That Just Happened

June 10, 2017

This week, during a Senate confirmation hearing for Russell Vought, something happened that won’t make the front page of any newspapers, but it was telling and should not be ignored by Christians.

While questioning Vought, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont took umbrage with a blog post that Vought had written for Wheaton College, in which he stated, “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned.” It is worth noting that this statement places Russell Vought’s doctrine of salvation squarely in line with millennia of Christian orthodoxy and scriptural understanding/interpretation.

Senator Sanders’ follow-up question, “Do you believe that that statement is Islamophobic?” started an exchange between the Senator and Vought in which the Senator continued to press the discriminatory nature of the comment. Vought continued to affirm both his Christian faith and the assertion that being a Christian means that Jesus Christ is the only path to God. After a couple of minutes of this, Senator Sanders, announced that his decision to vote “No” on Vought’s confirmation was rooted in Vought’s religious beliefs and convictions, stating, “I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about. I will vote ‘No’.” In this summary thought from Senator Sanders, he displayed a blatant violation of Article VI of the Constitution of the United States by applying a religious litmus for approval to public office. 

American Christians should take note of this, not because of any abiding affection for the Constitution but because a man was publicly castigated by an elected politician and may lose his confirmation hearing for professing his personal belief in the centrality of Jesus Christ for salvation. In short, a man’s orthodox Christian belief was cited as a disqualifier for any kind of public service. While this may not seem like the stuff of Foxes Book of Martyrs, it should sound the alarm for Christians that persecution is not out of the realm of possibility in this country anymore and that what often starts as marginalization often turns into outright persecution over time. So how should Christians think about this event as well as the likelihood of persecution for our faith?

Christians shouldn’t be surprised

We’ve been thoroughly warned, not by society, but by Jesus, himself. Throughout the gospels, Jesus warns his followers of the impending reality of persecution (John 15:18-20) and Peter reminded his hearers not to be surprised but to rejoice in sharing with Christ in his suffereings (1 Peter 4:12-16). Frankly, the shock of many American Christians related to persecution simply shows an increasing disconnect from our brothers and sisters in Christ who suffer marginalization and violent persecution day in and day out around the globe.

Christians should pray for those who persecute them

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches his followers how to respond to persecution. “... I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:43-48). Christians should pray for the salvation of those who would persecute them, that they would have forgiveness and know the love of God. History records numerous accounts of those who were led to confess Christ as Lord by the very testimony of those that they sought to persecute.

Christians should not seek persecution, but should endure it and recognize the blessing of persecution

In the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:10-12), Jesus addresses the persecuted. The persecuted Christian is blessed to know that theirs is the kingdom of Heaven and that it is God’s approval and praise that we are to seek. Suffering persecution reminds us that this world is not our home and that our lives are to be oriented toward the kingdom of God in word and deed. Additionally, scripture and history have shown that persecution has often served to purge the church of its lukewarmness and caused those who were not committed to the cause of Christ to depart.

Christians should not be deterred from their witness

In Acts 5, after some of the Apostles suffered a beating and a command to censure their preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, they reminded those in authority that they were to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29-32). Later, upon their release, the Apostles went away, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (speaking of the name of Jesus Christ). They boldly witnessed of Christ’s suffering and refused to allow ruling authorities to stop them even if it meant physical suffering and persecution.

Christians should appeal to their citizen rights…but for a completely different reason

In Acts 22, Paul is about to be flogged for his preaching of the Gospel when he questions the lawfulness of the flogging because of his Roman citizenship. According to Roman law, citizens could not be flogged without a trial so Paul calls upon his citizen rights. His motive, however, may differ from many American Christians’. Paul doesn’t appeal to his rights to secure his own life, liberty or pursuit of happiness. He appeals to the lawfulness of these actions as a way to broaden his audience for the preaching of the gospel. From Acts 22 through much of the remainder of the book of Acts, we see the unfolding of events that leads Paul to proclaim his faith to multiple Roman officials in public court proceedings. One of those officials, Felix, even went so far as to say that Paul almost persuaded him to be a Christian. In this, Paul demonstrates that we should be most concerned about opportunities to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. American Christians still have the right to freely proclaim their belief in the exclusivity of Christ for salvation and even as pressure or persecution mount, we should appeal to those rights to continue proclaiming the gospel.

While what happened to Russell Vought wasn’t the stuff of floggings and torture, it is a reminder of the reality and the inevitability of persecution for Jesus Christ.

May Christians face any persecution just as our Savior Jesus Christ faced the cross- with confidence in the sovereignty of God’s plan, with courage to proclaim the glory of God even in the midst of suffering, with love for those who would persecute Christians, and with boldness to speak in the midst of persecution that which the Holy Spirit would give us to say (Matthew 10:19-20).

Video of the exchange between Senator Sanders and Russell Vought