UPDATE: Unbelievable as it may seem, Sen. Bernie Sanders and I have developed a friendship in recent years — something I attribute to a common concern over the corrupting nature of super-wealth and a shared love for Ben and Jerry’s Redistribution of Fudge ice cream. Upset at the negative press he received over some recent comments, Sanders enlisted my help in acquiring a platform for defending himself before the American people. What follows are the words of Sen. Bernie Sanders. He totally wrote them, you guys. For serious.
Recently I made news due to some tough questions I had for Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. Last year, Vought wrote an article defending Wheaton College for sacking a professor who taught that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, contrary to the school’s statement of faith.
“Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology,” he wrote. “They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”
I was greatly troubled by these words, so I asked a few questions, things like: “Why are you so Islamophobic? “On a scale from 8 to 10, how much do you hate Jews? “Does your mouth get dry from spitting on Buddhists all day?” You know, typical Senate hearing type of inquiries.
For reasons I don’t fully understand, many people became rather unhinged in response, accusing me of thinking all Christians are unfit for public office, of being ignorant of basic Christian theology and the constitutional prohibition against religious tests for officeholders. Nothing could be further from the truth. So I’d like to take this opportunity to set the record straight about what I, Sen. Bernie Sanders, hoped to accomplish with my questions.
Equal Access to Heaven Is a Human Right
First and foremost, I am a democratic socialist—meaning that I believe in equal opportunities for all people. We all have the right to pursue happiness, to affordable health care, and to make America’s senior citizens pick up the tab if someone wants to major in genderqueer alchemy at Florida Gulf Coast University. Quite simply, if something exists, I believe everybody has a right to that thing.
I’m not the most religious of folks. I don’t know if heaven exists. But if it does, then everybody has the right to eternal life there. Nobody should be “condemned” just because he doesn’t have enough money or the right skin color or doesn’t believe in the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Whoever God is, I am certain that he/she/zir will save everyone, and nothing will ever convince me otherwise, not even God explicitly telling me that those who reject the salvation of Jesus will not be saved.
Allowing men like Vought to hold public office would allow them to impose their bigoted, discriminatory understanding of salvation on the American people. Not only is that contrary to my understanding of salvation that I was elected to impose on all Trump nominees, it’s also contrary to our nation’s founding principles of tolerance, equality, and entitlement to others’ goods and services.
I Love All Legitimate Religions Equally
Some of my critics have suggested that voting “no” on Vought’s confirmation is a rather broad violation of the First Amendment and a very specific violation of Article VI of the Constitution, which states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” But there is no one, I repeat, no one in the U.S. Senate who values religious freedom more than Bernie Sanders does.
During my campaign for president, I had the opportunity to meet representatives from numerous faiths, from liberal Presbyterians who believe that everyone goes to heaven to liberal Episcopalians who believe that everyone goes to heaven. In fact, by my count, there are a good half dozen versions of universalism in this country, and Vought is free to choose one of those if he desires a career in government service. Six choices for religious affiliation, two brands of deodorant: that’s the kind of federally regulated freedom America needs if we’re going to end child hunger and the wage gap.
Others have also noted that my questions revealed an aggressive ignorance of Christian doctrine, suggesting that I was under the delusion that Christians won’t love and honor people if they believe those people are outside of salvation. I must admit that this accusation is technically true. I did fail to understand how Vought believes non-Christians should be treated. But this misunderstanding was, of course, entirely Vought’s fault.
You see, in his article, Vought used the term “condemned,” a term I had heard before. And, according to my understanding, “condemned” is a word you use when you plan to use whatever authority you have as the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget to insult people, strip them of their constitutional rights, and pelt them with day-old bran muffins. That is always how I’ve understood the term “condemned.” I could not possibly have known that people of another religion use that term differently. To be perfectly honest, it was pretty darn presumptuous of Vought to have expected otherwise.
It Doesn’t Even Make Any Sense
Furthermore, my malicious interpretation of his words allowed me to get mad and grandstand and tag-team with the American Civil Liberties Union to wail on the guy. All of those are very fun things to do. In fact, that’s kind of my thing around here, and I’m not going to give that stuff up simply because charity requires me to develop a nuanced understanding of some Trump nominee’s religious beliefs.
In conclusion, I believe that, if it exists, everyone has the right to go to heaven. I also believe that Russell Vought had every opportunity to choose a Sanders-approved religion that didn’t require me to learn new things. Vought chose not to do this, so I was well within my rights to call him a bigot.
My only regret is that I didn’t try this line of questioning when I was grilling Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. After all, from what I hear, that woman believes in the Trinity. God is three in one and one in three? I mean, come one, even a child knows that one and three are different numbers. Can we really have someone this mathematically inept running our nation’s schools?