President Bush’s home state of Texas, which has declared the United States to be a Christian nation.

The religious politics of Republican Texans is a tip-of-the-iceberg issue when it comes to Jews’ hesitancy to vote Republican. There’s a much bigger story there, but a party platform declaring the United States to be exclusively Christian is a good place to start.

One of our readers, Jason Pitzl-Waters, noted and linked to this piece pointing out that this Congress has the nation’s two first Buddhist members, a detail missing from the Post article. What gives? Hank Johnson and Mazie Hirono deserve at least a mention. The New York Times‘ Caucus blog mentioned it a few weeks ago amid the Koran hubbub. That’s one of the only references I’ve seen to Hirono and Johnson’s religious beliefs.

Why did the Post editors overlook Hirono and Johnson? Perhaps they’ll revisit it later in a Style section piece?

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  • Jerry

    Thanks for highlighting the Buddhist members. How Congress and the Supreme Court does or does not reflect the religious diversity of America is a news story worth covering.

    And it is also news when a political party decides that America is, or rather should be turned into, a de facto theocracy. It’s one thing to note and admire the influence of Christianity on basic America values and institutions. It’s quite something else to advocate turning this country into a “Christian” one.

  • http://altreligion.about.com Jennifer Emick

    Maybe they left it out because the article was titled “Jewish membership at all-time high?”

    For the record, the WaPo covered the Buddhist angle ten days ago. (and again a week ago)

  • dpulliam

    Jennifer, I’m not asking them to change the subject of the story but in listing the variety of religious beliefs represented in Congress, the author could have mentioned the fact that the 110th Congress has America’s firs two Buddhist legislators.

  • Stephen A.

    Pollsters say the GOP failed to counter Jewish voters’ opposition to Republican stands on issues such as reproductive rights, stem cell research and the Iraq war.”

    You’ve gotta love it when reporters use loaded or half-correct phrases like “reproductive rights” and “stem cell research” rather than noting that it’s the more correct, but less friendly, “abortion” and “embryonic stem cell research” that the Republicans there and elsewhere actually oppose.

    Left-leaning bias is so commonplace that few even recognize it anymore, apparently.

  • Jennifer Emick

    Okay, fair enough.

  • Jennifer Emick

    “Republicans there and elsewhere actually oppose”

    Well, not exactly. Some Republicans have blocked non-embryonic research, and many Christians oppose birth control as well as abortion- so the former are more inclusive and more accurate.

  • http://www.interfaithradio.org John

    We’ve been trying for Hank Johnson for a while. Problem is that there is no news hook.

  • http://www.geocities.com/frgregacca/stfel.html Fr. Greg

    We’ve been trying for Hank Johnson for a while. Problem is that there is no news hook.

    News hook: He defeated Cynthia McKinney in the primary.

    Another one: How many African-American Buddhists are there?

  • http://wwrtc.blogspot.com Art Deco

    And it is also news when a political party decides that America is, or rather should be turned into, a de facto theocracy. It’s one thing to note and admire the influence of Christianity on basic America values and institutions. It’s quite something else to advocate turning this country into a “Christian” one.

    Can you define ‘theocracy’?

  • http://carelesshand.net Jinzang

    Another one: How many African-American Buddhists are there?

    The form of Buddhism Hank Johnson practices is Nicheren Shoshu and it is pretty popular with African-Americans. There is an unfortunate color/class division among Buddhists, just as there is among Christians.

    And if there’s “no news hook” for Hank Johnson, he must be doing things right.

  • Jerry

    > Can you define a theocracy

    Without going into a detailed discussion of theocracy, theonomy, dominionism, reconstructionism and all the nuanced subsets of beliefs about the role of Christianity in government, I was using the term to distinguish those who believe that society should reflect their values versus those who believe that they should rule society to impose their values. As an example of the later:

    Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost. As the vice regents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors — in short, over every aspect and institution of human society.

    http://www.theocracywatch.org/

    If the group by every and all means enforced an abortion prohibition, to use a popular example, against ever being overturned again by taking upon themselves the role of God’s vice regents, that is clearly theocracy.

    On the other hand, if Christian opponents of abortion work with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and even some atheists who oppose abortion albeit for different reasons it’s quite something different. If this coalition works together via the ballot box to get enough anti-abortion advocates elected to overturn Roe v Wade it’s not theocracy but using democratic beliefs and mechanisms.

