The head of the Southern Baptist Convention public policy and religious liberty arm blasted Sen. Bernie Sanders’ grilling of a potential White House official over comments about Islam.
Sanders (I-Vt.) said during a June 7 nomination hearing that Trump nominee Russell Vought should not be confirmed as deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget because he wrote a blog in January 2016 declaring Muslims have a “deficient” theology and do not know God. The comments were written in context of a controversy over a Wheaton University professor who wore a hijab to show solidarity with her Muslim neighbors.
Sanders, leading Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee, denounced Vought’s remarks as “hateful,” “Islamaphobic” and “an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world.” The former Democratic presidential candidate said Vought “is not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about.”
“This country since its inception has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms, whether it is racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and Islamaphobia,” Sanders said. “Over the years we have made progress to becoming a less discriminatory and more tolerant society, and we must not go backwards.”
Vought, an alumnus of Wheaton, wrote the words on the conservative website The Resurgent, founded by former Red State editor and CEO Eric Erickson, disagreeing with then-professor Larycia Hawkins’ declaration that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.”
“Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology,” wrote Vought, who in the past worked as executive director of the Republican Study Committee and vice president of the conservative policy organization Heritage Action. “They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ, his Son, and they stand condemned.”
Sanders, who during last year’s presidential campaign said he was raised Jewish but is now “not particularly religious,” termed the statement disrespectful of other religions.
“I don’t know how many Muslims there are in America,” Sanders asked Vought during questioning. “Maybe a couple million. Are you suggesting that all those people stand condemned? What about Jews? Do they stand condemned too?”
Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, criticized Sanders’ comments and questioning as “breathtakingly audacious and shockingly ignorant” both of Christianity and the Constitution.
“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,” Moore said in a statement June 7. “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.”
Vought’s 2016 blog linked to an earlier article by Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., making the theological case for his argument.
“Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God who is fully divine (and became fully human),” Vought wrote. “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.”
In a December 2015 article titled “Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?” Mohler argued that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God.
“Christians worship the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and no other god,” Mohler wrote.
“One cannot deny the Son and truly worship the Father,” Mohler said. “There is no question that the Muslim is our neighbor, but there is no way to remain faithful to Scripture and the gospel and then claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.”
Mohler said in a podcast June 8 that as an agnostic Jew, it is possible either that Sanders “really doesn’t have much of an idea of what biblical Christianity is” or that as a politician he “was not so much theologically offended as he was seizing a political opportunity.”
Manar Waheed, legislative and advocacy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union and a Muslim, termed Vought’s views “disturbing.”
“We know that diversity is one of our nation’s greatest strengths, and it is vitally important that Americans have confidence that their public servants will serve our entire nation in good faith,” she said. “That’s why we will watch Vought closely and press to ensure that those helping decide how public money is spent and the government is managed understand the vital importance of nondiscrimination.”
The Office of Management and Budget is the largest office within the executive branch. Its primary function is to produce the president’s budget. The current director, former South Carolina Congressman Mick Mulvaney, was nominated by Trump in December and confirmed by the Senate in February.
Hawkins, the Wheaton professor at the center of the controversy in late 2015 and early 2016, voluntarily resigned after an investigation about whether her comments violated the evangelical Christian college’s statement of faith and accepted a one-year fellowship at the University of Virginia. She is currently working on a documentary film about her story under the title “Same God.”
Moore’s criticism of Sanders comes just days before the 2017 SBC annual meeting in Phoenix. During last year’s convention, Moore faced tough questions about why his agency filed a legal brief defending the right of Muslims to construct a mosque in New Jersey.