Distinguished sages from both Jewish and Christian faith traditions collaborated this week to establish an eschatological litmus test for presidential nominees. Rabbi Bernie Sanders and Rev. Chris Van Hollen (both of whom moonlight as Democratic Senators from Vermont and Maryland, respectively) have formulated carefully crafted theological standards for new government leaders.
Rabbi Sanders, whose intellectual contributions to Judaism will no doubt be studied by Talmudic scholars for generations, may be best remembered for the CNN Town Hall where he declared, “I am not an atheist!” as well as an interview with Jimmy Kimmel where he refused to say whether or not he believed in God.
Rev. Van Hollen’s meteoric career as a Christian scholar is similarly illustrious. In addition to delivering a stirring speech on the steps of the Supreme Court about the importance of forcing Catholic nuns to buy abortifacient pharmaceuticals, he known for his ardent promotion of religious tolerance:
We won't tolerate religious tests in this country. Thanks to everyone who came out to the town hall in Annapolis to raise their voice. pic.twitter.com/dJANJTUYIU
— Senator Chris Van Hollen (@ChrisVanHollen) April 4, 2017
Rev. Van Hollen and Rabbi Sanders united on Wednesday to unveil their litmus test during the confirmation hearing of Russell Vought, President Donald Trump’s pick for Deputy Director of the Office of Budget and Management.
During the confirmation hearing, Rabbi Sanders deftly described Vought’s eschatological views and, after a heated exchange, posed a pointed question: “Do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?”
Vought, an alumni of the “Christian Ivy” Wheaton College, attempted to answer the question by laying out his nuanced understanding of Christian anthropology, but it was not enough to convince Rabbi Sanders.
“I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about,” Sanders concluded.
Rev. Van Hollen concurred with Rabbi Sander’s assessment and, in a remarkable demonstration of pity on the nominee, patiently explained how Mr. Vought and all the Wheaton College faculty erred in their theology: “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…”
Religious scholars around the country have lauded the deep faith of both Rabbi Sanders and Rev. Van Hollen: “They must have incredibly deep faith to be willing to contravene explicit precepts of the U.S. Constitution in a Senate hearing,” said Dr. Lukas Vander Hyde, president of Kuyper-Knox Reformed Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas, referring to the senators’ disregard for the constitutional prohibitions on discrimination based on religious belief.
It is not yet clear how Rev. Van Hollen’s vehement assertion that “We won’t tolerate religious tests in this country” can be reconciled with the new religious test that he and Rabbi Sanders have initiated in the U.S. Senate.
Fortunately, Rev. Van Hollen has an outstanding reputation for Biblical scholarship (after all, he did recently swear-in on a bible during a reenactment ceremony last year with the ultra-orthodox Catholic monk Fra. Joe Biden). It is expected that he will use his unparalleled exegetical prowess to resolve the apparent contradiction.