Two Senators Believe What?

This week has certainly been eventful when it comes to looking at cultural events through a Christian worldview. Across the globe, we’ve seen religious stories, political stories, and lifestyle stories that conjure up fear about the depravity of the word in which we live. In Rome, a police force and a prayer force combined efforts in search of pieces of a saint’s brain that was stolen. Eyes have also turned upon England in the midst of an uncertain election that sees two worldviews pitted against one another. Even Canada has captured attention as legislation in Ontario has passed allowing the government to seize children who live in homes in which the LGBTQ agenda is not considered acceptable.
Each of these yields fascinating dialog when enlightened by a biblical context. Yet, for many, it was a contentious confirmation hearing for Russell Vought that captured attention. Russell Vought is in the process of being confirmed as Deputy Director of the Offie of Management and Budget and this week saw two senators vocalize (almost bully) Mr. Vought during the hearing. The issue finds its beginnings in something that occurred last year when Professor Larycia Hawkins set off a firestorm by choosing to wear a hijab on campus at her place of employment. That place of employment happens to be the alma matter of Russell Vought. It is none other than Wheaton College. Administrators chose to suspend Professor Hawkins while it investigated her actions and her beliefs as being consistent with the doctrine of Wheaton College. In an online posting. Mr. Vought chose to defend Wheaton, and what captured Senators Bernie Sanders (Vermont) and Christopher Van Hollen Jr.’s attention (most likely after being advised to it by the ACLU) was the following statement:
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 is a statement consistent with standard Christian belief and if one believes God’s very own word, then this is the conclusion that they must come to. However, the senators chose to make it an issue during the interview and confirmation process and in doing so, not only were their actions out of line, but they committed several violations in the process.
Violation of the Constitution
Article VI of the United States Constitution forbids a religious litmus test to be a deciding factor for one’s qualification for political office. Yet, the line of questioning that took place did just that. It acted as a religious test meant to bring disqualification to Mr. Russell Vought. While we cannot make assumptions about how each individual senator will weigh this information, Senator Bernie Sanders made his position clear in that this information alone was sufficient for him to vote against confirmation. Christians may find this concerning, but I would suggest that every United States resident should find this concerning because it now sets a precedent and the largely positive reaction to what has taken place has given that precedent approval. It now means one’s personal religious beliefs can be used against a person. Even more the fact that it violates the Constitution and yet is met with praise suggest that violation of the very document that set forth equality in the United States can be dismantled at the choosing of each individual in accordance with what he or she wants. Thus, there are grave concerns here for both Christians and non-Christians.
Violation of Logic
However, the senators of the United States were not the only ones involved in the confirmation process. The American Civil Liberties Union chose to insert themselves into the process yesterday by sending a statement about their stance on Mr. Russell Vought. That statement included this paragraph:
Religious freedom is such a fundamental liberty that the framers of our Constitution enshrined it in the First Amendment. That’s why it’s so disturbing that Trump continues to pack his administration with appointees like Russell Vought, whose views threaten that very freedom. 
First off, we should note that the tone of this is disrespectful and we know that because the statement fails to address President Trump by his title: president. The reality is, whether you agree with his policies or his beliefs, he has been elected president and thus that title has been bestowed upon him by the American people.
However, their very statement and opposition to Russel Vought’s appointment defies any rules of logic. We’ve already learned by Senator Bernie Sanders’ statements that what is contained within the Constitution has no bearing upon the political process anymore. However, the ACLU has chosen to point to the guarantee of religious freedom in the Constitution as part of their statement. The claim is that Mr. Vought’s views threaten that freedom. Yet their very desire to censure such a man for standing convicted by his religious beliefs and openly sharing them is also a very threat to religious freedom. The very freedom supposedly needing protection here is being jeopardized in that protection.
Violation of Personal Convictions
The confirmation hearing also stands not merely of confirmation for a political commission, but confirmation of public conviction and condemnation, which is, you can believe what you may, but don’t practice that belief or you will be condemned. At one point Senator Christopher Van Hollen Jr. indicates the following:
I’m a Christian, but part of being a Christian in my view is recognizing that there are lots of ways that people can pursue their God.
