WASHINGTON (BP)—Baptist leaders decried Sen. Bernie Sanders’ stated opposition to a White House nominee based on the candidate’s comments about Islam.
Sanders—an independent from Vermont and 2016 candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination—said Russell Vought should not be confirmed as deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Sanders cited a 2016 blog post by Vought in which he said Muslims “stand condemned” because they have rejected Jesus as Savior. Sanders called Vought’s post “hateful” and “Islamaphobic” and added, “It is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world.”
He also said Vought “is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about.”
‘No religious test for public office’
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, described Sanders’ comments as “breathtakingly audacious and shockingly ignorant—both of the Constitution and of basic Christian doctrine.”
“Even if one were to excuse Sen. Sanders for not realizing that all Christians of every age have insisted that faith in Jesus Christ is the only pathway to salvation, it is inconceivable that Sen. Sanders would cite religious beliefs as disqualifying an individual for public office in defiance of the United States Constitution,” Moore said.
“No religious test shall ever be required of those seeking public office. While no one expects Sen. Sanders to be a theologian, we should expect far more from an elected official who has taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution.”
Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, called Sanders’ questioning of Vought’s religious views “a troubling turn.”
“Sanders’ line of questioning imposed a religious test, which is forbidden by Article VI of the Constitution,” Tyler wrote in an article posted June 9 on her agency’s website.
Vought posts blog on Wheaton controversy
Sanders took exception to comments made in a January 2016 blog post, in which Vought defended his alma mater, Wheaton College, after the Christian school began termination proceedings against a professor who said Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
In the post at The Resurgent website, Vought 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 called Vought’s post “indefensible.”
In the hearing, Vought said, “I’m a Christian, and I believe in a Christian set of principles,” according to Associated Press. Vought said his post was intended to defend the actions of Wheaton College and were not anti-Islamic.
“I specifically wrote it with the intention of conveying my viewpoint in a respectful manner that avoided inflammatory rhetoric,” Vought said in a written response to the committee, AP reported.
Distinction between religious exclusivism and political exclusivism
Tyler took issue both with Sanders and with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who asserted Vought’s comments “suggest a violation of the public trust.”
“Giving them both the benefit of the doubt, maybe they confused religious exclusivism with political exclusivism,” Tyler wrote. “That is an extremely unfortunate but understandable mistake, given the current state of our world where political exclusivism is evident both in authoritarian regimes around the globe and in nativist rhetoric and violence, rampant in democratic societies, including our own.”
Sanders “missed an opportunity” to clarify the distinction between religious exclusivism—which is a constitutionally protected belief—and political exclusivism, Tyler said.
“We have seen other recent examples of attempts to declare certain religious beliefs as irreconcilable with American values and therefore legitimate grounds for exclusion,” she wrote. “Part of living in a religiously diverse society is encountering people who have theological views that are opposed, even abhorrent, to us. Our founders created a system through the Constitution and Bill of Rights that provides equal citizenship despite those differences.”
With additional reporting by Managing Editor Ken Camp