Today we’re going to talk about Bernie Sanders, religious pluralism, and condemnation. Stay tuned on Unapologetic.
Recently, as part of the Senate’s responsibility to advise the president on his nominees, Bernie Sanders was interviewing, under oath, a presidential nominee, Russell Vought. This was Trump’s nominee to the Deputy Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Anyways, here was the controversy. Sanders was upset that this man had previously written the following statement: “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Christ Jesus, his Son, and they stand condemned.”
Now, this man was writing in defense of his alma mater, Wheaton, which is an Evangelical University, and he’s saying this on the backdrop on the controversy that happened over a year ago, where there was a professor at Wheaton who had worn a hijab, a head covering prescribed in Islamic practice. She had also gone on to say that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, which they don’t. Anyways, this led to a big controversy, and this man, Russell Vought, is writing in defense of that.
This makes Bernie Sanders irate, it seems like, that this man would say a whole religion is condemned and all of their followers. He called it Islamophobic. That means fear of Islam, and this man certainly doesn’t seem to have a fear of Islam, so I think it’s the wrong term. I think there’s a lesson there for us that today, if you add “phobia” or “phobic” to the end of a term, it sounds really powerful and it can help shut people up even if that’s not at all what it is. In fact, that is a psychological diagnosis. I don’t think Bernie Sanders is a psychologist, so he’s probably not fit to make that type of proclamation.
But anyways, it’s not Islamaphobic, it’s not Christianphobic, to say that Islam or Christianity is wrong, or that everyone who believes that religion is wrong. I want to talk about this today.
Does Christianity say that everyone who follows Islam is condemned?
One, does Christianity say that everyone who follows Islam is condemned? And two, how should we address this question of religious pluralism, this idea that all religions are equally valid?
On the face of it, it seems like Bernie Sanders doesn’t actually know very much about Christianity at all. Because, for 2,000 years, the church has taught that apart from saving faith in Jesus Christ, everyone is condemned. It’s not just Muslims. I believe Russell Vought would affirm that, except in his context he was specifically writing about Islam and Muslims in particular.
But, Christianity doesn’t single those out. It talks about every single person apart from Christ, so every person who’s now a Christian, before they were a Christian, stood condemned before God. This man isn’t condemning them. Christianity doesn’t teach that we actually have the power to condemn people. No, we are simply God’s messengers who relay and repeat and echo what he has already said.
Let’s read a little in the Gospel of John about this whole subject of God’s love and condemnation and things like that. I’d love to have more time to go into the context behind John 3, but we’re going to start in verse 16, which is of course a very popular verse, perhaps the most popular verse in the Bible. But people often stopped there and don’t keep reading.
Here’s what it says:
”For this is the way God loved the world. He gave his one and only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
The thought keeps going; it doesn’t stop there.
“For God did not send his Son in the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. The one who believes in him is not condemned.”
So far, so good.
“The one who doesn’t believe has been condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.”
I think that’s extremely important. We often quote the first part. “God loved the world that he gave his Son so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” Yes, that’s true, but why is that necessary? Because everyone stood condemned before Christ came.
Now, I think we often read too much into this passage. While Jesus was on earth, when he came in that role, he did not come to condemn the world. He did not come to judge the world. But John 5:22 even says that the Father, in fact, judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son. It is Jesus who, at the end of all things, will judge everyone. Jesus actually is the ultimate judge. People often forget that when they say, “Well he just loved and said, ‘Don’t judge.’” Well, Jesus does love us, and he also loves himself more. I think we have to remember that. He does not take kindly to his perfect moral law being trampled, to people rebelling against him.
Furthermore, to say that God tells us not to judge each other, which we often take and interpret incorrectly, doesn’t mean that God can’t judge. We are not on the same plane as God. I think we have to be able to explain that to people.
Nonetheless, when Jesus came to his earth in his incarnational ministry, he did that not to condemn the world but he came on a saving mission. He was going to the cross to save sinners. However, he will ultimately be the judge at the end of time. We have to affirm both of those things.
