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The elevation of Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) to House speaker was a shocker. Not since John McCain picked Sarah Palin to be his running mate has a heretofore little-known politician been lifted so quickly to a position of prominence and importance. Though Johnson now is second in the line of presidential succession, we’re still finding out basic and important facts about him and how he sees the world. This includes his alarming record as a hardcore conservative cultural warrior, motivated by a Christian fundamentalist belief, who has fiercely opposed gay rights (comparing homosexuality to pedophilia), called for a total nationwide ban on abortion, proposed the end of no-fault divorce, and urged a return to “18th century values.” One more significant thing I’ve discovered is that Johnson appears to believe in a religious litmus test for politicians.
This weekend I broke the news that Johnson and his wife, Kelly Johnson, a self-described Christian counselor, a few years ago created a seminar that promoted the premise that the United States has been a “Christian nation.” I found a video of one of these sessions they held in 2019 at the Baptist church they belong to in Bossier City, Louisiana. At that event, from the pulpit, Kelly declared that “biblical Christianity”—that is, a literal reading of the Bible as fundamentalists interpret it—is the only “valid worldview,” and nothing else makes sense. (This worldview includes creationism—believing that the Earth was created by God in six days 6,000 years ago—and the denial of evolution.) Mike Johnson called for “biblically sanctioned government.” In this venue and many others, including a podcast they have hosted together, the pair have contended that there is only one truth: “Jesus’ truth.”
The Johnsons are diehard fundamentalists who believe every religion other than their brand of Christianity is false and that whatever is written in the Bible should dictate all conduct, rules, policies, and laws. As I reported earlier, Mike Johnson in 2016 exclaimed, “We’re living in a completely amoral society.” The only way out, according to him and Kelly, is to abide by the Bible.
This is a lot to absorb. We’re often uncomfortable discussing a politician’s faith. But in this case, Johnson acknowledges that his fundamentalism determines his politics and policy positions. As he said during a Fox interview, “I am a Bible-believing Christian. Someone asked me today in the media, they said, ‘It’s curious, people are curious: What does Mike Johnson think about any issue under the sun?’ I said, ‘Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview.'”
After reporting the story on the seminars he and his wife conducted, I went back and watched the video again and found another important nugget that I’m sharing here for the first time. Toward the end of that three-hour-long presentation, Johnson instructed the assembled on how they ought to apply their religious beliefs to politics:
You better sit down any candidate who says they’re going to run for legislature and say, “I want to know what your worldview is. I want to know what, to know what you think about the Christian heritage of this country. I want to know what you think about God’s design for society. Have you even thought about that?” If they hadn’t thought about it, you need to move on and find somebody who has…We have too many people in government who don’t know any of this stuff. They haven’t even thought about it.
This remark came after Kelly and Mike had repeatedly asserted that the Christian fundamentalist worldview—based entirely on what appears in the Old and New Testaments—is the only legitimate worldview.
Johnson was telling the folks in the pews that the only political candidates deserving support are those who share this worldview and who embrace the notion that the United States has been a Christian nation. This smacks of Christian nationalism and appears to be a religious test for politics.
Johnson, of course, is free to follow his values, back politicians who are fundamentalist Christians, and press others to do the same, believing that only people who follow his take on Christianity are worthy of holding elected office. But doing so demonstrates a narrow and rigid view of life and suggests that he yearns for a theocracy—a government run only by Christian fundamentalists who base all their decisions on what they consider to be the “absolute truth” of the Bible.
A good example of how Johnson’s faith affects his approach to public policy occurred earlier in this seminar, when he discussed climate change. He asserted that the demand for action to address the climate crisis “defies the created order of how this is all supposed to work.” He explained that the Bible presents an order to life: There’s God, beneath God is “man,” and below that all the animals. Humans are to follow God’s command to “take dominion of the Earth. You subdue it…We’re supposed to eat those animals.”
Johnson noted that environmentalists ignore God’s word, and he compared them to the devil:
When you take God out of the equation, and you remove absolute truths…you got to make all this stuff up. So what they’ve done is, as the devil always does, they take the truth and they turn it upside down. So the radical environmentalists—they actually believe that the environment is God.
Johnson adheres to a harsh perspective. The only truth is what he preaches. The only true religion is what he practices. The only guide to the problems of modern society is the Bible. Environmentalists are akin to Satan.
Johnson does come across as a mild-mannered fellow. Indeed, during this seminar, he told his co-religionists that they need to promote their truth in a Christ-like fashion, with loving and kindness, and that they must avoid bitterness or anger. Do not be quarrelsome, he advised. Don’t try to silence or censor others. Let the critics and foes have their say, for, ultimately, nothing can defeat the one and only truth that Johnson and his comrades in Christ hold.
Johnson’s amenable persona is a cover for his extremism. He sees himself as part of a small band of righteous Christian soldiers combatting an “amoral” society. (His wife’s business was called Onward Christian Counseling Services. After he became speaker, she took down its website.) For Johnson, this is truly a war for the soul of the nation. With a Bible in his hand, he and a small slice of Americans are up against dark and Satanic forces. Still, Johnson is a happy warrior—albeit an intolerant one who believes that only he and his fellow faith-keepers possess the truth and deserve access to power. He cannot accept the religious and cultural diversity of this nation and the world. He is much better suited to be a preacher than a leader just two heartbeats away from the presidency.