This week the 113th Congress of the United States of America convened, and while this is a routine part of our government’s normal functioning, both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate saw some historic firsts that should appeal to those hoping for a more religiously diverse representative body. Perhaps the most high-profile is Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu to be elected to Congress, and the first person to swear their oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita.
“I chose to take the oath of office with my personal copy of the Bhagavad-Gita because its teachings have inspired me to strive to be a servant-leader, dedicating my life in the service of others and to my country.” – Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
In addition to Gabbard, Sen. Mazie Hirono, also of Hawaii, became the first Buddhist elected to the U.S. Senate (she had already served in the House), and the first Asian-American female senator.
“I don’t have a book [...] But I certainly believe in the precepts of Buddhism and that of tolerance of other religions and integrity and honesty [...] It’s about time that we have people of other backgrounds and faiths in Congress…” – Sen. Mazie Hirono (in 2007)
A third first comes from Arizona where Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, the first openly bisexual member of Congress, also happens to be the first explicitly religious “none” elected to Congress.
Democratic Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who was raised a Mormon, is religiously unaffiliated but does not describe herself as an atheist. Her campaign was unavailable for comment to Whispers due to the swearing in, but spokesman Justin Unga told the Religion News Service in November that Sinema favors a “secular approach.” He told the New York Times the same month that Sinema “believes the terms ‘nontheist,’ ‘atheist’ or ‘nonbeliever’ are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character.”
There are other interesting religious facts about the 113th Congress, but I think these three women are representative of the shifts happening in the United States right now. Specifically the rise of “nones” who aren’t necessarily atheists, but also don’t claim a religious identity, and the ongoing growth of non-Christian minority religions. We are fast approaching the day where hot-button moral issues in this country can no longer be discussed solely within a Judeo-Christian context, and we are already seeing the end of the “white Christian strategy” in national politics. It’s a new dawn, one that started with the November elections, and is now enacted with this new Congress.