A Religious Test and Opposing Beliefs
Politics are messy. They always have been and always will be. I’m in the process of listening to Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence by Joseph Ellis. So far, the book only reinforces this fact. Ideas flourish, and, I believe, the best solutions are found through a lively discourse of beliefs. Politics are no exception.
I think most people would agree that one of the best things about the United States of America is that the Constitution and Bill of Rights protect Americans regardless of race, color, creed, gender, or religion. Because of this, I was appalled to read about the line of questioning Senator Bernie Sanders used against Russell Vought, the nominee for deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. (Watch the video here.)
Sanders’s intense questioning didn’t involve questions one would naturally think would be vital to a management and budgeting position. Instead they focused on an article that Vought wrote in defense of a decision made by Wheaton College, his alma mater. Within this article, Vought defended Wheaton College’s decision to fire a professor who could no longer affirm the college’s Statement of Faith. And, let’s be clear here: Wheaton College is a Christian university with an orthodox Christian statement of faith. The professor in question was not lured into the college under false pretenses.
Sanders took issue with one particular statement (although his line of questioning revealed more) within the article. Vought wrote, “This is the fundamental problem. 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.” Vought then quoted John 8:19, Luke 10:16, and John 3:18 in defense of this position.
Incensed, Sanders asked Vought if this was an Islamophobic statement and asked multiple times if Vought thinks Muslims stand condemned.
Vought repeatedly replied, I’m a Christian. “I understand that you are a Christian!” Sanders yelled.
Sanders later asked, “In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?”
Vought’s response to that question shows the respect he has for others, even if they do not hold his religious beliefs. “Thank you for probing on that question,” he said. “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. I believe that, as a Christian, that is how I should treat all individuals.”
Sanders concluded his line of questioning with a question that reveals the heart of his issue: Do you think it’s respectful of other religions to say they are wrong? Sanders was obviously looking for a “no.” The problem with this entire line of questioning is that it inevitably leads to the conclusion that only a Universalist would be qualified for public service, according to Sanders. Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Christians, Agnostics, and Atheists all believe that they are correct. And, a person who is qualified to hold a government post should not have to disavow their religious beliefs to hold that post.
Two main thoughts jump out at me after hearing this exchange. First, this has all appearances of a religious test for a requirement to hold a government position. Just in case you had any questions about it, that’s unconstitutional. Article VI proclaims that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” If Vought holds to orthodox Christian beliefs, he has no choice but to believe there is only one way to God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) There’s no escape clause here. One way. An orthodox Christian believes this. Thus, Sanders is saying (and I think he knows it) that anyone who holds to orthodox Christianity will not receive his vote for this position. This line of questioning would be unconstitutional regardless of the nominee’s particular religion.
Second, we must be a society that allows people to hold beliefs. And, I’m not talking about wishy-washy beliefs that have to change if someone disagrees, but firm, soul-depth beliefs that have life and death implications. I am NOT arguing that people with different beliefs should be belittled or maligned. A Christian who holds fast to God’s Word also believes not only that there is only one way to God, but also that God is the ultimate Judge. James 4:12 states, “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” Humans are not the ones who hold the authority to save or condemn. Boy, I am thankful for that! I would make an awful judge. God, on the other hand, is the perfect Judge. Deuteronomy 10:17-18 proclaims, “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” That’s the kind of God I want to serve.
Vought gives no indication in this hearing that he hates or personally condemns people of other faiths. He simply holds to the teachings of the Bible. And, within those teachings, he affirms that all people are worthy of respect, regardless of religion. I’m pretty sure our Founding Fathers would be appalled at a religious test for public service but approve of a civil discourse of opposing beliefs. After all, ideas have never flourished in an echo chamber.