Sanders and the Sixth Article
Tucker Fleming, Social Policy Contributor
The exclusivity of Christianity has, for quite some time, been perhaps one of its most contentious elements. Especially in the late modern West, some are confounded by the idea of a God who at the same time embodies love, yet demands His followers to worship Him and only Him. Jesus the Life Coach and Jesus the Moral Example are pictures of Jesus which men and women all over adore. While all these images are true, they are incomplete pictures of the Jesus which the Christian Church has historically worshipped. These portraits are portraits of the Jesus of John Locke and Protestant liberalism, the Jesus who asks nothing of His followers. Oftentimes, moderns and postmoderns are all too eager to trade the robust picture of the biblical Jesus who eats with tax collectors and prostitutes but also tells His followers to “Go and sin no more” (Jn. 8:11) for a naturalistic and sanitized Jesus who says nothing of punishment and separation. The biblical Jesus is much too offensive for many, Bernie Sanders apparently included.
Recently, the good Senator from Vermont brought up what was apparently a concerning piece written by the appointee for deputy director position of the Office of Management and Budget, Russell Vought. In 2016, Vought wrote the following in response to a controversy at Wheaton College, wherein a professor seemingly gestured that Christians and Muslims worship the same God: “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.” This is the rather stock position of the Christian Church since its inception. Nevertheless, Sen. Sanders took issue with Vought’s expression, saying, “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...This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms...we must not go backwards.” Sanders went on to say, “this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.”
Presumably, Senator Sanders has based his opposition squarely on Vought’s exclusivistic beliefs. One might even say that because of these historic religious beliefs, Vought has failed Senator Sanders’ test to occupy public office. Now, perhaps the Senator needs a refresher on Constitutional Law, because it seems that Article VI is rather clear about the permissiveness of religious tests for assessing one’s ability to hold public office.
All that said, regardless of whether or not Senator Sanders’ questions can be regarded as a test, it’s important to realize at least one thing: exclusivism is not unique to Christianity and the idea that it is is an idea from another planet. In fact, folks of many faiths, Islam included, are exclusivists, which raises the question of whether or not a devout Muslim would have been asked the same questions and been similarly ridiculed for giving similar answers. Even Bernie Sanders, to a certain extent, is an exclusivist, for if the essence of exclusivism is declaring one’s own viewpoint objectively correct over against the viewpoint of another, Senator Sanders’ comments certainly fit the bill. In this exchange, Sanders has placed himself above exclusivistic religion, specifically Christianity, and declared its irreconcilable differences with other exclusive faiths simply apparent differences rather than substantive ones. If a certain belief system fails to meet Senator Sanders’ standards, it is to be excluded from the orthodoxy of the public square. In the same way that denying all claims of absolute truth is itself an absolute truth claim, excluding all exclusivistic belief systems is itself inherently exclusivistic. Almost everyone is an exclusivist; Russell Vought is just honest about it.
Another point worth exploring is this: if Russell Vought believes Christianity to be the sole true religion, and that not a single person gets to the Father except through Jesus Christ (Jn. 14:6), the supremely bigoted thing to do would be to avoid telling others that this is the case. True hatred, true bigotry, at least in this situation, would be hoarding access to eternal life by refusing to tell others of their current condition, and of the flourishing Christianity offers over against Islam, secularism, atheism, naturalism, or any other metaphysical system. If Mr. Vought remained silent, allowing others to suffer separation from God without so much as a whisper, he would, at that point, be truly hateful.
If Senator Sanders’ motives are pure, he’s simply looking for some unity between faiths amid a multicultural landscape which is seemingly lacking it. If that’s the case, it’s an admirable motive. However, acting as if mutually exclusive faiths are not in fact mutually exclusive is not what produces meaningful unity because those very important differences are glossed over. Indifferentism will not, indeed it cannot, bring about true unity.
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