A look at Joe Biden’s religiously and ethnically diverse cabinet nominees

(RNS) – Joe Biden’s cabinet will make history in a number of ways.

When all candidates elected by the president-elect are confirmed, the cabinet – including the vice-president, heads of 15 executive departments, and eight other key positions – will be the most racially and ethnically diverse ever. Among them are six African Americans, four Hispanics, three Asian Americans, and one Native American. Half of the nominees are women – most of whom have ever been nominated for a presidential cabinet.

The cabinet candidates are also different in terms of their religious background. Like the elected president, the majority – at least eight – are Catholic. But five Jews were also nominated, two black Baptists and, if the surgeon general is included (often not), two Hindus. (A handful of cabinet members don’t seem to identify with any religion.)

Not represented a group? White Evangelicals, the group most loyal to President Donald Trump.

Trump not only won an overwhelming majority of white evangelical support in 2016 and 2020, but also appointed many to his cabinet, well beyond their demographic representation. (White evangelicals make up 15% of the US population.) There are Vice President Mike Pence, but also Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the newly retired Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, and several others, including former secretaries such as Rick Perry, Jeff Sessions and Scott Pruitt.

Biden is a Cradle Catholic who regularly attends Mass and often quotes from Scripture. But unlike former President Barack Obama, who did the white evangelical overtures – by inviting mega-church pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church to deliver his inaugural address in 2008, or Orlando mega-church pastor Joel Hunter, as Choosing his spiritual advisor, Biden has not yet directed such invitations to the white evangelicals.

And even if he wanted to, he could have a hard time finding an evangelical cabinet member for one simple reason:

“Most evangelicals tend to reject Republicans,” said John Fea, professor of American history at Messiah University.

And while white evangelicals could rightly criticize the omission, Fea said they probably won’t notice because in their eyes “an evangelical democrat is not an evangelical anyway”.

Of course, the constitution provides that there should be no religious test for the performance of an office. And Biden was probably more interested in choosing candidates who were broadly representative of ethnicity, race, and gender – not religion.

“When it comes to cabinet selection, the two things are skill and experience, and then how representative the country is,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO and founder of PRRI, the opinion polling group. “It’s very difficult to check off every aspect of the country.”

One area that would be interesting to watch, Jones said, is whether Biden is revitalizing the Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Office at the White House, now referred to as the Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Office at the White House.

This would be a place to look for a more balanced representation of America’s religious landscape.

A first look at the religious background of the Biden Cabinet Picks shows:

Catholics dominate:

If confirmed, these include: Lloyd Austin (Secretary of Defense); Deb Haaland (Home Secretary); Xavier Becerra (Secretary for Health and Human Services); Tom Vilsack (Minister of Agriculture); Gina Raimondo (Minister of Commerce); Marty Walsh (Minister of Labor); Denis McDonough (Secretary for Veterans Affairs); Jennifer Granholm (Minister of Energy); and, sometimes on lists of cabinet appointments, John Kerry (President’s Envoy on Climate).

One of the most public Catholics is Walsh, the former Boston mayor, who likes to say, “Thy will be done,” if not all of the Lord’s Prayer, before speaking publicly. He carries a rosary in his pocket and brought a gym bag full of rosaries, which Pope Francis blessed when he was introduced to the Pope along with other US mayors in 2015, Crux reported.

Jews come in second place:

If confirmed, this includes: Antony Blinken (Secretary of State); Janet Yellen (Treasury Secretary); Merrick Garland (Attorney General); Alejandro Mayorkas (Minister for Internal Security); Avril Haines (Director of National Intelligence); and, sometimes held in senior cabinet positions, Ron Klain (Chief of Staff).

Two of the Jewish candidates are children of Holocaust survivors. Mayorkas ‘mother Anita was a Romanian Holocaust survivor who fled Europe to Cuba, where she married Mayorkas’ father, who is also Jewish. Blinken’s stepfather, Samuel Pisar, was a Polish Jew who survived four concentration camps and was liberated by the US Army in Bavaria. Blinken’s paternal grandmother, Vera Blinken, fled communist Hungary as a young girl.

Two Baptists and a Bishop:

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and Marcia Fudge (Secretary of Housing and Urban Development) are both Baptists. Pete Buttigieg (Secretary of Transportation) may be the only Protestant. As a presidential candidate, he repeatedly spoke of his faith.

A couple of Hindus:

Neera Tanden (Director of the Office of Management and Budget) and Vivek Murthy (General Surgeon) are Hindus. (The surgeon’s office requires Senate approval, but is usually not included in the cabinet.) Harris, also of Indian American descent, attended Hindu temples as the daughter of an Indian immigrant. She now identifies as a Baptist. The cabinet selection does not include Muslims.

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