The Senator is correct in one aspect here. There are lots of ways people can pursue their God. However, that’s not the issue at hand here. The issue here is about how one finds his or her way to the one, true God and any true Christian will recognize the incompatibility of the senator’s statement. Russell Vought’s original statement was in the context of a Christian following the revelation of God’s Word which recognizes the indication that there is only one true way to God.To be a Christian, by the very nature of the Word, indicates an active following of Christ (after all, the word signifies ‘little Christ’). It is only through Christ then that one cannot be condemned because there is no other way. Senator Van Hollen Jr. represents a large portion of the population who seem to think all paths lead to the one, true God and all that is necessary is to label themselves as a Christian without ever actually being a Christian (i.e. they haven’t truly put their faith in Christ). Profession and conviction often seem misaligned in practice and the Senator has done well at proving and representing that.
Violation of Integrity and Respect
Finally, we look at Senator Bernie Sanders’ actions and attitude throughout the confirmation hearing. He could act as proof for any one of these points because he spoke the most frequently. As a former Presidential Candidate,  his disregard for the Constitution is concerning. As an agnostic who identifies Jewish heritage, his antagonism is not surprising, however its severity is. What was on display during the ‘conversation’ at the confirmation hearing was a man who would ask questions and then consistently interrupt without waiting for the complete answer. Furthermore, his assertions suggest many assumptions about Christianity without any real knowledge. Unfortunately, such a behavior defies his own indictment against Mr. Russell Vought. HIs suggestion was that before the Senate was a man incapable of being impartial and respectful. Interestingly, all of this was based not on actions, but based upon one written statement and yet it was Senator Bernie Sanders’ actions and attitudes who were disrespectful.
The confirmation hearing this week is maddening for Christians. First, this response of animosity and bitterness is not based upon evidence of Mr. Vought’s actions but instead is based upon an interpretation of a few words. There is a concern by some that he will be biased and discriminate in fulfilling his position, but that concern is not based upon the actual testimony of Russell Vought’s life, which stands in high regard. So much of this is based simply on a statement and one’s interpretation of that statement without regard for actual evidence of lifestyle. This brings me to the second point and that’s the purpose of the statement. Russell Vought was not hateful or hurtful in his statement, but instead was pointing out the incompatibility between the Muslim and Christian religions. He recognizes that the two cannot exist together as one.
For Christians, conjuring up a response that is not full of anger is difficult. Who we are is not only being attacked, but it is being misrepresented in front of millions of people. This status not only finds us fearful and concerned for ourselves, but our love for God through Christ compels a concern for God’s very own testimony through such misrepresentations. Christians must do the following:
  • Firmly hold to Christian convictions,
  • firmly study Christian convictions,
  • and firmly proclaim Christian convictions.
However, we must be cautious to not respond in fear and anger. Instead, we must be mindful of our testimony and respond in such a way that is honoring to God. Thus our reactions should be characterized with humility, care, compassion, and kindness (to name a few characteristics). What we have to say is offensive because it confronts sin and there is no getting around that. However, we can convey it in a loving way that is indicative of both God’s sorrow over the sinfulness of man and his desire for them to come to him through his Son Jesus Christ. I can tell you that what I saw on display this week at the confirmation hearing was hypocrisy on the side of those demanding respect in that it was disrespectful and yet honoring to God by conveying His glory through a humble, yet convicted, Russell Vought. It was a confirmation hearing that brought many concerns about the future of our country and the future of Christians. Let us take heart because our trust is not in the leaders of this world, but in God who rules over all.
To read some additional stories on the subject, the following are good starters:
  1. Two U.S. Senators Apply an Anit-Christian Religious Test for Government Officials 
  2. Bernie Sanders to Traditional Christians: Your Beliefs Are Indefensibly Hateful and Insulting, and Not What This Country Is Supposed to Be About
  3. Al Mohler: The Briefing 6-08-2017
Photo “On the Hill” courtesy of user Eric B. Walker and Flickr.