A low-profile confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill this week raised eyebrows when the questioning turned to theology — specifically, damnation.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont pressed Russell Vought, nominated by President Trump to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, about his beliefs.
“Do you think that people who are not Christians are condemned?” Sanders repeatedly asked, challenging that belief as Islamophobic.
Christian organizations have denounced Sanders’ questioning as amounting to a religious test for public office — one that would disqualify millions of people.
Polls show about half of all Christians in the U.S. believe that some non-Christians can go to heaven. But particularly among evangelicals, the traditional view of damnation remains widespread.
A confirmation showdown rooted in college dispute
How did hellfire come up in a confirmation hearing in the first place?
In 2015, an evangelical Christian college suspended a tenured professor who said that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. That’s a belief shared by many Christians, but not all; Wheaton College said it contradicted the school’s statement of faith.
Vought, an alumnus of Wheaton, wrote a blog post last year expressing support for his alma mater. He quoted a theologian who said non-Christians have a “deficient” theology but could have a meaningful relationship with God. Vought disagreed.
“Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology,” Vought wrote. “They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned. ”
Sanders brought up the passage, again and again, in the hearing. He asked Vought if he thought his statement was Islamophobic.
“Absolutely not, senator,” Vought said
“Do you believe people in the Muslim religion stand condemned?” Sanders asked. “What about Jews? Do they stand condemned, too?”
“I’m a Christian,” Vought repeatedly responded.
“I understand you are a Christian,” Sanders said, raising his voice. The senator is Jewish and has said he’s not particularly religious. “But there are other people who have different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?”
“I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs,” Vought said, while also emphasizing “the centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation.”
“This nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about,” Sanders said, announcing that he’d vote against him.
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