By Chris Wilson
Several times a month, the chaplain of the House of Representatives invites guest chaplains from around the country to deliver an opening prayer for that day’s proceedings. In many cases, these guests come recommended by a particular member of Congress. Since 2000, more than 600 individuals have invoked God’s blessing on the chamber: 293 sponsored by Republicans, 178 by Democrats, and 172 for whom the House Chaplain’s website lists no sponsoring member.
I suspect most people who believe in a supreme deity would say that God transcends politics. Politics does not return the favor. All political parties conscript God in some way or another, whether it’s in defense of universal health care or in opposition to same-sex marriage. The difference in how the parties talk about God is reflected in the sort of prayers the men and women they sponsor deliver.
Democrats and Republicans really do pray differently. Republican-sponsored guest chaplains are far more likely to invoke Jesus by name. By contrast, the more generic “spiritual” is considerably more likely to be heard coming from a Democrat-sponsored chaplain.
In the following interactive, you can search for any word and 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 opening prayer on June 16, 2010, at the invitation of Rep. John Hall, a New York Democrat, he addressed God thus:
You created humanity with all its diversity in your image and placed us upon this earth to tend it, guiding us along whichever spiritual path we call our own toward goodness and peace.
When Reverend Dr. Paul Powell appeared two weeks later at the invitation of Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, he concluded in this way:
We believe that righteousness exalts a nation so may justice, mercy and truth prevail throughout the land. Cause us to always 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 are concerned with opposite sides of the God-man divide: Republicans seem more concerned with God’s work in heaven, Democrats with his work on earth. (This is a popular refrain for Democratic presidents. In his second inaugural, Obama called freedom “a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth,” a clear echo of President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural.)
Guest chaplains sponsored by Democrats are more likely to use words like “together” and “people,” while those sponsored by Republicans are more likely to say “father” and “heaven.” Democrats say “compassion,” Republicans say “mercy.” Democrats say “goodness,” Republicans say “glory.”
When it comes to “God,” however, they are exactly even.
Questions? I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.