Thursday, June 15, 2017

Burning Bernie

Last week Sen. Bernie Sanders made some strong statements about Pres. Trump’s nominee for Deputy Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Sanders has been severely criticized for those utterances, even by some who are not Republicans or conservative evangelicals.
Bernie’s Statements
Russell Vought, Trump’s nominee, appeared before the Senate Budget Committee on June 8. There he was subjected to stiff questioning by Sen. Sanders. At issue was what Vought had written last year in support of Wheaton College’s decision to fire Larycia Hawkins, a tenured professor.
As you may remember, Hawkins was terminated over the controversy sparked by her donning a hijab in a gesture of solidarity with Muslims in the U.S. She also declared that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.”
In defending Wheaton’s action, Vought wrote that Hawkins’s views were mistaken. “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,” he asserted.
In response to those remarks, Sanders declared that what Vought wrote was “hateful,” “Islamaphobic,” and “an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world.”
He went on to say that Vought “is not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about.” Further, “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.”
He added, “Over the years we have made progress to becoming a less discriminatory and more tolerant society, and we must not go backwards.”  
Burning Bernie
As might be expected, Sen. Sanders was widely attacked from the religious right. Some called him bigoted against evangelical Christians.
I was surprised that even some moderate Christians were also quite critical of Bernie. For example, Amanda Tyler, the new Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC), wrote critically of Sanders on June 9 (here).
Tyler averred that “Sanders’ line of questioning imposed a religious test, which is forbidden by Article VI of the Constitution.”
Michael Gerson wrote along the same lines in a June 12 op-ed piece in the Washington Post.
Agreeing with Bernie
As you might guess, there were also some who wrote in support of Sanders’ position. Here is the link to one such well-written piece, and I basically agree with it.
While I am a strong supporter of religious liberty and usually agree with the BJC, I think their (Tyler’s) criticism of Bernie missed the point.
What Vought said about Muslims, of course, he could also have said about Jews, or Buddhists—or about the large percentage of the population who do not profess faith in any religion. As a private citizen he has every right to hold to his religious convictions.
Is it not a problem, though, when people in public office openly state that everyone who has other, or no, religious beliefs is “condemned”? While personal beliefs can perhaps be intolerant, the stance of public officials must be for tolerance of people of all faiths. That, I think, was Bernie’s point.
Moreover, what Article VI of the Constitution says is that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” It doesn’t say that people can or should never be disqualified because of their religious beliefs.
Some people in the past held strong religious beliefs about the validity of slavery or of polygamy, and more recently some have held religious beliefs that condemn LGBT people. While such people have the freedom to hold such beliefs, should they be in public office?
Probably not. 


  1. Here is the response received just now from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your wise comments.

    "While I certainly agree with Sen. Sanders' remarks yesterday in response to the shooting of Rep. Scalise in Alexandria, he should have chosen a different wording in response to the anti-Islamic comments by Russell Vought.

    "Sanders should have said that Vought's comments about Islam were inappropriate in a public forum. While Vought is entitled to his religious views, and these should not necessarily be held against him in accordance with Article VI, I think there are grounds for questioning his judgment."

    1. ​Thanks, as always, for reading and responding, Eric.

      As I understand it, Article VI of the Constitution was included because there were some states that had laws saying that people had to be Christians or even had to be Protestants in order to hold state offices.

      Article VI says that there can be no religious test for national office such as tho​s​e states had.

      But, as I wrote in the article, this does not seem to preclude some people being rejected because their religious beliefs seemed to be contrary to the public good.

      It was Vought's public statement, not his private belief, that was the problem that Bernie objected to, as I understand it.

  2. I used to hear that we should Never bring Religion&Politics into our debates.
    When we speak about the problems with the Muslims and/or Islam, shouldn`t we base our criticism Only on the Extremist and Not the entire religion as a whole?

    1. ​​Thanks, John Tim, for posting your comments.

      Yes, I think there is ample reason to speak publicly against all forms of extremism or terrorism, whether it be of radical Islamists or people such as the man who shot Rep. Scalise yesterday.

      But, as you point out, Vought made a public statement that included not only all Muslims but also all Jews, Buddhists, etc. as well. That is the reason, it seems to me, that Bernie was justified in questioning whether he was suitable for a White House job that includes oversight of the national budget. Could he be fair to those he sees as "condemned"?

  3. Esteemed Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson in Kentucky shares these comments:

    "I would much rather have Sanders speak for me than I would Vought. Vought is the one who does not understand Article I of our Constitution.

