Yesterday may very well have been a unique day in the history of the US Senate. For the first time in the history of that body, a senator announced he would oppose the nomination of an executive branch appointee because he is a Christian.
This is the setup:
Wheaton College is a small evangelical college that requires (shock, horror) its faculty and staff to be evangelical Christians. This is not only their right as a private institution, the US Supreme Court has positively affirmed that right. I think that is a great idea because when you let that standard fall then great religious universities become secular cesspools.
A professor, Larycia Hawkins, made a statement that Christians and Muslims believe in the same God. She was asked to clarify what she meant and when the college did not get the answer that comported with its statement of faith, they began the process of firing her. It must be noted that this professor had made a second career of “clarifying” her statements as she’d had to do so on the subject of Marxism, homosexuality, and others.
Russ Vought*, a Wheaton alumnus and longtime conservative activist, addressed the Hawkins controversy at The Resurgent. He has been nominated to be deputy OMB director and needs Senate confirmation. In his hearing, his defense of Wheaton College was brought up by Senator Bernie Sanders, in particular, this quote:
[Dr. John] Stackhouse implies that someone could really “know God” without a focus on Jesus. He explains, “Having a deficient (e.g., nontrinitarian) theology of God…does not mean you are not in actual prayerful and faithful relationship with God. (Having wrong ideas about a person…doesn’t mean that you do not have a relationship with that person.)” 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. In John 8:19, “Jesus answered, ‘You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” In Luke 10:16, Jesus says, “The one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” And in John 3:18, Jesus says, “Whoever believes in [the Son] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
Stackhouse argues that Abraham and the Old Testament saints had robust faiths and yet lacked a full understanding of the eventual Messiah and the Trinity. True. However, they did not reject what God had revealed to them up until that point. God’s revelation has unfolded over time. 1 Peter 1:10-12 gives us a picture of how these Old Testament saints would have affirmed what had been revealed and yet looked forward to further understanding.
I don’t find anything in here particularly remarkable or incendiary. It isn’t like he called the kafirs and demanded they convert or accept status as second-class citizens. Even though my own Church holds that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, my personal feeling is that is an error driven by a desire to protect vulnerable Christian communities in majority Muslim nations and flies in the face of existing facts. I am of the view as Cardinal Raymond Burke who has called bullsh** on this. Pope Benedict XVI, himself, came within a hair of making the same declaration in his Regensburg Lecture. To me, the central point is that Christ is either the Son of God:
15He said to them, “And who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven!”
— in which case, Islam is false on its face — or Jesus was simply a man, in which case:
12But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
There is no happy medium in which everyone is right and this is some minor semantic misunderstanding. It is a question of truth or falsity. Vought’s take on events is only offensive if you hold that all religions are equally true and that requires you be an idiot because truth is a binary arrangement.
Did I say idiot?
Well, Sanders went in full-metal-defense-of-Islam mode:
Sen. Bernie Sanders said Wednesday that he’ll oppose Donald Trump’s pick to be deputy White House budget director over a blog post last year that says Muslims “stand condemned” because they have rejected Jesus Christ.
The Vermont independent said nominee Russell Vought should not be confirmed over the comments, which he said were Islamaphobic. Sanders said Vought “is not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about.”
Vought wrote a post last year on a conservative blog defending Wheaton College, his alma mater, for forcing out a professor who said Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.”
“Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology,” Vought wrote on The Resurgent. “They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”
Sanders, who leads Democrats on the panel, said Vought’s post was “indefensible. It is hateful. It is Islamaphobic. And it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world.”
As someone once said, ‘Truth ain’t mean, truth is just truth.” Vought’s statement is an imminently defensible statement of orthodox Christian belief through most of the time between the founding of Islam and the triumph of Western secularism in the 1960s. It is not “hateful” and I find it hard to believe that any observant Muslim is shocked to discover that there are fundamental differences between Islam and Christianity. Sanders is actually setting up a situation where you must deny the divinity of Christ and His salvific Grace in order to hold federal office.
Sanders is entitled to whatever beliefs he may have. He may very well have an altar to his $800,000 book advance in his lavatory and prostrate himself there for hours at a time in worship. What he is not entitled to do is to say that a person’s religious beliefs make them unfit to hold public office. That is in Article VI, Section 3 of the US Constitution. You can look it up.
…; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
Vought is being proposed to be the deputy director of OMB, his religion is simply not relevant to that position and Sanders is not entitled to consider Vought’s religion when casting his vote.
*Disclosure, I have a passing email relationship with Russ Vought that spans several years.