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February 25, 2011

Evangelicals and Tea Party Overlap in Congress, Public

The tea party movement is a conservative grassroots movement that is more known for its views on taxes than social issues. There is, however, increasing evidence that the tea party movement's message resonates with evangelicals.

In July of 2010, Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) announced a new tea party caucus in the House of Representatives. Bachmann, who is active among both social conservatives and the tea party movement, lined up about 50 Representatives to join the group.


This caucus is more evangelical than the rest of the House. About 45 percent of the caucus attend an evangelical church, compared to 13 percent of others in the House. Another 30 percent are mainline Protestants, mostly of a largely Southern variety. Several Mormons are also part of the caucus.

There are no African-Americans or Jewish members. The caucus is less likely to include Catholics, with only 15 percent who are members of the caucus compared to 32 percent of those who are not.

Nearly all members of Congress express some religious affiliation. Most, however, do not advertise their faith. The members of the tea party caucus do, however, with 43 percent discussing their religious beliefs or membership on their House websites. This is over twice as many as non-members. Just 21 percent of other Representatives provide any mention of their religion.

The overlap between religiosity, evangelicalism, and the tea party is not limited to Congress. A new study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that those who agree with the Tea Party are also socially conservative and religious. Among the religious groups in America, evangelicals are the most supportive of the movement.

Despite its influence in national politics, many Americans remain unaware of the movement. Among evangelicals, nearly half (48 percent) had no opinion or had not heard of the Tea Party. But among those evangelicals that have an opinion on the Tea Party, 84 percent said that they agree with the movement. No other religious tradition comes close to this level of support for the movement. Dan Gilgoff has provided a summary of other traditions at CNN's Belief Blog.

The Pew study suggests that the mix of religion and the tea party movement in Congress is not an accident: nearly all of those who agreed with Christian conservatives also agreed with the tea party.

Pew found that 73 percent of those who agree with the “conservative Christian movement” had heard of the tea party. Of these, 95 percent agreed with the tea party movement.

The real question, however, is whether the new tea party activists—those who have not been part of politics previously—see themselves as part of the Christian right. So far, the evidence points to Christian conservatives wanting to align themselves with the tea party even though many tea party activists have no interest in joining social conservatives.

In Congress, the tea party caucus is struggling to get any of the new Republican freshmen to join its group. Many of these freshmen ran as tea party candidates, but they are not joining the caucus. Among those in the public who agree with the tea party movement, nearly half have no opinion of the conservative Christian movement, according to Pew. Those that do tend to agree with the Christian conservative movement (80 percent).

Editor's Note: Pew identifies evangelicals as white, non-Hispanic Protestants who described themselves as "born-again or evangelical." Around 18 percent of Americans are evangelicals by this definition. Evangelicals are compared to all other Americans, including those who are not white. The religion of Members of Congress is based on self-reports, membership at local churches, and official biographies on Representatives' websites. Approximately 18 percent of Congressmen are evangelical in the 112th Congress.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.


The real story is not the 45%, but the 55% nonevangelicals who found the Tea Party message agreeable. I have always read they were only right-wing evangelicals, but you reveal here that they are actually in the minority.

Another big story here is Pew Forum's racially narrow description of evangelical. My church, considered evangelical theology, has hundreds of Spanish-speakers (Hispanic and otherwise) and lots of non-white people.

"Grassroots" firmly planted in Koch soil.

I think evangelicals are going to be left at the altar on this one. In our state (KY) we have the poster child of the Tea Party, Rand Paul, who says he is Christian but in his actual proposals for governance of the country sounds very far from the spirit of the Gospel. His true "saint" is Ayan Rand.
I wonder how it is that evangelicals are so enamored by a political trend or "movement" (if it is even that coherent) that has made its primary focus fighting over money, especially securing more money for wealthy people? What's the draw here? Or, is that the old evangelical political caucus has so become so divided and fragmented under its own weight that the Tea Partiers look like the only available option to continue having a voice?

What would Francis Schaeffer think about the Tea Party today? "Personal peace and affluence" were part of his critique of western society back in the 1970s. Today it feels even more that personal autonomy and affluence present a primary syncretistic challenge to American evangelicals.

And the evangelical movement thereby becomes even more irrelevant to America than it was before. Embracing quacks and hate-mongers in Christ's name doesn't do a bloody thing for His people or the world, except to expose evangelicals as the hypocrites the world already sees them to be.

