Opinion  |  

Bernie Sanders jumps the shark*

US Democrat leader questions whether a Christian can hold public office

Saying that Jesus is the only way to heaven is Islamophobic and should exclude Christians from holding government positions is the implied stance of Democrat heavyweight Bernie Sanders’ line of questions in a congressional hearing this week. Sanders ran against Hilary Clinton for the democrat nomination in last year’s presidential election.

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Russell Vought, a Trump nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, was being grilled by Senators. Sanders repeatedly brought up this quote from Vought: “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.”

That comes from a piece written by Vought on a conservative website theresurgent.com which manages both to be extremely conservative at least by Australian standards, and take the Bible seriously (which is surprisingly rare.)

“This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms … we must not go backwards.” – The Atlantic

“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,” Sanders told the committee during his introductory remarks. The Atlantic reports, “This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms … we must not go backwards.”

The Atlantic, a secular magazine, saw the issues for Christians quite clearly. “Where Sanders saw Islamophobia and intolerance, Vought believed he was stating a basic principle of his belief as an evangelical Christian: that faith in Jesus is the only pathway to salvation. And where Sanders believed he was policing bigotry in public office, others believed he was imposing a religious test.”

A key quote from Vought (which is Christianity 101): “Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God who is fully divine (and became fully human). This matters immensely for our salvation. If Christ is not God, he cannot be the necessary substitute on our behalf for the divine retribution that we deserve.”

Vought was taking part in a controversy over Professor Larycia Hawkins of the conservative evangelical Wheaton College, Chicago, who caused a stir in late 2015 by donning a hijab for Lent and claiming that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

He was responding to Hawkins defender, and well-known apologetics academic John Stackhouse of Regent College, Vancouver.  In a piece for Eternity, Stackhouse wrote, “What she could have meant, and what makes sense in the context of her long-time affiliation with Wheaton College, is that she believes that the same God is the object of much and normative Islamic piety as is the target of much and normative Christian piety. When pious Muslims pray, they are addressing the One True God, and that God is, simply, God.”

Stackhouse’s piece deserves to be read at length, along with the response from Melbourne’s Mark Durie who states, “In fact the best and strongest reason for rejecting the ‘same God’ thesis is not Muslims’ disbelief in the Trinity or the incarnation.  It is that the Qur’an projects a different understanding of God from the Bible.  As Denny Burk of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville put it ‘our books are very different’.”

It is an everyday occurrence for Christians to believe both John 14:6 and follow the example of the Good Samaritan. – John Sandeman

The Larycia Hawkins debate was essentially between Christians. But now Sanders has opened up the question of whether the “scandal of particularity” (that Jesus’ death on the cross and saving faith lead to heaven) disqualifies Christians from holding government office. The Atlantic has a good headline: “Bernie Sanders’s Religious Test for Christians in Public Office”. And a good intro: “Article VI of the U.S. Constitution states that ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.’ On Wednesday, Senator Bernie Sanders flirted with the boundaries of this rule during a confirmation hearing for Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.”

Sanders has simply got Christianity wrong. It is an everyday occurrence for Christians to believe both John 14:6 and follow the example of the Good Samaritan. Russell Moore of the conservative Southern Baptist’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission put it this way: “Senator Sanders’ comments are breathtakingly audacious and shockingly ignorant—both of the Constitution and of basic Christian doctrine. Even if one were to excuse Senator 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 Senator Sanders would cite religious beliefs as disqualifying an individual for public office in defiance of the United States Constitution. No religious test shall ever be required of those seeking public office. While no one expects Senator 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.”

* ‘Jump the shark’ is a pop-culture term usually referring to the particular moment when a television series, regarded as high quality or great entertainment, slides downhill into novelty or diminishing returns. The term is a direct reference to a 1977 episode of US sitcom Happy Days that featured key character Fonzie jumping over sharks while on water skis. Click here to see Fonzie jump the shark.

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