In a Senate hearing on Wednesday, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders questioned Russell T. Vought, a President Trump’s nominee to be Deputy Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), on his Christian faith, applying a faith test which the Constitutional explicitly forbids. He described a basic tenet of Christianity as “Islamophobic,” and said that America is not “about” people like Vought.
“I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about,” Sanders said, concluding an argument against Vought based on an article he wrote in The Resurgent last January. The Vermont senator insisted that Vought’s religious beliefs made him ineligible to serve in a public capacity.
The entire exchange, available in this video starting at the 44:20 mark, is worth watching. But here is the pivotal section.
“Let me get to this issue that has bothered me and bothered many other people, and that is in the piece that I referred to that you wrote for the publication called Resurgent,” Sanders opened. “You 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.’ Do you believe that that statement is Islamophobic?”
“Absolutely not, Senator,” Vought responded. “I’m a Christian, and I believe in a Christian set of principles based on my faith. That post, as I stated in the questionnaire to this committee, was to defend my alma mater, Wheaton College, a Christian school that has a statement of faith that includes the centrality of Jesus Christ for salvation, and…”
Sanders cut him off, asking, “Do you believe people in the Muslim religion stand condemned? Is that your view?” He added, “I don’t know how many Muslims there are in America, maybe a couple million. Are you suggesting that all those people stand condemned? What about Jews? Do they stand condemned too?”
Once again, Vought responded, “Senator, I’m a Christian.”
Again, Sanders cut him off, this time shouting. “I understand you are a Christian, but this country is made of people who are not just — I understand Christianity is the majority religion, but there are other people of different religions in this country and around the world,” the senator added. “In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?”
“As a Christian, I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs,” Vought responded. “I believe that as a Christian that’s how I should treat all individuals…”
Yet again, Sanders cut him off. “And do you think your statement that you put into that publication, ‘they do not know God because they rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned,’ do you think that’s respectful of other religions?”
“Senator, I wrote a post based on being a Christian and attending a Christian school that has a statement of faith that speaks clearly in regard to the centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation,” Vought responded.
At that, Sanders was running out of time, and he concluded with the statement that “this nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about.”
This insidious attack arguably violated Article IV of the Constitution, which clearly states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
The key point at issue had nothing to do with Vought’s qualifications to serve as the Deputy Director of OMB, but with his belief that people who do not believe in Jesus Christ will not be saved, and that their conception of God is “deficient.”
While these beliefs might be offensive to some, they are clear deductions from Christian doctrine and from the Bible. Christians believe, and scripture clearly declares, that all people have sinned and deserve judgment before God. Jesus Christ is the way for people to be reconciled with God.
Jesus himself declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Romans 10:9 explains, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your hear that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Christians also believe that Jesus Christ is God, the second person of the Trinity. Since Muslims reject this, their conception of God is different, and from Vought’s perspective, deficient.
These beliefs may sound offensive to some, but they are Vought’s private religious beliefs, and would not affect his treatment of Americans. He insisted that all people “are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs,” and that should be enough when it comes to his public duties.
To suggest Vought is “not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about” is not just an insult, but a declaration that the nominee’s religious beliefs make him ineligible not just to serve as a public official, but to be recognized as an American citizen.
Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) grasped this in his own remarks. Gardner declared, “I hope that we are not questioning the faith of others and how they interpret that faith to themselves.”
To that, Senator Chris Van Hollen absurdly responded, “Nobody is questioning anybody’s faith.”
But Van Hollen took aim at Vought’s statements nonetheless. “I think it’s irrefutable that these kind of comments suggest to a whole lot of Americans … that their religious philosophy is deficient,” he argued. “In condemning them because they rejected Jesus Christ the Son, you are condemning people of all faiths other than Christians. 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.”
“No one’s questioning your faith, Mr. Chairman, it’s your comments that suggest a violation of the public trust,” Van Hollen concluded.
These comments also failed to distinguish between Vought’s religious beliefs and his treatment of other Americans. When Vought said Muslims and other non-Christians “stand condemned,” he was making a religious statement about their position before God. As a Christian, Vought believes that all people are condemned, but that those who believe in Jesus Christ will be saved. This is mainstream Christian doctrine.
This emphatically does not mean Christians themselves should condemn non-Christians, however. Rather, Christians are to reach out to everyone with the gospel, hoping that all will be saved. Jesus taught his disciples to forgive those who wrong them (Matthew 18:21-22), and told them to pray for forgiveness as they forgive those who sin against them (Matthew 6:9-13).
Furthermore, just because Christians believe that Jesus Christ is “the way, and the truth, and the life” does not mean they consider non-Christians to be unworthy of America’s fundamental freedoms.
It is unjust and terrifying for Bernie Sanders and Chris Van Hollen to not only rule Vought unfit for public service — but as somehow less than an American citizen — merely on account of his religious beliefs. Democrats seem intent on treating orthodox Christians as second-class citizens.