Southern Baptist religious freedom advocate Russell Moore has decried Sen. Bernie Sanders’ stated opposition to a White House nominee based on the candidate’s adherence to foundational Christian teaching.
Sanders – an independent from Vermont and 2016 candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination – said June 7 he will oppose Russell Vought’s nomination as deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. In announcing his opposition, Sanders cited a 2016 blog post by Vought in which he said Muslims “stand condemned” because they have rejected Jesus.
Vought “is not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about,” Sanders said, according to the Associated Press. The nominee’s post was “hateful” and “Islamophobic,” and he should not be confirmed, the senator said.
Moore described Sanders’ comments as “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,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“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,” he told Baptist Press in a written statement.
In his comments, Moore referred to Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, which includes: “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
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.”
“It is hateful. It is Islamophobic,” Sanders said at Vought’s June 7 hearing before the Senate Budget Committee. “And it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world.”
In the hearing, Vought said, “I’m a Christian, and I believe in a Christian set of principles,” according to the Associated Press (AP). 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.
Vought previously served as executive director of the Republican Study Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives and vice president of Heritage Action for America. Sanders is the lead Democrat on the Budget Committee.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)