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Sep 8, 2017
Congress, Senate, Constitution, religion

This Dogma Won't Hunt: Feinstein, Durbin, Sanders, and the New Religious Test for Office

So much for Article VI of the U.S. Constitution |
This Dogma Won't Hunt: Feinstein, Durbin, Sanders, and the New Religious Test for Office
Image: By Bobkeenan Photography, Shutterstock.com

Christians will be applauded when they show up to feed, clothe, shelter, and encourage the battered victims of Harvey and Irma. As long as they keep their dogma in their hearts and not in their mouths, they are welcomed—but if they speak up about basic Christian beliefs, increasingly some Senators seem to be concerned.

Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is the most recent, joined by Dick Durbin, and preceded (most famously) by Bernie Sanders. In all cases, their comments are catching notice on the right and left, and appropriately so. Furthermore, the frequency with which we are seeing it occur is beginning to cause concern for those who hold to religious beliefs today.

Feinstein admonished Amy Barrett, a Trump nominee for a judgeship on the 7th Circuit, saying that Barrett’s Roman Catholic “dogma lives loudly” within her. Lest her words be out of context, here is the context of her statement:

Why is it that so many of us on this side have this very uncomfortable feeling that— you know, dogma and law are two different things. And I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different. And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.

Dogma is defined by Merriam Webster as, “a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church.” In other words, these are things that people of faith have settled upon in terms of doctrines or beliefs.

This, perhaps, might remind us that dogma lived loudly in many of the nations founders. And it might also remind us of Article VI of the United States Constitution that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Officer or public Trust under the United States.”

A Growing Issue

The discussion over separation of church and state continues, but what is more disturbing here is the context of Feinstein’s statement. Amy Coney Barrett, who teaches law at the University of Notre Dame (a bastion of fringe and dangerous dogma, we must now assume), is the newest to be caught up in this new line of questioning, mostly from Democrat senators.

In the same conversation, Dick Durbin was offended by the use of the term “orthodox Catholic,” which he believed impugns Catholics who hold, well, actually, non-orthodox positions on things like abortion and the death penalty. He even asked, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?”

Feinstein claimed that many on her side are uncomfortable with dogma shaping a person’s view of the law and, presumably, the person’s worldview. This, we should note, would probably mean about 25% of the population in the United States, who are among the more religious and shape their lives around that faith.

It’s worth nothing that both Barrett and Russell Vought, a Wheaton College (where I work) graduate, make it clear that they, would, indeed follow the law as written and be fair to all as impartial public servants.

They just happen to also be religious people who hold to some beliefs that offended Feinstein and others.

So much for Article VI.

Bernie Sanders Redux

These comments follow the widely-criticized exchange in which Bernie Sanders declined to support Vought because he defended the theological view of the Wheaton College and indicated (using the words of, well, Jesus Christ) that people without Christ “stand condemned.”

I would have probably phrased it differently, but quoting Christ, it appears, is also a problem if you want to work in government.

Some of the criticism Barrett is facing is due to the address she gave in 2006 to the graduating class at Notre Dame, when she said, “Your legal career is but a means to an end, and … that end is building the kingdom of God.”

Since Jesus mentioned that Kingdom 80 times in the Gospels, Christians tend to think it’s a good thing… and worthy of our end goal.

Why People of Faith Are Needed in the Public Square

But will Christians continue to speak up? I think so.

Next week, I will speak in Wheaton College chapel and say similar things to those Professor Amy Barrett said to the Notre Dame graduating class of 2006. I imagine Russell Vought heard similar things when he sat in Wheaton College chapel.

“Live your faith out loud.”

“Make a difference in the world.”

“Let your convictions transform your own life and those around you with the hope that the world will be a better place as a result.”

“Work for the Kingdom of God.”

And the world is a better place because people did live out their faith—people like Martin Luther King, Clara Barton, William Wilberforce, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and many others who stepped into the public sphere because their Christian faith compelled them to.

I wonder if they could make it through the Senate…

So the question is, are people of faith allowed to be motivated by our faith in the public square? Must we refashion our deepest held belief in order to be effective servants in the marketplace and government?

The “Kingdom of God” (something that I too am deeply committed to) does not conflict with our ability to work faithfully in the public square with integrity and honor. In fact, our “dogma” may actually benefit society, for it brings certain values which work towards the good of people and society. People do say that they are motivated for public service in part because of their faith. Religion is not a hindrance to a proper functioning marketplace and governmental system; rather, it brings with it inherent moral and ethical codes which seek a better tomorrow for all of us today.

And, perhaps. the Senators need to be reminded that the Constitution says there shall be no religious test for public office.

More, not Less, Ambassadors for the Kingdom

This conversation will continue, as will the push on people of faith to privatize what they believe—to keep their faith tame, rather than see it change their lives and make the world a better place.

As we work for the “Kingdom of God,” after all, we work tirelessly for the flourishing and the well-being of each member of society. You can see such kingdom work in the relief work for Harvey and Irma.

And I, for one, think more kingdom ambassadors are needed in the public square today, with their dogma and all.

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

John Stonestreet and I talk about this on BreakPoint This Week.

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Posted:September 8, 2017 at 3:23 pm

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