I agree totally Todd with the additional emphasis that the USA evangelical movement is rapidly becoming less relevant to the rest of Christianity. That the inequalities in the distribution of wealth in Egypt is less than that of the USA says it all. Do not be surprised as others begin to 'walk like an Egyptian'

Not dealing with torture and the abuse of prisoners contrary to commonly accepted UN protocols and just plan human humanity is not a good sight. Nor critiquing the unchecked negative role of multinationals in other countries affairs or even within the USA.

The great myth about the Tea Party is that they are a fiscal/economic movement as their name suggests. They are a cultural/social movement or a wolf in sheep's clothing.

I am an evengelical church going "religious" person who thinks the Tea Party is the biggest bunch of hypocrites to ever walk the face of the earth...They tell our senior citizens and poor people "sacrifices" must be made, (social security, medicare, medicaid, etc.,) yet the richest 1% cannot "sacrifice" their tax breaks...Unions representing the working people in this great country of ours are considered "evil" and "greedy" if they want health care and a decent living wage, yet it is ok for the corporations to reap their biggest profits ever off the backs of the working man...HEALTH CARE for everyone is considered a waste of taxpayer money, yet we can pour billions and billions into wars,other countries, and tax breaks for the rich...You don't see CONGRESS "sacrificing"...Jesus had His harshest words ever for the hypocrite, and the Bible speaks more about helping the poor than anything else...I do believe you will face God's judgement TEA PARTY..

..."There are no African American or Jewish Members" ... !

@Todd J, I agree with the first sentence of your post, but I don't think that members of the Tea Party can or should be characterized as "quacks" or "hate mongers"

Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail?

"Nobody goes to jail".. This is the lament of the financial-crisis era, "one that saw virtually every major bank and financial company on Wall Street embroiled in obscene criminal scandals that impoverished millions and collectively destroyed trillions of dollars of the world's wealth."


Any individual or group who pursues an agenda that is driven by greed and selfishness are only "professors" of righteousness. I am a follower of Jesus who is mystified by Evangelicals grabbing for political power--whether they be Tea Partiers or not. Jesus never entered the political arena and always zeroed in on the real issues of import--individual heart conversion and deliverance from sin. He said, "My kingdom is not of this world." Why are some "Christians" so bent on political power? It is a wild goose chase that is certain to leave them empty and our society less knowledgeable of the true Christ.

I hear what you're saying, Rich. But what are you suggesting? Sit on the sidelines?

The more the Evangelicals mix politics with Christ the more they become like the world. God's kingdom isn't of this earth and neither are his politics. Evangelicals have become political before Biblical. They're gaining power from earthy kings and through the humility of Christ. Really don’t cares if they expose themselves. Want them to expose themselves as power grabbing, fame seeking, and mammon worshippers. The constitution before the Bible. Washington DC before the kingdom of God. Disgusting and hope they get thrown out of the temple. The more they shout from capital hill, they become irreverent as followers of Christ. The mighty do fall, and hopefully it will be on their knees.

The answer is not to sit on the sidelines; rather to keep our politics subject to the Kingdom of God which is "not of this world"(Jesus). Unfortunately, all too often, what the world sees of the right-wing is a lack of humility, compassion and grace that must surely grieve the Holy Spirit.

What would be some examples of the "lack of humility, compassion and grace that grieve the Holy Spirit?" Just curious.

I agree wholeheartedly, Sandy.

"...the Bible speaks more about helping the poor than anything else..." WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY IS IT?

In light of the What Would Jesus Cut campaign, shouldn't the headline to this blog read "Conservative Republican evangelicals agree with Tea Party"?

And what about the many areas where an evangelical group like NAE would totally not overlap? Like environmental issues, foreign aid?

Having said that, it does seem the sad fact that most evangelicals have bought the Tea Party rhetoric hook, line and sinker.

Hmm... Jesus showed much concern for the poor, and said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for the rich to get into heaven... He also said that you can't serve God and Mammon at the same time... I wonder what the Tea Party, which is so keen on cutting everything that helps the poor in any way and are against affordable health care for the lower and middle class, but favors tax cuts for the insanely rich, would say about that?

That so many "evangelicals" could be part of such a movement says a lot about what American evangelicalism has become, and that's not a positive development at all.