Bernie Sanders Shows the Left’s Refusal to Coexist with Traditional Believers

By Published on June 11, 2017

Religious tests for holding public office are banned in the Constitution and go against the very core of the American tradition.

But you wouldn’t have learned that listening Wednesday to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., as he questioned Russ Vought, the nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

His questioning of Vought was nothing less than theological interrogation, and in the end, excoriation.

Here’s what unfolded when Sanders took the mic.

In a disjointed line of questioning that had nothing to do with budgetary issues, Sanders veered into the theology of salvation, singling out an article Vought had written for a conservative publication in 2015 that outlined basic Christian doctrine about God in contrast to the Islamic view.

Here’s the heart of the exchange (transcript courtesy David French of National Review):

Sanders: 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?

Vought: Absolutely not, senator. 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: I apologize. Forgive me, we just don’t have a lot of time. Do you believe people in the Muslim religion stand condemned? Is that your view?

Vought: Again, senator, I’m a Christian, and I wrote that piece in accordance with the statement of faith at Wheaton College.

Sanders: I understand that. 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?

Vought: Senator, I’m a Christian—

Sanders (shouting): I understand you are a Christian, but this country are made of people who are not just — I understand that Christianity is the majority religion, but there are other people of 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?

Vought: Thank you for probing on that question. 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’s how I should treat all individuals—

Sanders: 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?

Vought: 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.

Sanders: I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.

This exchange spotlights comprehensive ignorance on the part of Sanders—ignorance of the American tradition, of religious toleration, and even of what religion is.

It’s unlikely that Sanders doesn’t realize religious tests for public office are banned in the Constitution. I suspect he would applaud that ban as much as the next person, at least in the abstract.

Yet his line of questioning seems to show an ignorance of Article VI of the Constitution, which states that “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Traditional Believers Need Not Apply

The implications of Sanders’ questioning are far-reaching.

If taken to its logical conclusion, Sanders’ view would exclude all orthodox followers of an Abrahamic faith from holding public office.

Every Abrahamic religion — Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, in their historic forms — believes that some people either will, or may be, condemned in eternity. This is Abrahamic Religion 101.

But for Sanders, such mainstream beliefs demonstrate bigotry and racism. Just read the statement his office released after his exchange with Vought:

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 —c annot be part of any public policy.

This statement crystalizes the problem. Sanders wants public officials to have religious freedom, except when their religious views contain something he might consider bigoted, such as a view of hell or condemnation.

What Sanders is really pushing for, whether he knows it or not, is a “Universalists Only” policy for those who would serve in public office. You can believe what you want, as long as your theology doesn’t teach that others might one day be judged.

And with that brush stroke, Sanders excludes historic Christianity, Judaism and Islam from the public square. Ironically, his view of religion makes little room for some of the most devout followers of religion.

What’s at stake here is meaningful diversity in the public square. As Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., noted in a statement:

We have diverse political perspectives, we can also have diverse faith perspectives. Many faith traditions have complex and exclusive theological beliefs, and whether we agree with them or not, those diverse beliefs are protected by the Constitution.

Such beliefs have always been part of the fabric of American public life.

But that doesn’t deter Sanders. Religion that is pure and undefiled in the eyes of Bernie Sanders is progressive, nonjudgmental — in a word, unorthodox.

Instead of a government that is truly of and by the people, Sanders’ logic would give us government of and by the unorthodox — a kind of theocracy of the heretical.

Have an Imagination, Bernie

But what is perhaps most tragic here is Sanders’ complete lack of imagination for how people with deep differences in worldview can coexist with each other.

In Sanders’ view, if you think others will be condemned in eternity, you cannot possibly love or respect them, let alone live in peace with them. Your belief that they might be condemned is proof enough that you hate them.

But how is that logical? That’s as absurd as saying Joe sees a man in the street who is going to get hit by a bus, and therefore, Joe hates him.

Perhaps Sanders has only encountered hateful examples of religion in his 75 years of life. Perhaps the reason he can’t fathom true religious coexistence in the midst of deep disagreement is that he’s never seen it happen.

Yet it does happen, all the time.

To see a beautiful picture of this, Sanders need look no further than the conservative movement.

