John Daniel Davidson
While the nation’s capital was twittering with excitement on Wednesday about former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, something far more outrageous was underway in another Senate hearing: Sen. Bernie Sanders, in a blatant violation of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, was applying a religious test for an office of public trust.
Specifically, Sanders doesn’t think Christians are fit to serve in government because they’re bigots. Basic Christian theology, in Sanders’s view, “is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world.”
Here’s what happened. During a confirmation hearing for Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Sanders expressed his indignation at an article Vought had written in January 2016 about a controversy that erupted at Vought’s alma mater, Wheaton College. A political science professor, Larycia Hawkins, had published a Facebook post announcing her intention to wear a hijab in solidarity with Muslims and suggesting that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
Vought, a Christian, took issue with Hawkins’s post and defended Wheaton in an article for The Resurgent. During the hearing Wednesday, Sanders repeatedly quoted one particular passage he described as “Islamophobic” and “hateful.” Vought wrote: “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”
As a matter of theology, there is of course nothing objectionable, much less Islamophobic, about that. It is simply a statement of fact: core Christian doctrine, plainly stated in the Bible, says that eternal life comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. Not that exclusivity is unique to Christianity. By their very nature, most religions are exclusive, especially when it comes to salvation.
As for having a “deficient theology,” one could substitute any other religious group for Muslims: Christians also believe that Jews have a deficient theology, along with Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, and the tens of thousands of Britons who claim membership in the Temple of the Jedi Order. And of course, members of all these religions likely believe Christians have a deficient theology.
Sanders: I don’t know how many Muslims there are in America, I really don’t know, probably a couple million. Are you suggesting that all of those people stand condemned? What about Jews? Do they stand condemned too?
Vought: Senator, I am a Christian—
Sanders: I understand that you are a Christian. But this country is made up of people who are not just—I understand that Christianity is the majority religion. But there are other people who have different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?
In other words, Sanders understands Vought’s a Christian, he just didn’t think Vought was that kind of Christian. Neither did Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who defended Sanders, saying, “I don’t think anybody was questioning anybody’s faith here.” Van Hollen then questioned Vought’s faith and claimed his theology is all wrong: “I’m a Christian, but part of being a Christian, in my view, is recognizing that there are lots of ways that people can pursue their God.”
It should go without saying that this is the sort of thing that should never come up in a Senate confirmation hearing. But it helped illuminate what progressives like Sanders and Van Hollen really think about religion, and especially Christianity. It’s okay to say you’re a Christian if, like Van Hollen, you don’t really think Christianity is the one true path to salvation. But if your version of Christianity lays claim to exclusivity—as orthodox Christianity does—then you’re a bigot who, as Sanders said of Vought, “is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about.”
Let’s take a step back. Article VI of the Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Yet it seems that Sanders and his ilk not only want to exclude sincere Christians from public office, but to impose a kind of secular test of their own. To serve in government, in their view, one must affirm the ever-changing tenets of progressivism.
One recent example of this cropped up in Illinois, where the state’s child welfare agency declared that staff must “affirm” gender ideology and “facilitate” LGBT identities for foster kids, or be fired. Same goes for foster parents. If children or adolescents under the state’s care “explore/express a sexual orientation other than heterosexual and/or a gender identity that is different from the child/youth’s sex assigned at birth,” agency staff and foster parents must “support and respect” the child’s exploration “without any effort to direct or guide them to any specific outcome for their exploration.” If not, then in the state’s eyes you’re not fit to be a staffer or foster parent.
The state of Illinois has thus claimed that adherence to traditional Christian teaching on sexuality, which makes the bold claim that God created only two sexes, male and female, makes one unfit to be around children.
That’s more or less what Sanders did by conflating Vought’s thoroughly commonplace understanding of Christian theology with racism and bigotry. A spokesman for Sanders said in a statement issued Thursday: “In a democratic society, founded on the principle of religious freedom, we can all disagree over issues, but racism and bigotry—condemning an entire group of people because of their faith—cannot be part of any public policy.” The nomination of Vought, “who has expressed such strong Islamaphobic language,” the statement said, “is simply unacceptable.”
At the hearing on Wednesday, Sanders said he would vote against confirming Vought for deputy director of the OMB. Afterwards, Muslim groups including the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Muslim Advocates, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, condemned Vought’s comments, saying without a hint of irony that his views threaten the principle of religious freedom.
It’s important to understand what’s going on here. The Left, itself a kind of secular religion, does not really think it’s okay to be religious—to hold strong convictions about eternal salvation or the divinity of Jesus Christ. Progressives believe this is disturbing and un-American. The irony is that the opposite is true, as John Adams put it: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Understand, too, that the progressives who now run the Democratic Party will turn a blind eye to the exclusivity claims of Muslims and other religious groups they think they need in their political coalition. But they will not suffer Christians. There’s a simple reason for that: Democrats know they have lost orthodox Christians as a constituency, and now they have no use for them.