In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) stood by his unconstitutional religious test for a Trump nominee who expressed mainstream Christian doctrine. Sanders said the nominee has religious freedom to believe whatever he wants privately, but should be barred from public office for speaking negatively about Islam.
“At a time when we are dealing with Islamophobia in this country, where 1.2 billion people are Muslims around the world, to have a high-ranking member of the United States government essentially say Islam is a second-class religion … that seemed to me unacceptable as a government official,” Sanders said.
Earlier this month, Sanders attacked Russell T. Vought, Trump’s nominee to be deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), on his Christian faith. Quoting an article Vought wrote in The Resurgent last year, Sanders said, “I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about.”
“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?” Sanders asked Vought. He further badgered Vought, “Do you believe people in the Muslim religion stand condemned? Is that your view? … What about Jews? Do they stand condemned too?”
Vought repeatedly responded to Sanders, saying: “I’m a Christian.” He explained that he was defending his alma mater, Wheaton College, which “has a statement of faith that includes the centrality of Jesus Christ for salvation.”
Sanders interrupted Vought multiple times, at one point declaring, “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.” Again he badgered, “In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?”
To be clear, “the centrality of Jesus Christ for salvation” is a central Christian doctrine. According to the Bible, only those who believe in Jesus Christ will be saved at the end of time. Vought was articulating this very mainstream view, and he insisted that he would treat non-Christians just like everyone else in terms of government service.
In the interview Sunday, Sanders stood by this position, even while granting that Vought has religious freedom. He was asked point-blank, “Senator, are you saying that someone is necessarily hateful and Islamophobic if they believe in their private life and express in their private life that the only path to God is through Jesus Christ?”
To this, Sanders said, “No, absolutely not.” He insisted that “one of the great parts of our Constitution is to protect freedom of religion. You practice whatever religion you want, you do, I do, Mr. Vought does, that’s what it’s about.”
Even so, the senator insisted that Vought’s religious views disqualify him from public service. He argued that it should be “unacceptable” to have “a high-ranking member of the United States government essentially say Islam is a second-class religion.”
Make no mistake, Sanders is imposing an unconstitutional religious test for public service. According to his view, a government official cannot believe that “Islam is a second-class religion.” If a Christian believes that Jesus Christ is the only way to God (which the Bible clearly says), that person should be disqualified from public service.
Sanders attempted to hedge this blatantly unconstitutional argument by explaining the circumstances of Vought’s article. “This all took place, by the way, in terms of his defending the firing of a professor at Wheaton College because she showed solidarity with Muslims who are being attacked through an anti-Muslim effort,” the senator explained.
This is not entirely true. The statement that Dr. Larycia Hawkins declared on Facebook in December 2015 was indeed in solidarity with Muslims, and that solidarity is arguably a good and Christian thing. But Hawkins also insisted that Muslims and Christians “worship the same God.”
This highly dubitable statement was what set Hawkins and Wheaton College at odds. “While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, Wheaton College believes there are fundamental differences between the two faiths, including what they teach about God’s revelation to humanity, the nature of God, the path to salvation, and the life of prayer,” LaTonya Taylor, director of media relations at Wheaton, told PJ Media in January 2016.
Vought’s article in The Resurgent explained why the distinction between the two faiths is so important: Christians believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God that and He is a part of the Godhead. God is three persons, and that is a fundamental fact of the universe — the Creator is relational. In Islam, by contrast, God is one, Allah is a monad. Jesus is not God, and God is not relational.
Vought emphasized the impact of Islam’s rejection of Jesus Christ for salvation. Again, the Bible clearly states that no one comes to the Father but by the Son (John 14:6). Muslims deny that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, so they cannot come to God. This is basic Bible doctrine, not “Islamophobia.”
The Trump nominee was not calling Islam a “second-class religion” in political terms, and he made clear that he would treat people of all faiths equally in his public position. While the language of Muslims “standing condemned” may seem harsh, it is mainstream Christian doctrine that Bernie Sanders himself said was acceptable because Americans have religious freedom.
On Sunday, Sanders again implied that Vought’s views are “Islamophobic,” but he stood by the idea that a Christian should not be allowed to serve in the U.S. government. Article IV of the Constitution clearly states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
From Sanders’ remarks, it seems he is open to allowing Christians to serve in the federal government, but only so long as they reject the basic Christian doctrine that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation.
Ironically, this response echoed a satirical article on the Christian website The Babylon Bee. In that satire article, the Bee quoted Sanders as saying, “The problem with Mr. Vought is that he practices his Christian faith in an irresponsible manner by believing and espousing that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven, and those who reject the Savior ‘stand condemned.'”
“This orthodox line of thinking is outrageous. I think we can all agree that it is perfectly OK for public servants to be Christians, as long as they do not believe Christian things,” the Bee satirically quoted Sanders as saying. “There is no place in public office for a Christian who believes elementary doctrine that all Christians have believed for 2,000 years.”
Life imitates art, and it would be downright hilarious if it weren’t so tragic.
Click “Load More” to see the video of Sanders’ interview.