But let’s return to our more primary point. What Bernie Sanders does not understand and what we need to be able to communicate clearly is that apart from saving faith in Jesus Christ, everyone stands condemned because they don’t believe in God. As the passage goes on to say, “Because they practice evil deeds. Because they hate the light that exposes their evil deeds.” Everyone stands condemned. That’s not a good message. That’s not happy news. But in order for the good news of the Gospel to seem like the bright, glorious thing it is, the bad news needs to be accurately presented in all of its darkness and sinister character. “Because men love the darkness because their deeds were evil.” We’ve got to talk about that part.
Now, that’s just Christian doctrine. We just basically read through John 3. That’s been there for 2,000 years. More than that, the church has affirmed this for 2,000 years. It does seem like Bernie Sanders was very ignorant of what the majority religion in his country actually believes, which is somewhat ironic since he ended his speech with this very stumbling sentence, which basically went something like: “You’re not what this country is about.”
This country was actually founded on the principle of religious freedom, not just freedom of thought but freedom of exercise of religion. More than that, the constitution says we can’t use a religious test for office, which it seems like Bernie Sanders was doing. If anyone was at fault there, especially according to the law, it’s Bernie Sanders. But that’s another topic and I’m not a constitutional expert or anything like that.
More to the point, in spite of Sanders’ ignorance, it should not be taken as surprising that one religion disagrees with another religion. I think this is the point we need to be more prepared to talk about. I’ve had several conversations over the last week about this as I’ve heard other people and seen other people talking about this. I’ve hopped in to understand where people are at on this.
What’s been most surprising to me is even people who call themselves Christians seem very uncomfortable in some contexts with this man’s statements. Well it’s not our job to say who’s condemned. We can’t condemn all the Muslims. I can’t condemn someone. God has not given me that power, but isn’t John 3 pretty clear that if they don’t believe in Jesus, they stand condemned? Well what if they’ve never heard about Jesus? Does it say that they have to hear about Jesus? No, it says that everyone was condemned even before Jesus came because they didn’t believe in God and they didn’t practice works of righteousness.
More than that, nowhere in scripture does it say you’re only accountable for your sin if God has given you saving knowledge of Christ. Some Christians seem very uncomfortable talking about the fact that Muslims stand condemned before God, when in fact that’s the most loving thing we could tell them. If you knew someone was headed off to the guillotine and they could just simply change their mind and walk the other way, wouldn’t you need to tell them that in order to be loving? If there was impending destruction in someone’s path unless they turned, isn’t it loving to tell them that? Yes. Doesn’t telling them that require telling them that they’re wrong?
For another example, if someone’s about to think they’re eat ice cream but actually going to eat poison, is it loving to tell them, “Yeah, go ahead and eat that because you think it’s ice cream?” No, you have to tell them, “You’re wrong. That’s not ice cream. That’s poison.” But implicit in sharing the Gospel with someone, especially a Muslim, is telling them they’re wrong. But that’s not hateful. That’s such a redefinition of the term.
I actually asked someone this week, “Is it hateful to say that all Muslims are wrong in their beliefs?” The person said, “Yes, just as hateful as it is to say that all Christians are wrong.” I wanted to point out the irony that he was saying I was wrong, which would be hateful according to his definition. But I just passed that up. Instead, I tried to point out the fact that it’s not hateful to disagree on matters of fact. If Jesus didn’t die on the cross and he wasn’t buried and he didn’t rise again, Christianity is false. We believe a religion that is falsifiable. It could be proved to be incorrect.
