A Texas megachurch pastor is demanding Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) apologize or resign after he lambasted President Donald Trump’s pick for deputy White House budget director because of the nominee’s Christian faith.
At a hearing last Wednesday, Sanders combatively grilled Trump nominee Russell Vought, ultimately saying his religious values disqualified him for public office. Sanders, a self-avowed socialist, said Vought is “really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about.”
Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Dallas, released a statement in the wake of Vought’s Senate hearing, pushing back against Sanders’ intense questions for Vought, based on a 2016 column the nominee wrote in which he differentiated between Christian and Islamic theology.
“Because of this assault on the Constitution and on fully 41 percent of the American people,” Jeffress' statement said, “there are only two responsible courses of action for Sen. Sanders — apologize to the country for his foolhardy attempt to introduce an unconstitutional litmus test that would exclude 41 percent of the country, or resign."
Jeffress equated Sanders’ barrage of questions to an “unconstitutional religious test.” The pastor said Sanders inquiries were an attack on Vought’s religion because the comments in his 2016 post — that Muslims have a “deficient theology” and “stand condemned” if they don’t accept Jesus Christ — are “historical Christian beliefs.”
Jeffress continued, invoking Article VI of the U.S. Constitution:
This attack by Sen. Sanders is abhorrent first of all because Article VI of our Constitution provides that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Vought’s comments in a blog post, published in the context of a controversy at the Christian college from which he graduated, affirmed the words of Jesus Himself who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Yet the affirmation of this core Christian doctrine led Sanders to conclude that Vought failed Sanders’ religious test.
Regardless, Sanders continually badgered Vought on the matter, asking him whether or not he stands by his previous claim that those who do not accept Jesus Christ “stand condemned.” Ultimately, the nominee didn’t back down, pointing to the “centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation.”
“You think your statement that you put into that publication, ‘They do not know God because they rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned,’ do you think that’s respectful of other religions?” Sanders asked yet again.
The senator then said he would vote against Vought because of his Christian convictions.
“These words, and this sentiment, are not only unconstitutional, but unconscionable by a public official,” Jeffress asserted. “This attack by Sanders is abhorrent because he has effectively said that evangelicals, who make up 41 percent of the population of our country, are not qualified to serve in public office, and ‘not what this country is all about.’”
Vought originally penned the 2016 post for The Resurgent in defense of his alma mater, Wheaton College, for dismissing a professor who claimed Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.” Vought asserted that a person cannot “know God” without fully accepting and depending upon Jesus Christ.