Rep. Mike Johnson, the newly elected Republican House speaker, used to conduct a seminar in churches premised on the idea that the United States is a “Christian nation.” This ministry, as he has referred to it, is yet more evidence that Johnson is committed to a hardcore Christian fundamentalism that shapes his views of politics and government.
The seminar, titled “Answers for Our Times: Government, Culture, and Christianity,” was organized by Onward Christian Education Services, Inc., a company owned by his wife, Kelly Johnson, a Christian counselor and anti-abortion activist who calls herself a “leader in the pro-family movement.” The website for her counseling service—which was taken down shortly after Johnson became speaker—described the seminar, which featured both her and Johnson, as exploring several questions, such as, “What is happening in America and how do we fix it?” The list includes this query: “Can our heritage as a Christian nation be preserved?” There were different versions of the seminar running from two-hour-long lectures to retreats lasting two days.
Mike and Kelly Johnson, each a fundamentalist Christian and culture war battler who advocates adhering to what they call a “biblical worldview,” launched this initiative in 2019. After one such presentation on February 24, 2019, at the First Baptist Church in Bossier City, Louisiana, where they are members—an event that also featured Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council—a local television news show reported that the seminar’s goal was to “keep God in Government.” Johnson posted the article on his congressional website.
According to a Louisiana Baptist newsletter, the Johnsons intended to first pitch their seminars to Baptist churches in the Pelican State before expanding to other states. The publication reported that the couple’s goal was “to equip churches to take a stand against the cultural attacks now being directed at people of faith, the traditional family and basic freedoms embedded in the U.S. Constitution.” It noted that Johnson said he was compelled to create this new ministry while serving in the US House because he was concerned “that too many believers today feel ill-informed to provide substantive answers to fake arguments.” It quoted Johnson: “Our nation is entering one of the most challenging seasons in its history and there is an urgent need for God’s people to be armed and ready with the Truth.” He was referring to what fundamentalists call “biblical truth.”
A promotion blurb for the seminar described it this way: “As polls show that Christianity is in rapid decline in America, and the culture is growing more secularized and more coarsened, many believers feel ill-informed and ill-prepared to do anything to reverse these trends. Scripture is clear that we have an obligation to provide substantive answers… But HOW?”
At a “Answers for Our Times” seminar held at the First Baptist Church of Haughton, Louisiana, in April 2019, Kelly Johnson proclaimed that “biblical Christianity” is the only “valid worldview.” Nothing else, she said, “makes sense.” She contended that guidance to the problems of today can be found in the “simple answers in the Bible.” Mike Johnson referred to the Bible as the “owner’s manual” for “how things are supposed to operate” and called for “biblically sanctioned government.” Johnson complained that there is now “total chaos on the street… God’s not at the top anymore.” He added, “The problem is most people” want “the government to take care of us now, we want the government to provide us everything… It will not work because it defies the created order of the Creator… The government has replaced the Creator. Government is becoming God.”
Mike Johnson ran through a quick version of US history, in which he insisted, “We began as a Christian nation.” He pointed out that Christopher Columbus said that he journeyed to the Americas “to bring the gospel to unknown coastlands and people.” Johnson added, “We would call him an evangelical today.” Fired up, he offered a litany of statements from the nation’s founders, government officials, and Supreme Court officials who cited God or religion as essential to the United States. “Is this a Christian nation?” he asked. “Yes, we live in a post-Christian culture. I think that’s beyond dispute. You can’t even argue with a straight face that this did not begin as a Christian nation.”
At this seminar, Mike Johnson groused that few of his colleagues in government abide by or even recognize God’s principles—that is, his view of God’s principles—and he expressed great cynicism about his fellow politicians:
A shocking number of elected officials in this country and state do not have a fully formed philosophy of government. They don’t know what their world view is. They’re just moving around waiting for whatever the loudest voice or the most powerful lobbyist tells them how to vote. God help us. That’s why we’re in the situation we’re in… They poll it. It’s not necessarily what his constituents want. I try to do every day what my constituents want. But sometimes what your constituents want does not line up with the principles God gave us for government. And you have to have conviction enough to stand [up] to your own people in a town hall and say, “I know you feel that way, but this is what you’re missing.” And I’m telling you, there’s a tiny percentage of elected officials who are willing to do that.
Mike Johnson sees himself as part of small band of righteous officials who take on the hard task of governing strictly according to the tenets of Christian fundamentalism. He and Kelly are true believers. He has long associated with Christian nationalism; crusaded against gay rights and same-sex marriage; decried no-fault divorce; and pushed for a total ban on abortion. Her Christian counseling practice has compared homosexuality to bestiality and incest. They share a dark view of the modern world. In a sermon he preached in 2016, Johnson declared, “We’re living in a completely amoral society.” And during a podcast last year with Jordan Peterson, the Canadian conservative provocateur, he said that “sinister” elites were responsible for orchestrating climate change as an issue to achieve global “control.”
In a time of political upheaval, cultural clashes, and war, it’s clear that Mike Johnson believes he has the solution. It’s not government of the people, but government shaped by his fundamentalist worldview. As his wife and partner-in-preaching says, nothing else makes sense. They possess the truth, and now, as he has become second in the line of presidential succession, he has the opportunity to meld power to this truth and serve the goal of making America a Christian nation.