Senator Sanders And The Twofold Kingdom

In early June (2017) Russell Vought appeared before a committee of the United States Senate as the president’s nominee to serve as the Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). During the hearing, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) questioned Vought about a piece he wrote in defense of the Wheaton College regarding the dismissal of Dr. Larycia Hawkins.

The exchange is simultaneously frightening and enlightening. It is frightening because of Sen. Sanders apparent ignorance of basic Christian orthodoxy. Unless he was being quite disingenuous, he seems entirely unaware that it is biblical teaching and Christian doctrine that belief in Jesus is the only way to heaven. After all, Christ said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Modernists have abandoned the historic Christian doctrine of exclusivity but it remains the ecumenical orthodox and evangelical faith. Emma Green, in The Atlantic was able to see what Sen. Sanders was apparently unable to see.

As you have seen for yourself, Sen. Sanders proceeds to query Vought not about his views relative to OMB or fiscal policy and the like but about his personal religious views. Sanders was incensed that anyone should believe that Jesus is the Messiah and without faith in him they are eternally condemned. Why is Sen. Sanders so offended? After all, as a boy in Brooklyn, he was instructed in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). He understands the rudiments of Judaism. The Orthodox synagogue in which was instructed rejected Jesus as the Messiah and as God the Son incarnate. Does that make Sanders a bigot? No. Vought holds the historic Christian view. Does that make him a bigot? No.

The difference between Vought and Sanders, however, is that the latter sought to use the religious convictions of the former as a basis for excluding him from holding public office. This, as Green notes, is flatly contrary to the express language of the Constitution of the United States:

3: The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States (Art. 6, §3).

It is frightening to think that a candidate for the office of President of the United States might be so apparently ignorant of the most basic document in American civil life. It is disturbing that he has apparently not corrected himself or issued an apology for transgressing the express prohibition of the constitution.

Sen. Sanders’ inquisition is, however, also enlightening. It illumines how important it is for Christians to be clear to each other and to the watching world, to secularists, to Jews, to Muslims, and to everyone else that we live in a twofold kingdom. Jesus has a kingdom but, as he said, it is “not of this world” (John 18:36). It is certainly “in the world” (1 Tim 3:16; Phil 2:15; John 17:14–16) but their ultimate allegiance is to a heavenly city (Phil 3:20) whose builder and maker is God (Heb 11:10). We are to serve this earthly city as good citizens, living “quiet and godly” lives and praying for the magistrate (1 Tim 2:2). We recognize the civil magistrate as God’s minister (Rom 13:4) who executes a sort of civil covenant of works among citizens, punishing evil doers and rewarding those who exercise civil righteousness (Rom 13:1–7). We do not (or ought not) seek to impose the Christian faith on anyone by means of civil authority. It is beyond denying that it was done for a very long time. We call that period of Western history Christendom. It was a mistake for which we are (or ought to be) sorry.

This country, however, was founded to be religiously pluralist. It is true that there were state (but not federal) churches in the colonial period and in the early history of the republic. Those were abolished by the early 19th century. The pendulum, however, seems to have swung dramatically the other way, toward the exclusion of orthodox Christians from civil life on the basis of their confession of faith. Remarkably, the ACLU apparently supports Sanders rather than Vought. One may find Vought’s view personally odious (I agree with Vought) but the Constitution is unequivocal. If Vought can be excluded from public office for believing historic Christian teaching, then Sanders can be excluded for his orthodox Jewish background or because of his apparent indifference to the same today. The Deists and Christians who formed the Republic intended to prevent this very thing from happening. They intended that Christians and Deists and others should be able to serve in civil government side by side, peacefully, because the government is only intended to administer proximate, penultimate, and secular things not ultimate (e.g., religious) and sacred matters. The moment Sanders sets a religious test, the we have to use the language of the Supreme Court, “gross governmental entanglement” in religion.

We might forgive Sen. Sanders for being a little confused about what some Christians intend because some evangelicals and fundamentalists have indeed spoken about “taking back” America and about “Christian America” both highly dubious notions. On the question of whether and when America might be said to have been “Christian” see “Magic and Noise: On Being Reformed in Sister’s America” in Always Reformed. As to “taking back” America, that entails a confusion of the two spheres of God’s kingdom, the sacred and the secular. The sacred is administered officially in the visible church and the secular includes the civil and other spheres. God already possesses all the kingdoms in the world. Nero was his civil minister and so was George Washington. There is no “taking back” what is already his.

That the Lord is already sovereign over all the magistrates in the world does not mean that in order for them to be legitimate they must recognize him as such. Nero was Caesar when Paul called him God’s minister, to whom we must submit and pay taxes. Paul neither taught nor implied that Caesar’s office was contingent upon his recognition of Christ. God was Lord then. Caesar was the civil minister then. God is Lord now. The civil authorities are his ministers now.

As citizens of these United States, Senator Sanders, Russell Vought, you, and I are all obligated to the Constitution of the United States.  As a Christian, my allegiance is to a King and a Kingdom that is eternal and will be in authority long after the kingdom and powers of this earth have passed.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Prager had the answer for this seeming Sanders paradox regarding his Jewishness: In a post during the election year, he referred to him as a “non-Jewish Jew.” Here’s the article:

    “….If you want to understand Sen. Bernie Sanders, this is what you need to know:
    He is the quintessential modern identity-free man.

