By Chris Wilson
Several times a month, the chaplain of the House ofRepresentatives invites guest chaplains from around the country to deliver an opening prayer for thatday’s proceedings. In many cases, these guests come recommended by aparticular member of Congress. Since 2000, more than 600 individuals haveinvoked God’s blessing on the chamber: 293 sponsored by Republicans, 178 byDemocrats, and 172 for whom the HouseChaplain’s website lists no sponsoring member.
I suspect most people who believe in a supreme deity wouldsay that God transcends politics. Politics does not return the favor. All political parties conscript God insome way or another, whether it’s in defense of universal health care or inopposition to same-sex marriage. The difference in how the parties talk aboutGod is reflected in the sort of prayers the men and women they sponsor deliver.
Democrats and Republicans really do pray differently. Republican-sponsoredguest chaplains are far more likely to invoke Jesus by name. By contrast, themore generic “spiritual” is considerably more likely to be heard coming from a Democrat-sponsoredchaplain.
In the following interactive, you can search for any wordand see how often it has been uttered in the prayers of House guest chaplains,sorted by the party of the sponsoring member.
When Rabbi Joshua Davidson delivered the openingprayer on June 16, 2010, atthe invitation of Rep. John Hall, a New York Democrat, he addressed God thus:
You created humanity with all itsdiversity in your image and placed us upon this earth to tend it, guiding usalong whichever spiritual path we call our own toward goodness and peace.
When Reverend Dr. PaulPowell appeared two weeks later at the invitation of Rep. Louie Gohmert, aTexas Republican, he concluded in this way:
We believe that righteousness exalts anation so may justice, mercy and truth prevail throughout the land. Cause us toalways look to you, bow before you, and humbly follow you is my prayer in Jesus’name. Amen.
The picture that emerges is one in which the two parties areconcerned with opposite sides of the God-man divide: Republicans seem moreconcerned with God’s work in heaven, Democrats with his work on earth. (This isa popular refrain for Democratic presidents. In his second inaugural, Obamacalled freedom “a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here onEarth,” a clearecho of President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural.)
Guest chaplains sponsored by Democrats are more likely touse words like “together” and “people,” while those sponsored by Republicansare more likely to say “father” and “heaven.” Democrats say “compassion,”Republicans say “mercy.” Democrats say “goodness,” Republicans say “glory.”
Questions? I'm at email@example.com. Want to see how it's done? The source code is on GitHub.
Correction, 11:23 a.m.: A misbehaving variable originally caused the interactive to overstate Republican percentages and understand Democratic percentages in some browsers. It has been corralled.
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