Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) grilling of a Trump administration nominee over his Christian worldview has sparked a slew of responses over the past week, with critics on both sides of the aisle expressing concern that Sanders’ line of questioning appeared to create a religious test, specifically when he proclaimed that the nominee shouldn’t be confirmed.
In an op-ed published by the Washington Post on Monday, Jim Wallis, a progressive pastor who is the founder of Sojourners, used the back-and-forth between Sanders and Russell Vought, President Donald Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, to implore Christians to express their beliefs “without vitriol.”
But he also said that “Democrats could stand to know more about religion.” Wallis went on to explain the partisan problems that are impacting the public discourse, particularly when it comes to matters of faith.
“Democrats need to become more religiously literate and faith-friendly,” he wrote. “We religious progressives often feel ignored and abandoned by a Democratic Party that seems indifferent to our religious traditions.”
Wallis continued, “As an evangelical advocate for social justice, I have fought right-wing religious fundamentalism my whole life. But the secular fundamentalism of the left is not much better — and it certainly does not help garner votes at election time.”
Watch Sanders grill Vought below:
As Faithwire previously reported, an article that Vought wrote for the Resurgent back in January 2016 — the very piece at the center of Sanders’ anger — focused on the then-furious debate at Wheaton College over whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God — a popular, heated and seemingly never-ending dispute in theological circles.
“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,’” Sanders said to Vought’s during his confirmation hearing. “Do you believe that that statement is Islamophobic?”
Vought responded that he absolutely does not see the theological statement as Islamophobic, and explained that he is a Christian who embraces “a Christian set of principles based on my faith.” But as he attempted to place the article in context, Sanders interrupted and said “we just don’t have a lot of time” before asking whether Vought believes Muslims “stand condemned.”
The back-and-forth progressed until Sanders made it clear that he wouldn’t support Vought.
“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?” he asked, before proclaiming that he won’t vote for Vought. “I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.”
Wallis, too, seemed to take issue with Vought’s language on the matter. While he said Sanders appeared to be advocating “a religious test,” calling such a move “unconstitutional” and not in line with “democratic and religious freedom,” he also disliked Vought’s use of the term “condemned.”
“Words like ‘condemnation,’ which the nominee used in his blog post, are not helpful in our respectful dialogue, and one can see in our polarized climate how Sanders and others who, like him, are unfamiliar with the meaning of salvation for Christians might have misinterpreted that theology,” Wallis wrote.
As previously noted, Jesus himself uses the word “condemned” in John 3:16-18. “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.”
Interestingly, Michael Wear, one of the youngest-ever White House staffers when he was nominated by former President Barack Obama to serve in the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, told Faithwire earlier this year that he, too, believes his party needs to listen more fervently to faith voices.
Listen to Wear discuss these issues below:
Rather than broadening the Democratic tent in 2016, Wear said the Democratic Party seemed to rally around an ideological agenda that focused on “issues that concern a lot of people of faith.” While much has been said about white evangelicals’ overwhelming support for Trump, Wear said the problem is much broader than that. Read more about that here.