U.S. Senators Characterize a Central Christian Belief as “Indefensible” and “Violation of the Public Trust”

If you stated publically that believing in Jesus Christ is necessary for the true worship of God, do you think there would be any repercussions?

In the case of Russell Vought, it meant two U.S. senators questioning his fitness for a job in the federal government. Vought has been nominated for the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, and during his recent confirmation hearing, he came under fire as a result of his role in a previous controversy at Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian institution and Vought’s alma mater.

In December of 2015, Wheaton political science professor Larycia Hawkins made news for a Facebook post in which she 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.” In response, Vought wrote an article in which he argued 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.”

Those are undoubtedly strong words, but in terms of representing historic, orthodox Christian belief, Vought’s position is anything but controversial. Christians have held to this doctrine for nearly two millennia, based on the teaching of Jesus himself. For example, in John 14:6 Jesus famously states, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And consider another famous passage, along with the verses that immediately follow:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)

Many other biblical passages would make the same point.

Even so, for Senator Bernie Sanders, Vought’s comments were unacceptable: “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.” He added, “This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms … we must not go backwards.”

Sanders went on to conclude, “This nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about.”

Senator Chris Van Hollen, referencing Vought’s article, expressed similar thoughts:

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.

Before I respond to all of this, a quick disclaimer: this post is meant to address the legitimacy of Christians to hold and express a biblical doctrine, not to endorse or critique every political view of any of the parties mentioned, or champion one side of the political spectrum over the other.

With that said, there are several things to think about in light of this episode, including:

  • Note that Sanders and Van Hollen’s version of championing religious tolerance is, ironically, highly intolerant. The senators appear to be arguing that we should treat everyone’s religious beliefs as valid…except the ones they don’t agree with. “You’re wrong for holding an exclusive truth claim” is, in fact, an exclusive truth claim.

 

Sanders used the term “Islamophobia” to suggest that Vought fears Muslims for who they are. But in his writing, Vought was contesting something different: He disagrees with what Muslims believe, and does not think their faith is satisfactory for salvation. Right or wrong, this is a conviction held by millions of Americans—and many Muslims might say the same thing about Christianity.

  • Vought’s use of the word “condemned” should accordingly be seen its proper biblical context, i.e., as referring to standing outside of ultimate salvation or being reconciled to God. It is definitely not a call to treat Muslims poorly in personal relationships or American civil life. This leads to the next point.
  • Holding exclusive theological beliefs does not imply that someone can’t or won’t treat people of other faiths fairly and decently. Yes, there are examples to the contrary. But people with such beliefs treating each other with respect across religious lines happens every day in countless different situations across America and in other parts of the world. And in fact, this is an obligation for Christians. The same Jesus who asserts that he is the only way to God commands his followers to love their neighbors and even their enemies.
  • As Green and others point out, Christianity is not the only religion that makes exclusive truth claims (for example: “you must believe X to be right with God”). Would Sanders suggest the views of Muslims, adherents to the Jewish faith, etc., who fall into this category are similarly “hateful,” “indefensible,” or even “Christophobic”?
  • Finally, apart from the lack of logical and theological clarity, the senators’ remarks are of serious concern simply because they run counter to the U.S. Constitution, our nation’s highest civil authority, and the document our elected representatives are sworn to uphold. According to Article VI, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” In circumstances like Vought’s, it’s appropriate for Christians to expect and insist that elected officials of any political stripe remember those crucial words.

One Comment

  1. Freda McKee said:

    Good read. Makes you wan to read more,.

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