Thursday, July 27, 2017

Bernie and Condemnation

In my long tradition of dealing with contemporary issues long after they've fallen by the wayside, I'd like to weigh in on the confrontation between Bernie Sanders and Trump nominee Russ Vought from early June. It made a lot of headlines at the time, with people drawing lines and choosing sides and lobbing bombs back and forth at each other.

A transcript of the exchange can be viewed on any number of sites I'd rather not link to, but here's one anyway, since you need context.

The crux of the matter is Vought's comment, in support of his alma mater, Wheaton College, that people of non-Christian faiths (specifically Muslims in this particular case, but it's expanded to all) "do not know God" and "stand condemned." Sanders uses this statement as a means of rejecting (or voting for the rejection) of Vought in a government position because this view might be offensive or fear-inducing in people whom he's referenced.

In my view, both of these guys made real fools of themselves.

Sanders is easy - he falsely equated personal opinion with action. You need to show actual discrimination to justify denying someone a position of power, at least in the US government. Vought's belief that some people are condemned is just a belief, unless there's proof he acted on it. Shoot, this is a position in the Office of Management and Budget, for crying out loud, are there even religious issues that this guy would have power to rule on in the first place? Even if Sanders thought he might act prejudicially, he would be hard-pressed to come up with a scenario where such prejudice could even be possible.

People have rightly pointed out that this is, essentially, making a religious test for office - something the constitution forbids. Of course, what we conveniently never talk about in those scenarios are the ways in which our laws already impinge on the freedom of religion for things like child brides or abusive corporal punishment, to name a few. It's not outside the realm of possibility that "condemnation" on the basis of religion, might be one step on that same train Sanders would like us to pursue.

All of those are interesting, but what I didn't hear too much of is criticism for this notion of condemnation coming from Vought. It's terrible theology, to begin with, and just over-archingly anti-Christian to make such a statement. I could see justification, perhaps, for the condemnation of specific actions, but to condemn not just individuals, but whole groups of people, simply for a theological difference, feels like precisely the kind of thing Jesus denounced the Pharisees and religious leaders of his day for doing all the time.

In fact, I feel like Jesus said, at one point, "God did not send his son to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." Time and again Jesus failed to condemn anyone, except those claiming religious authority. We miss that boat a lot, as Christians, and maybe it takes a wildly over-zealous, secular Jew to get someone to notice.

I don't think Sanders was remotely right - at least constitutionally - in his statements and his badgering. In fact, it sounded an awful lot like condemnation in its own right. At the same time, Vought shouldn't be defending those words; he should be profusely apologizing for them.
To use the name of Jesus, the Church - his followers - as the means for doing it just makes me sad. The people most committed to the name of Jesus Christ don't appear to know Jesus at all. Rather they've bought into a dogmatic theology that serves its own internal logic more than the God it purports to represent.

It's intellectual assent taken to its logical conclusion - a person's acceptance or rejection of the idea of Jesus overrules individual action.
No one is saved or condemned based on their religious affiliation - we're saved or condemned by our commitment to love and selfless service -
you know, living in the way of Jesus Christ, whether you're in a position to admit that's what you're doing or not.

Neither of these guys did much to advance their cause in this matter. Neither one showed any real understanding of honor or respect. I'd say those actions - the words and actions of both men - are embarrassingly counter to the message of Jesus. Fortunately, that doesn't devalue them or their identities in any way. There's still plenty of love and hope and grace to go around.

At our very best, we're still more prone to condemnation than grace. I'd say the best we can hope for is to recognize it in ourselves, admit our failings, and work to be different moving forward. The intractable positions we see here are far more alike than they are different and we deserve better than either one from people we've placed in positions of power.

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