Bernie Sanders, the Founders, and Faith at Religion News Service

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders holds a campaign rally in San Diego

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders holds a campaign rally in San Diego, California on March 22, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Mike Blake *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-FEA-COLUMN, originally transmitted on March 23, 2016.

Religion News Service is running my essay on Bernie Sanders’s religion under the title “In Bernie Sanders’ deeply religious message, an echo of the Founding Fathers.”

Here is a taste:

(RNS) Bernie Sanders’ political revolution rolled on Tuesday night with crushing victories over Hillary Clinton in Utah and Idaho. While it will be difficult for the Vermont senator to catch Clinton in the delegate race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination (Sanders lost to Clinton in Arizona on Tuesday), he continues to preach a political message that is resonating with large numbers of voters.

It is a message that is deeply religious.

Over the last several months, reporters have asked Sanders to explain his religious beliefs. Here is how he responded to such a question from CNN’s Chris Cuomo during a recent town hall meeting:

“Every great religion in the world — Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism — essentially comes down to ‘do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.’ And what I have believed in my whole life (is) that we are in this together. … The truth is, at some level when you hurt, when your children hurt, I hurt.  And when my kids hurt, you hurt.”

Sanders’ approach to faith and our life together in this world is different from what we are hearing from nearly all the people who are still running for president.

The Republican candidates talk about faith in terms of self-interest. They quote the Declaration of Independence to remind their followers that rights come from the Creator and thus must be protected.

Until very recently, Hillary Clinton rarely framed her political message, or her talking points about growing up Methodist, in terms of the common good.

Sanders’ comments about faith echo three distinctly American voices.

Read the rest here.

NOTE:  This piece also appears today at the Salt Lake City Tribune and the Colorado Springs Gazette.

4 thoughts on “Bernie Sanders, the Founders, and Faith at Religion News Service

  1. Caring for the poor is an undisputed good, only question of how, of process, on which people of good conscience may differ.

    The question of abortion is a what, of, essence, a completely different category. This is well put, and not necessarily tied to Catholicism or even religion, merely to moral clarity.

    Catholic moral theology holds that moral principles expressed in the negative (“Thou shalt not…”) are generally more binding than moral principles stated in the affirmative (“Thou shalt…”). It’s easy to see why this is the case. A precept expressed in the negative tells me one thing that I may not do, but one expressed in the affirmative does not tell me exactly what I must do; it merely expresses an end goal. For example, the commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother” does not tell me how to do that.

    As this principle is applied to abortion, the obligation not to commit abortion has greater moral clarity than, for example, the obligation to provide healthcare for the poor, to solve hunger, or to stop the melting of glaciers. These latter precepts do not imply a clear obligation. Men and women of good will can and will legitimately disagree about the best ways to address issues like healthcare, hunger, and the melting of glaciers.


  2. Tom: Could the same thing be said for something like abortion? God cares for the life of the unborn, but “translating a sacred text into a political ethic is not that easy.”


  3. The sentiment is nice, but the reality of putting future generations into trillions in unpayable debt to buy votes in the present is not self-evidently moral.

    I agree with my progressive evangelical allies that our government—which projects spending $3.77 trillion in fiscal 2014—seems to have sufficient resources to provide for the sick, the aged, the poor, and the uninsured. I agree with an overall reading of the Bible that prioritizes physical human needs over most other priorities. But I protest a too-easy move from “God cares for the poor and calls Christians to do the same” to “God wants the secular government of the United States to spend x on social welfare.” Translating a sacred text into a political ethic is not that easy.


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