    The Texas Republican Party statement does not go to the extreme example I gave above, but they are well on their way there. Since if this is a Christian nation, then Christians must impose laws considered Christian on other believers no matter what the numbers in an election. For how can this be a Christian nation unless the laws enforce Christian values.

  • http://wwrtc.blogspot.com Art Deco

    Without going into a detailed discussion of theocracy, theonomy, dominionism, reconstructionism and all the nuanced subsets of beliefs about the role of Christianity in government, I was using the term to distinguish those who believe that society should reflect their values versus those who believe that they should rule society to impose their values.

    Public policy in a regulatory mode coerces people, and the regulations themselves ultimately derive from the sense of right and good held by the regulators, whether that sense be articulated or no. Historic preservation ordinances, rent control ordinances, and civil rights laws also impose values.

    As an example of the later:

    “Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost. As the vice regents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors — in short, over every aspect and institution of human society.”

    http://www.theocracywatch.org/

    The language is florid. It does, however, say nothing about means.

    If the group by every and all means enforced an abortion prohibition, to use a popular example, against ever being overturned again by taking upon themselves the role of God’s vice regents, that is clearly theocracy.

    I think the phrase ‘God’s vice-regents’ is a metaphor. (By the way, the men in black who really have arrogated to themselves the viceregal role in our political systgem have for 34 years prevented any and all regulation of that barbarous practice by elected officials).

    On the other hand, if Christian opponents of abortion work with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and even some atheists who oppose abortion albeit for different reasons it’s quite something different. If this coalition works together via the ballot box to get enough anti-abortion advocates elected to overturn Roe v Wade it’s not theocracy but using democratic beliefs and mechanisms.

    We agree, up to a point.

    1. I do not think it delegitimates democratic decision making that nominal adherents to minority religions (the 3% who are Mormons and the 3% miscellaneous) or the 14% who are avowedly secular, are not on board;

    2. I am not aware that any consequential group (evangelical or no) has advocated proroguing elected bodies.

    The Texas Republican Party statement does not go to the extreme example I gave above, but they are well on their way there. Since if this is a Christian nation, then Christians must impose laws considered Christian on other believers no matter what the numbers in an election. For how can this be a Christian nation unless the laws enforce Christian values.

    The statement that ‘this is a Christian nation’ is an utterance about a state of being or essence or identity. No policy follows necessarily from it. Of Mr. Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Romer v. Evans, such cannot be said.

  • http://www.streetprophets.com pastordan

    I agree that the Post should have noted Hirono and Johnson. However, I do know that previously both have declined to discuss their religious practice.

  • http://www.christianitytoday.com/ctmag/ Ted Olsen

    Has too much been made of Rep. Hirono’s supposed Buddhism? Here’s The Honolulu Advertiser:

    Hirono, who was raised in the Buddhist tradition but doesn’t actively practice the religion, said, “I don’t have a book [to swear in on]. … But I certainly believe in the precepts of Buddhism and that of tolerance of other religions and integrity and honesty.”

    Seems to me that Rep. Hirono belongs more with the other six members of Congress (all Democrats) who claim no religious affiliation rather than with Rep. Johnson.

  • http://www.geocities.com/frgregacca/stfel.html Fr. Greg

    The form of Buddhism Hank Johnson practices is Nicheren Shoshu and it is pretty popular with African-Americans.

    That fact, I would think, would have certain news value in and of itself. At the same time, I suspect that even given that “popularity,” the number of African-American Buddhists, as a percentage of the total African-American population, must be quite small.

  • Scott Allen

    DPulliam, please explain how “everyone finds it deliciously ironic that George Allen found out amid a heady campaign that his family background was Jewish.” Why, is there an assumption here that Allen is an anti-semite? I honestly don’t understand your statement and could use some clarification.

  • dpulliam

    Actually no Scott, please don’t assume anything. The irony in the George Allen story is that if he does not call S.R. Sidarth “Macaca,” we most likely would not know about his Jewish ancestry and nor would he.

  • Scott Allen

    Well, I’m sorry but I don’t find the connection between Allen’s “macaca” comment and the ethnicity of his ancestors to be “deliciously ironic.”
    Allen’s comment was sorta silly and mindless (I’d never heard the term macaca before this media-generated controversy) and, with respect, your finding this matter somehow “delicious” or even intriguing is equally careless.
    Please know that I value most of what you write here at Getreligion, but as you know any insinuation of anti-semitism (intended or not) is a very serious matter.

  • dpulliam

    Scott,

    Nobody is insinuating anti-semitism in this case. I’m sorry that you’re sensitive to that. How is the Allen situation not at least intriguing?