RELIGION

Bernie Sanders testing the boundaries of a religious test

Lauren Green

Christianity's core tenets took center stage on Capitol Hill this week as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders blasted nominee Russell Vought over his writings concerning Islam, calling them Islamophobia.

Vought, President Trump's pick for Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget, sparred with the former Democratic presidential candidate over an online article he wrote defending the Christian School Wheaton College for firing political science professor Larycia Hawkins in 2015. Hawkins came under fire after saying Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

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In the article, Vought cited expert theologians in giving a lengthy explanation of the deep doctrinal differences between Christianity and Islam, quoting Jesus' own words in the New Testament where He 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.” (John 3:18)

Sanders, instead, focused solely on Vought's sentence that said: "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."  

"Are you suggesting," scolded Sanders, "that all of those people stand condemned? What about Jews, do they stand condemned, too?

Vought countered, "Senator I am a Christian..."

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Sanders interrupted.

"I understand you are a Christian,” Sanders said. “But this country is made up of people who are not just... I understand Christianity is a majority religion but there are people of other religions in this country and around the world in your judgement do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?”

Vought responded, "Thank you for probing on that point. 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." 

Muslim groups, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, have sided with Sanders.  But critics have held up Article VI of the United States Constitution which says there should be no religious test to hold political office. And they accused Sanders of doing just that.

Conservative and Evangelical Christians are outraged.

"What Sanders said is a slap in the face and an insult to millions of Evangelical Christians who believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven,” said Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. “This is not some periphery belief held by millions...It is the foundation to our faith."

Jeffress later issued a statement calling for Sanders to apologize or resign.

In the meantime, it will be a several weeks before the Senate decides on Vought's confirmation. Sanders has already said he will vote no.

Lauren Green currently serves as Fox News Channel's (FNC) chief religion correspondent based in the New York bureau. She joined FNC in 1996. Her new book is "Lighthouse Faith: God as a Living Reality in a World Immersed in Fog."