That’s important. Christianity is either true or it’s not. Some people, like this guy, want to put religion in a separate category where it could be true for you and not for someone else. The problem is religions make not just subjective, personal, emotional, experiential claims. They make claims about the real world. Islam teaches that Jesus did not die on the cross. If Jesus died on the cross, Islam at least teaches something wrong. If Jesus didn’t die on the cross and raise again, then Christianity is false. They both can’t be true. This is what I tried to point out to the man. Either Islam is true and Christianity’s not, Christianity’s true and Islam is not, or they’re both wrong. What we can be assured of is, since they make contradictory claims, they both can’t be right. We’ve got to be prepared to tell people that and walk them through it. It’s not hateful for us to disagree on these things.
We could ask the question, “Would it be hateful for me to say that your belief in the flat earth is wrong?” Well they’d say, “Well, no.” Why would it be wrong for me to tell you that your view of the supernatural is wrong? If that really exists, then how could that be hateful?
Another valid question would be, “How do you know my motives? How do you know that I have hate in my heart in sharing this with you?” I would actually like to tell you that I have love in my heart for you. Love tells someone they’re wrong when they are. I think that’s very important.
On this idea of religious pluralism where all religious views are equally valid, what’s actually being said is the person who believes they’re all equally valid is the only right one. Let’s break that down. The person who believes that all religions are equally valid believes that Christianity on its own is wrong in saying that it’s the only way. It’s been interesting to me this week to point out to even people who claim to be Christians that Jesus said He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father but through him. Muslims deny Jesus is God, deny he is the path to God, so how could they be good with God? This just seems like bowing to political correctness.
More than that, if Christianity and its exclusive claims are wrong, then that means Islam and its exclusive claims are wrong. I actually have tried to point that out to people. It’s not just that Christians say Muslims stand condemned. Actually, the greatest sin in Islam is ascribing anything to God besides oneness. Really, what we’re doing is called shirk in Islam. We believe in God being three persons in one being. That’s a trinity. We deny what they call tawhid, which is the oneness of God. So, we have committed their greatest sin, so we stand condemned. It’s a two-way street. Christians think Muslims are condemned; Muslims think Christians are condemned. Neither of us is being hateful about it. We should respect when they’re honest and open about that. But we can point that out to people. If Christianity is intolerant for its claims, then Islam is too. But for some reason, no one wants to say Islam is intolerant on these things.
More to the point, all of these religions we’ve talked about make exclusive claims. They claim they’re the only right way. They’re either right in that or they’re wrong in that. It’s the same type of claim as “Is Barrack Obama the President of the United States or not?” He’s not anymore. You can be right or wrong about that, but what you can’t say is, “He’s the president for me.” That’s not a valid category. I’m the same way, Islam makes claims about the way the world is. It’s either right or wrong. So does Christianity. It’s based on historical facts. It’s a historical religion. Either, like I said, Jesus rose from the dead or he didn’t. That’s an event in history. If he didn’t, Christianity is false. We make exclusive claims.
I want to return to one thing. Isn’t it interesting that the person who’s the religious pluralist is actually saying everyone else is wrong? In attempting to be so open-minded and so inclusive, they actually condemn everyone else, at least their views. Because what they’re saying is, “No, you’re wrong. It’s not exclusive. No, Muslim, you’re wrong. It’s not exclusive. No, Jew, you’re wrong. It’s not exclusive.” What they’re saying is everyone is wrong in thinking it’s exclusive, and they are the only right ones in their view that it’s inclusive.
This view of religious pluralism is actually an exclusive view where everyone else is wrong in their individual views. I think we can point that out to people and say, “You know, have you considered that in saying all of these religions are wrong to make exclusive truth claims, that you’ve just made an exclusive truth claim that everyone else is wrong?” I think that should be persuasive, if people will actually open their minds up to understand it, that is
In conclusion today, it’s not Islamaphobic to say that Muslims stand condemned. Islam, accurately understood, says the same thing about Christians. More than that, the Bible supports this idea that apart from faith in Christ, everyone stands condemned. It doesn’t single out Muslims. Every one of us before salvation stood condemned before God, and the only thing that could have changed that was the saving work of Jesus on the cross and placing our trust in him for our forgiveness.
I’ll talk with next week on Unapologetic.