Bernie Sanders’ Religious Test   2 comments

I am currently in the throes of polishing a short story for submission and trying to finish the draft for A Threatening Fragility while also enjoying the midnight sun, so the blog is mostly advanced-written stuff, but Bernie Sanders threatened me this past week and I just have to vent about that.

Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, is standing for confirmation hearings in the Senate. Vought is an alumnus of Wheaton College, a Christian evangelical institution. In 2016, when Wheaton faced opposition for firing a Muslim faculty member for asserting that Christians and Muslims worship the same god (little “g” intentional), Vought wrote an article defending his alma mater in which he said that Muslims hold a deficient faith … “they do not know God because they reject Jesus Christ as Savior.” In the article, Vought discussed a range of doctrinal issues, including the theological status of non-Christians.

Image result for image of bernie sandersUnderstand that Christianity is an exclusive religion. That’s not my choice. That’s God’s rules. “You shall have no other gods before Me” and “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through Me” are directly from the Bible. Christians cannot say that Allah is the same god as Yahweh because the Bible draws a sharp distinction between the One True God and all other gods. To obfuscate and use double-speak to get around that distinction for political correctness is blaspheme for the Christian. Our spiritual forefathers walked into coliseums to be torn apart by lions because they wouldn’t compromise that principle. Must have been pretty important to them. Can I as a 21st century do less? The Atlantic has a surprisingly balanced discussion of this topic.

So, now, during a Senate confirmation hearing for a position having to do with the country’s finances, Senator Bernie Sanders tried to shame Vought for his religious convictions and asserted that Vought is unfit for public office because he is a Christian.

Image result for image russell voughtLet’s set aside my growing doubts that Christians ought to be involved in politics … the US Constitution explicitly says there shall be no religious test administered for public office. Yet, the man who many believe should have been the Democratic nominee for President used the article and the hearing as a way of publicly inquiring into Vought’s religious beliefs and claiming that those beliefs make him unfit for office.

Sanders’s public questioning of the religious beliefs of a candidate for office remind me of some of the worst aspects of 17th-century religious politics. The early modern era experienced marked violence among religious groups. Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims were all exiled, tortured, imprisoned, and killed at various times and in various countries, by each other, depending on who was on the throne. Much of the bloodshed ceased after the English Civil War, religious conflicts did not disappear. For example, the English Parliament issued a series of Acts requiring oaths of religious orthodoxy and attendance at and performance of orthodox (Anglican) religious rights for those who wanted to hold public office or graduate from Oxford or Cambridge. The last of these acts was passed in 1829, really not that long ago.


We should all be familiar with Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration, which argues against these Acts and similar laws constraining religious belief. Many of these Acts were specifically written in order to keep Catholics from holding public office because Anglicans feared potential “divided loyalties” of those who served both the English King and the Pope. These Acts also effectively excluded members of non-orthodox Protestant sects (Baptists, Quakers, etc) from public office, but they also kept Jews from holding the same offices. Bernie Sanders is Jewish and it deeply disturbs me that he would suggest that someone’s religious beliefs could and should render him unfit for office.

Vought’s beliefs about whether Muslims are saved or not have no bearing on his ability to serve in the office of Management and Budget. There is no interface with religion in that government agency. A Jewish Senator creating a 21st century “religious test” that requires inquiry into such beliefs is no less a lousy idea than Vought, Vice President Pence or any other believing Christian to suggest that a Jewish nominee should be kept from office because he believes that Christians are wrong and that the Messiah has not yet arrived.

Pretty much all religions hold doctrines that exclude or set apart those who do not accept those doctrines and beliefs. Those of us who are familiar wit the complex religious environment of modern America work every day with people who believe we are outside of the will of their god and some who may believe we are condemned for eternity. As a Baptist, I believe certain things that others may disagree with and those others may hold certain beliefs that I think are patently wrong. And this does not affect how we do our jobs.

I’ll repeat that: Our differing religious beliefs don’t affect how we do our jobs.

How do we manage that? We self-compartmentalize. Our work community need not be a carbon copy of our faith community. At the office, I am focused on getting our mutual mission accomplished. While attending church, I focus on our mutual mission there, which is not the same as my employer’s mission. So long as my employer does not ask me to violate my faith, the two need not interact.

And that, by the way, is what happened at Wheaton College. A Christian university with a statement of faith that faculty are required, at least in public, to adhere to. Dr. Larycia Hawkins violated that statement of faith and Wheaton’s board acted upon their theological underpinings because it is the mission of Wheaton College to provide a Christian education.

Bernie Sanders asked Mr. Vought was a theological question., basically asking “Do you think that non-Christians are saved?” He had no authority to ask such a question. He should have instead asked “Do your religious beliefs require that you treat non-Christians as lesser people, with fewer rights than Christians?”

Most Christians I know would not be able to answer that non-Christians can be saved because the Bible is clear they must obey God and accept Jesus Christ as Savior. But how does that affect being a deputy director of OMB?

Most Christians I know would answer the second question with an emphatic negative. Biblicly-based Christianity requires that we treat all people as made in the image of God. And it is that principle that functions in our interactions with civil society, which is what would positively affect Vought’s ability to be deputy director of OMB.

Bernie Sanders’ insertion of a religious test into the Senate confirmation process for Vought concerns me because if his attitude takes hold, it could lead to increased persecution of Christians and any other religious groups who don’t measure up to political correctness standards.



2 responses to “Bernie Sanders’ Religious Test

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  1. I would hope that our Christian faith will add a higher level of integrity to the job we are assigned to do. Your key point about the hearing is the unasked question: “Do your religious beliefs require that you treat non-Christians as lesser people, with fewer rights than Christians?” I would hope that Christians will contribute to the public good with a strong sense of justice and dignity for all, regardless of their economic or social status.


    • Absolutely. I suspect the majority of us already act upon the Apostle Paul’s admonition to be all things to all people so that we can win some. This was not a call to compromise our beliefs, but to treat others with the respect all humans are worthy of so that we cast our Savior in the best light. We can believe what we believe and still conduct ourselves with honor.


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