The Story: In a confirmation hearing of an executive branch nominee, two U.S. senators imply that those who believe Jesus is the only way to salvation are “Islamophobic” and not fit for public office.
The Background: Last year, a controversy erupted when a political science professor at Wheaton College decided to wear a hijab during Advent in solidarity with Muslims. In a post on Facebook, Larycia Hawkins wrote, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”
Many Christians disagreed with her claim, including Wheaton alum Russell Vought. In an article for the conservative website The Resurgent, Vought pushed back against a defense of Hawkins made by theologian John Stackhouse. “Having a deficient (e.g., nontrinitarian) theology of God,” Stackhouse said, “does not mean you are not in actual prayerful and faithful relationship with God.”
To this claim Vought responded, “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.”
This April President Donald Trump nominated Vought to serve as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. Vought’s Senate confirmation hearing was held yesterday.
At 1:26 p.m. EDT, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent a statement about Vought’s confirmation hearing in which they quoted his remarks in The Resurgent article and said,
“Religious freedom is such a fundamental liberty that the framers of our Constitution enshrined it in the First Amendment. That’s why it’s so disturbing that Trump continues to pack his administration with appointees like Russell Vought, whose views threaten that very freedom.
“Trump’s nominee for this powerful position that helps decide how federal money is spent has claimed that ‘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.’
“We know that diversity is one of our nation’s greatest strengths, and it is vitally important that Americans have confidence that their public servants will serve our entire nation in good faith. That’s why we will watch Vought closely and press to ensure that those helping decide how public money is spent and the government is managed understand the vital importance of nondiscrimination.”
An hour later, in what appears to be a coordinated action with the ACLU, Senator Bernie Sanders grilled Vought on the quote during his nomination hearing. “In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world,” said Sanders. “This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms … we must not go backwards.”
During his questioning of the candidate the socialist from Vermont read the quote and asked Vought, “Do you believe that statement is Islamophobic?”
Vought responded that he did not, that he was a Christian who based his principles on his faith, and that the statement was made in defense of Wheaton College’s statement of faith about the centrality of Jesus Christ for salvation.
Before Vought could finish responding, Sanders cut him off and asked whether Muslims stand condemned. Vought reiterated that he was a Christian, whereupon Sanders interrupted him again to ask if Jews stand condemned. For the third time Vought pointed out that he was a Christian and once again Sanders interrupted the nominee’s answer. Sanders began yelling at Vought, saying,
“I understand you are a Christian. But this country is made up of people who are not just [sic], 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?”
Ten seconds into his answer, Sanders interrupted Vought once again to ask if the statement that “they do not know God” is respectful of other religions. After answering, 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.”
A few minutes later, Senator Christopher Van Hollen Jr. of Maryland quoted from Vought’s article and said,
“I think it is irrefutable that these kinds of comments suggest to a whole lot of Americans that, number one . . . you are condemning people of all faiths. 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’s your comments that suggest a violation of the public trust in what will be a very important position.”
The relevant remarks made during the hearing can be found on this video, from minute 44:20 to 51:20.
Why It Matters: Within the span of six minutes, two U.S. Senators—Sanders and Van Hollen—shamed the people of Vermont, Maryland, and the rest of the United States by establishing a new religious test for government officials.
In response to Sanders’s comments, TGC Council member and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president Russell Moore said:
“Senator Sanders’ comments are breathtakingly audacious and shockingly ignorant—both of the Constitution and of basic Christian doctrine. Even if one were to excuse Senator Sanders for not realizing that all Christians of every age have insisted that faith in Jesus Christ is the only pathway to salvation, it is inconceivable that Senator Sanders would cite religious beliefs as disqualifying an individual for public office in defiance of the United States Constitution. No religious test shall ever be required of those seeking public office. While no one expects Senator Sanders to be a theologian, we should expect far more from an elected official who has taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution.”
We should not be suprised when such anti-Christian bias is expressed by groups like the ACLU. That organization has spent decades undermining the liberties of religious Americans. But it’s unacceptable to have our own representatives in the Senate claim that Christians “violate the public trust” when we make the true claim that in rejecting Jesus “those of other faiths stand condemned.”
This display of anti-Christian bias for partisan political purposes has the potential to set a dangerous precedent and must not be allowed to stand. The remarks made by Sanders and Van Hollen should be repudiated by every American who values religious freedom and opposes religious tests for government office.