Conservatives are a diverse smattering of evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Mormons, Jews, and secular Americans. We believe all kinds of things about each other’s eternal fate that Sanders would probably find abhorrent — yet here we are, arm in arm, working for a common political cause.

Sanders’ total lack of imagination here is tragic at a time when America’s ideological center is splintering. We’ve reached a critical time of polarization in which coexistence in the midst of profound disagreement is becoming more necessary than ever.

Yet it seems that only conservatives are prepared to deliver that kind of tolerance. The American left pays lip service to diversity, yet in practice routinely shuns the most important kind of diversity: diversity of viewpoint.

The left is very good at respecting diversity at the level of externals: skin color, religious tradition, ethnicity, etc. But when it comes to actual viewpoints, the left is a seamless monolith and wishes to stay that way.

Sanders is proof of this. He seemingly couldn’t care less whether Vought identified as Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, or Hindu. Those are just externals.

What he really cares about is the substance of Vought’s views. That’s the deep level of disagreement that the American left has not learned to coexist with.

Learning to Practice Actual Tolerance

Sanders’ line of questioning shows an alarming disregard for the Constitution’s ban on religious tests, but it also highlights the deeper problem of our cultural moment.

Chiefly, it shows that the left needs to develop a greater imagination for how people with stark differences in worldview—including about other people’s eternal fate—might actually respect one another and live in harmony.

Until the secular left soaks this in, its lip service to diversity and tolerance will remain hollow and vacuous, constantly undermined by its own actions.


Disclosure: Russ Vought’s wife, Mary Vought, works for The Heritage Foundation, the parent organization of The Daily Signal. Russ Vought was formerly employed by Heritage Action for America, the think tank’s lobbying affiliate.

Originally published at The Daily Signal June 9, 2017, and is republished with permission.

Copyright 2017 The Daily Signal

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  • Gary

    What? Did you expect Sanders to support Christian theology??? If you did, you’re naïve.

    • Az1seeit

      I get you may be being sarcastic here, Mr Gary, but no not naive…expecting the man to support the constitution and do his job, yes. However, his session with Mr. Vought was grandstanding and embarrassing in its transparent agenda driven rhetoric, never mind its questionable constitutionality. Booo! Bad form, Senator.

      • Gary

        Sanders does not believe the Bible, and he thinks the Constitution is open to interpretation. His beliefs make it impossible for him to agree that God condemns non-Christians. And, his beliefs require him to oppose those who believe the Bible. If he had not used Vought’s comments as a reason to oppose him, he would have found some other reason. Just as I would never vote for someone like Sanders, or vote for a Muslim, Sanders won’t vote for a someone he believes is a real Christian.

        • James

          Sanders does not believe in Jesus because he’s Jewish.

          Jews are a bit sensitive to Christians saying they “stand condemned”. Can you think of any historical reasons why this might be so?

          • Ronky

            Your ignorance is amazing. Christianity has never taught that “Jews stand condemned”. Jesus, all of His original Church members and hundreds of millions of Christians to this day are Jews.

  • Chris in NC

    What’s really bothering Bernie is that, somewhere deep down inside him, he is afraid that Mr. Vought’s words are true. And if they are true for Muslims then they are true for him, as well.
    And next to that hidden fear is his public pride. I doubt that he is willing to give up either.

    • Dean Bruckner

      Men do not love their neighbor becsuse they love their neighbor’s wife.

  • GPS Daddy

    Take God and an afterlife out of the picture and all you have left is this life. If this is it then power is logically a huge goal.

    Yet Mr. Sanders got worked over by the liberals in the election. You would think that after getting wronged in the primaries that anyone would question the worldview his “allies” have.

    But it seems Mr. Sanders has some blind spots.

  • Dean Bruckner

    Senator–by the the permission of God–Bernie Sanders is the one who is condemning an entire group of people because of their faith. We let God be God and leave the judgment to him. That creates the space for true tolerance.

    This is not so for Sanders and his atheistic Progressive cohorts. They will not commit judgment to God, but will bring all penalties within their power against us. With time and opportunity they will set up death camps for you and me.

    • Charles Burge

      I think it’s a deep irony that leftists claim the mantle of “tolerance”, yet their brand of moral authority is so absolutist that it permits no dissent whatsoever. Even worse: they don’t seem to see the irony at all.