    He is a non-Jewish Jew and a non-American American.

    In Sanders’ speeches and interviews, there is virtually no mention of his being a Jew (unless he’s asked about it), and — what’s truly amazing for an American presidential candidate — there are few mentions of America, except to lament American inequality, Wall Street corruption and other American evils.
    The term “non-Jewish Jew” is not mine. It is generally attributed to a Jewish historian, Isaac Deutscher, who wrote an essay by that name in 1954. The term describes individuals who are born Jews (Judaism consists of a national identity and peoplehood identity, not just a religious identity) but identify as citizens of the world rather than as Jews, either nationally or religiously.

    Once the walls of Jewish ghettos broke down and European Jews were allowed to leave Jewish enclaves, many Jews became non-Jewish Jews. In most cases, either they or their children assimilated into the societies in which they lived.
    However, a small, but significant percentage became radicalized. They loathed religion (especially all Judeo- and Christian-based religions), traditional middle-class (“bourgeois”) values, capitalism and all Western national identities (they supported anti-Western national identities), and they particularly hated the Jewish religious and national identities.

    What, for example, do socialist Karl Marx, Soviet politician Leon Trotsky, linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky and billionaire George Soros have in common? They were/are all radicals who were born to Jewish parents, had/have no Jewish identity and did/do harm to Jews and non-Jews.

    Marx was the grandson of two Orthodox rabbis (his father converted to Christianity), yet he wrote one of the most significant anti-Semitic essays of the 19th century, “On the Jewish Question” in 1844. In it are such statements as:
    “Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face which no other god may exist. …The god of the Jews has become secularized and has become the god of the world. …The social emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism.”
    Trotsky, born Lev Bronstein, was the intellectual father of Russian, and later Soviet, communism. He, along with Joseph Stalin and three others (two of whom were also non-Jewish Jews), fought to succeed Vladimir Lenin as leader of the Communist Party.
    When Trotsky was head of the Red Army, Moscow’s chief rabbi, Jacob Mazeh, asked Trotsky to use the army to protect the Jews from pogrom attacks. Trotsky reportedly responded, “Why do you come to me? I am not a Jew,” to which Mazeh answered: “That’s the tragedy. It’s the Trotskys who make revolutions, and it’s the Bronsteins who pay the price.”
    Chomsky is hostile to the two identities with which he was born. He has devoted much of his life to working against America and Israel. To cite but one example, he traveled to Lebanon to appear with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and lend his support to a group that is committed to the annihilation of Israel, which the United States lists as a terrorist organization.

    Soros is another man who was born Jewish and later became a radical world citizen, a man who was alienated from America and his Jewish origins and damages both. Martin Peretz, former editor-in-chief of the New Republic, described Soros: “George Soros is ostentatiously indifferent to his own Jewishness. He is not a believer. He has no Jewish communal ties. He certainly isn’t a Zionist. He told Connie Bruck in The New Yorker — testily, she recounted — that ‘I don’t deny the Jews their right to a national existence — but I don’t want to be part of it.’”

    Soros supports Palestinian nationalism. A consistent belief of radicals is that anti-Jewish and anti-American nationalisms are good, and Jewish and American nationalisms are bad.

    Sanders is a milder version of these radical non-Jewish Jews. He, too, is alienated from his Jewish and American origins.

    And that explains his attitudes and policies. People with no national or religious roots who become politically active frequently seek to undermine the national and religious identities of others, especially those in their own national/religious group. In the case of Sanders, that means those with Jewish and American identities.

    That’s why non-Jewish Jews are far more likely to work to weaken Christianity in America than Jewish Jews, especially religious Jews. Religious Jews celebrate religious Christians. The same holds true for American non-Jews who have rejected any identification with Christianity, many of whom in fact seek to weaken Christian influence and identity in America.
    Non-Jewish Jews like Sanders are alienated from Jews who strongly identify as Jewish and Christians who strongly identify as Christians. And non-American Americans like Sanders and others who identify as “world citizens” more than they identify as American citizens, are alienated from Americans who strongly identify as Americans.

    The radical non-Jewish Jew and the radical non-American American love humanity, but they hurt real humans, especially Jews and Americans…” [1]

    Of course, most people would never question Sanders’ interrogation of Vought on the basis of its violation of the Constitution, least of all millennials (Sanders’ followers), most of whom probably don’t even know or understand what the Constitution says about it, or if they do, would probably remark something like, “wha-a-at-e-e-ever…”

    [1] Bernie Sanders, the Non-Jewish Jew and Non-American American, “Town Hall”, June 7, 2016.

  2. Seems like Vought could have said things like:

    “Since the condemnation in question is God’s, not mine, the statement is not Islamophobic. Also, since I am not afraid of Muslims, I am not Islamophobic”.

    “It would be disrespectful to Muslims to tell them they are not condemned by God, when the biblical evidence tells me they are.”