    "I am concerned, however, that Bernie responded with quite a bit of animus. Our body politic is being maimed by intemperate and uncivil speech and behavior. Our president is one of the worst offenders in this. Our repentance today should cause us to learn how to respond more sensitively. Otherwise we will keep descending lower and lower and be constantly at war with one another."

    1. I agree that Bernie speaks passionately about many issues, and perhaps he can be rightfully accused of being "intemperate and uncivil" by the way he says things.

      He reminds me, though, of some of the Old Testament prophets, or of John the Baptist, who also seem to have spoken with what many of their contemporaries no doubt thought was "with quite a bit of animus."

  4. Well, Leroy, you are asking your friendly readers to dust off any early morning dust off their ability to discern if a person’s (Sanders) questions to another about that person’s personal belief’s yields sufficient information to conclude that that other person will act in a discriminatory manner in a public, political forum. I’m not sure that all the dust is off my reasoning, but I would suggest that one should not conclude that it is inevitable that personally held beliefs that are highly discriminatory will always lead to discriminatory action.
    If a person always acts in a logical, consistent pattern that is discriminatory, one might expect action that is discriminatory. But what if the discriminating person also holds to the principle that one’s personal beliefs should not be imposed on another, and also recognizes that his/her personal beliefs are not held by many others and may refrain from a discriminatory, unfair action against another in a public forum? Should the questioner (and we) either look for specific unfair actions or unfair judgments against another in a public forum, or wait to see if any unfairly discriminating actions occur in the public forum?

    Does it matter not only what beliefs one holds, but where and how one acts on those beliefs on ways that may harm others?

    1. Thanks, Larry, for your thoughtful comments.

      I fully agree that a person's pattern of actions are more important than statements made in the abstract.

      In the HuffPost article I linked to, though, the author wrote, ". . . it is Vought, not Sanders, who has used a religious test to support the firing of a tenured professor."

      True, the situation of Wheaton College and the White House Office of Management and Budget are very different. But if Vought supported the firing of a tenured professor because she did not measure up to his religious beliefs, why do we think he might not do the same sort of thing in a government position?

  5. Sen Sanders' vitriolic passion certainly comes through. Vought's responses were amazingly civil and cogent.

  6. Thinking Friend Tom Nowlin in Arkansas sharing the following lengthy, erudite comments:

    "1. As one given to Immanuel Kant, John Rawls and Martha Nussbaum, the social contract and developmental capabilities theories, I like much of what Sanders brings to the table. However, alt-leftist supporters (whom I may be improperly identifying with the liberal more forceful/violent type; thinking forceful/violent Greenpeace types here) have caused me concern (the opposite of the alt-right forceful/violent types).

    "This thought came to my mind in my reading of the 'distraught' James T. Hodgkinson, described as a quiet man who spent much time on the Internet but with a clear police record of violent outbursts when provoked (in his mind). The mention of his sitting 'often for hours in a small reception area on his laptop' in the adjacent YMCA building causes me concern.

    "I have recently written a research paper examining 'cyber effect' and its negative amplification tendencies that help explain human behavior, how those whom we perceive to be one way – calm, social, etc. – in the real world behave entirely different – aggressive, hyperbolic, etc. – in the cyber world. When the cyber world reality becomes crystallized in the mind of a person who then tries to bring that same mind to the real world the frustration increases all the more and the person snaps in some way.

    "I would challenge all to read cyberpsychologist Mary Aiken’s 'Cyber Effect.' We forget that the cyberworld has only existed since 1991, and at that time was considerably insignificant when compared to today, 26 years later. This has been such a fast paced technical-social development that social scientists are unable to perform longitudinal studies the technical accomplishments have been so rapid and myriad.

    "We are prone to think of technology as progress only when in fact social scientists are now starting to figure out the negative impact on human behavior (in many ways) and even the physiology of the human brain itself.

    "2. God-mapping is something that few people do or can do, even seminary trained ministers who’ve been taught the orthodoxy of their tradition and nothing beyond. The one thing I appreciate most about my experience at Southern Seminary is that I feel that I was fully prepared for ministry having studied 'beyond' orthodoxy. Other educational approaches I see as indoctrination, not education.

    "Regarding comparative religious studies, Max Müller’s statement 'to know one is to know none comes to mind. So, when a politician addresses religious issues most sound pretty ignorant to me (and I AM being kind when I say this)."