      • NGC

        This isn’t left or progressive. America can never give special favor to Christianity or any other religion.

        • Charles Burge

          What special favor is being sought?

        • Gary

          It can’t be avoided. Everyone has a worldview that they live by. If America isn’t run by Christianity, it will be run by a competing philosophy.

        • The Evangelical

          I agree! They ought to leave religion out of this process…so why did Bernie vote no? Well, because he gives “special favor” against the Christian religion!

    • Fishcicle

      Another article from the Stream already has talked about this disagreement between Sanders and Vought. One thing missing from this article is the context of the exchange. It seems Mr. Vought was defending Wheaton College for firing a teacher who said nice things about Muslims and wore a hijab. Personally, I think that’s an action that should be seen as being in the Christian tradition–defending people others like to discriminate against. Mr. Vought apparently feels a college calling itself Christian is excused from behaving humanely.

    • NGC

      Bernie is correct because we have religious groups that do not accept that other religions should coexist.

  • RsGoat

    Here is why we have a 1st Amendment and a perfect example of what they meant when they said “abridging”!
    As long as there is no call for violence in the statement then live and let live. Our views of after life are the heart and soul of religious freedom and Senator’s Bernie, You are attacking that freedom in this line of questioning! Stop correcting a”religious” statement of faith meant to be read in a religious context and not political one on a religious site and Bernie Sanders is pulling it out of that context trying to make it a personal and political statement which does not work. In the Jewish doctrine Christian’s nor Muslim’s are God’s chosen people but they live with them and in our country most Muslim’s live well with both other faiths even though the faiths tell themother are wrong. We have denominations of Christianity along the Protestant line that look down on other Protestant’s and Catholics plus those others but live well with them tool It is impossible to pull a statement of faith and plug it into the political arena to make sense of it. I go so far as to say foolish. Questioning a non violent statment of faith on live TV Senator would be the government abridging religion. You sir have directly vilolated a primary tenate of our constitution and owe this man an apology.

  • NGC

    Sanders was dead on right. If we have an employees that favors Christianity he shouldn’t be hired.

  • The Evangelical

    This demonstrates that Sanders does not understand what Christianity teaches. The exclusivity of Christ in salvation is the central message of the Gospel. We are all condemned apart from the Gospel. It may sound “mean”, but the truth is that Christianity does call every other religion wrong and all who don’t know Christ stand condemned. That’s why we evangelize, send out missionaries, and pray for everybody who does not know Christ.

    • James

      He’s Jewish. How many Christians know what modern (not 1st century) Jews believe?

      • The Evangelical

        I would expect anybody raised in the US to at least know the basics of Christianity–especially when so much of our history, culture, and influences comes directly from Christianity. If you graduated from a US high school and could not tell me that Christianity is about salvation through Jesus, I would say you are ignorant.

        Also, why does his being Jewish excuse him off from understanding the faiths of people around him. If I lived in a country that was, supposedly, over 40% Muslim, then I would learn at least the basics of their religion. I certainly wouldn’t vote against a Muslim from holding public office for believing that Christians are committing an unforgivable sin of shirk…because that’s what a lot of them believe (not all, it’s a nuanced religion).

    • James

      How would you feel, Evangelical, if a Catholic nominee stated that they believed that the Catholic Church was the one true Church and that is no salvation outside the Church?

      • Gary

        Don’t all Catholics believe that?

        • James

          It’s rather nuanced. Catholic Answers has a long explanation on what that means.

      • The Evangelical

        I only wish they would! Some of my best friends are honest, consistent Catholics who believe that I am condemned for being outside of the Catholic church. I have great conversations and am friendly with them and I respect their love for me in that they are trying to show me the error of my ways. We look to the scriptures for clarity and learn much from each other.

        • James

          Do you believe such people could fairly discharge their public duties to the condemned?

          • The Evangelical

            Of course! Where they stand before God does not change the fact that they are made in the image of God, that I am to love my neighbor as myself, and that I work for God’s glory. Working for God’s glory implies that my work is free from bias, strives for excellence, and is the best I can do.

          • James

            If you love your neighbors, but they “stand condemned” before God, then how does this not mean that you love your neighbors more than God?

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