  3. I doubt that Sen. Sanders knows much of orthodox Judaism, and if he does, he rejects it. George’s quote of Prager is probably spot on.

    Further, to Orthodox Jews. _Torah_ is not simply the Five Books of Moses. It includes what is also called the “unwritten Torah”, which was supposedly given on Sinai along with the written, with Moses transmitting it to the elders of Israel. This “unwritten Torah” was ultimately written down in the Talmud.

    More pertinent Questions that we ought to throw back at Mr. Sanders would include the following: Senator, in view of the Marxist ideological variant which you espoused in your youth, and which you never seem to have repudiated, what is the proper place of a social class which has supposedly outlived its historical role? This is a serious question in view of our own professed admiration for the late Soviet State and the current Communist regime in Cuba.

    If Mr. Sanders were one-tenth as honest with his interrogators as Mr. Vought was with his, Mr. Sanders would say, “Such a class would be liquidated in the historical necessary social revolution that is to come.”

    Hence, Mr. Sanders’ enmity towards us has far more to do with his belief system than ours.

  4. “As citizens of these United States, Senator Sanders, Russell Vought, you, and I are all obligated to the Constitution of the United States.” There’s the rub. Darwin strikes again. The earliest mentions of the Constitution as “living”, particularly in the context of a way of interpreting it, comes out of Woodrow Wilson’s 1908 book Constitutional Government In The United States. “Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice.” Roe vs Wade, same-sex marriage, all came from the Supreme Court interpreting the Constitution as a living document. Law students are taught case law.

  5. The pendulum, however, seems to have swung dramatically the other way, toward the exclusion of orthodox Christians from civil life on the basis of their confession of faith. Remarkably, the ACLU apparently supports Sanders rather than Vought. One may find Vought’s view personally odious (I agree with Vought) but the Constitution is unequivocal. If Vought can be excluded from public office for believing historic Christian teaching, then Sanders can be excluded for his orthodox Jewish background…

    Scott, are you aware of any instances where Christians have indeed been excluded from public service (high or low profile) based on religious tests?

    • Hi Zrim!

      I’ve missed you.

      I said “from civil life.” That is broader than public office.

      You don’t perceive that orthodox Christians are being told to sit down and shut up in the public square?

      • Sanders certainly sought (and failed) to exclude Vought from public office.
      • The former fire chief of Atlanta is suing because he was dismissed because of his religious beliefs.
      • The Thomas More Society has a raft of cases, at least some of which suggest that my claim is valid.
      • See also some of the CLS cases
      • Do you remember the questionnaire that the IRS sent to Sally Wagenmaker asking about the kinds of prayers they prayed?
      • There is some evidence that the IRS was targeting churches (but not the congregations in which President Obama or Hillary Clinton spoke during fund raisers
      • Remember the Iowa Civil Rights Commission brochure?
      • There are a series of cases (see the FIRE website) where universities and colleges have discriminated against Christian groups for the content of their speech.
      • Justice Alito has warned about the consequences of Obergefell for religious liberty. So has Justice Thomas.

      What I have learned over the last decade or so is not to dismiss things like Sen. Sanders’ interrogation. They are indicators. I thought that gay marriage wouldn’t happen and I was wrong about that. I thought that Christians would not be fined or shut down for refusing the cater gay weddings. I was wrong about that. I thought that the folks warning me in the 70s about the ERA and bathrooms were wacky. They were ahead of their time but they weren’t wrong.

      In each of these cases, Christians have been told repeatedly that their point of view, their concerns, and their liberties are less important or irrelevant than those of others and that they should sit down and shut up.

  6. Scott, thanks. I wasn’t making any comments necessarily but wondering if you knew of any other specific instances that took the Sanders incident further. Looks like you do. I’ve scanned through most of it and much of it comes across as more or less the sort of standard interplay one could expect in a pluralistic society. I’m not sure that every time a religious group or individual is politically questioned it amounts to an attempt to exclude from civil life. Clearly with Sanders it was a blunder that should embarrass him (he comes across if nothing else ignorant), and I’m flummoxed by the ACLU statement you linked–I’ve seen them come to even Pat Robertson’s aid before, so this sort of statement seems pretty unsatisfying. To the extent that it’s a human trait, I can understand why Christians might be inclined to believe the worst when hearing of these sorts of things, but I also think there’s something to be said for resisting the temptation to indulge the sensational. Are there forces out there looking to squash us in civil life? Of course. Do we live in a post-Christian world where orthodoxy has lost cultural ascendancy and become more vulnerable to harsher forces? Yes. Is America still great enough to sift out the bigots of whatever variety such that the orthodox still can have a reasonable piece of the pie? I quite think so. Maybe that’s naive, but I’m not quite ready yet to let the more cynical readers have sway over my (ahem) worldview.

    ps no need to miss me. I’m always around. The HB is necessary reading for any Reformed Christian.

  7. Dr. Clark,

    Another great post. A question on a technical point. When did “Two Kingdom” become “Twofold Kingdom?” Is the former a historic term, or one just recently coined? What advantage does “twofold kingdom” have over “two kingdom?” And is the hip new abbreviation going to be 2fk? Sincerely interested.

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