If you ask him about his policy stances, newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson will say he’s an open book — or, rather, he will direct those inquiring about his political philosophy to open one book in particular.
“‘What does Mike Johnson think about any issue under the sun?’ Go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview. That’s what I believe,” Johnson said during an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity Thursday night.
The Louisiana congressman’s Christian faith has stood out as a central theme of his brief tenure ever since his floor speech accepting the speaker’s gavel last week.
“I believe that scripture, the Bible, is very clear that God is the one that raises up those that are in authority,” Johnson said before a fully-convened U.S. House of Representatives. “And I believe that God has ordained and allowed each one of us to be brought here for this specific moment in this time. This is my belief.”
I am honored to have been elected the 56th Speaker of the House. It is time to come together to deliver for the American people! pic.twitter.com/gQSSIfXgeR
— Speaker Mike Johnson (@SpeakerJohnson) October 25, 2023
In his remarks, which culminated three weeks of paralysis in the House, Johnson also explained the history of the motto “In God we trust” embossed above the speaker’s rostrum which he said was added in 1962 as a rebuke of the atheistic ideologies of Communism and Marxism.
Despite relief that House Republicans had finally rallied behind someone to fill the chamber’s top leadership position, it didn’t take long for Johnson’s publicly voiced convictions to become the source of controversy and the launching pad for deep dives into his background as a religious activist and legislator.
Why has Johnson’s Christian faith been controversial?
While more reserved than some of his Republican colleagues in the House, Johnson has made a name for himself as a steadfast social conservative willing to take center stage on culture war issues as well as someone who does not shy away from public declarations of faith.
During January’s extended speaker’s race, Johnson joined Rep. Greg Steube of Florida, and several other lawmakers, in a prayer circle on the House floor. An image of the kneeling congressmen was widely circulated following Johnson’s winning vote.
In January, @RepMikeJohnson joined me on the House floor while we were in a deadlock over who our next Speaker would be. We lifted up the speaker’s race to the Lord and asked for his divine guidance. Immediately after the prayer, 14 members changed their votes, ultimately leading… pic.twitter.com/14YnPeeRzJ
— Congressman Greg Steube (@RepGregSteube) October 25, 2023
After becoming the GOP’s speaker designate Tuesday night, Johnson led his conference in prayer. And a call for prayer was also Johnson’s reaction to news of a mass shooting in Maine Thursday.
“This is a dark time in America. … Prayer is appropriate in a time like this, that the evil can end and this senseless violence can stop,” Johnson said during a press conference.
Shortly after Johnson took the speaker’s gavel, Utah Republican Rep. John Curtis called him “a God-fearing, humble servant.”
But just as clips of his floor speech and calls for prayer have made their way across the internet, so have headlines drawing connections between Johnson’s religiosity and what some think it says about his governing philosophy.
“The Christian Nationalist ideas that made Mike Johnson,” read one such headline from Politico. “The Christian Nationalism of Speaker Mike Johnson,” read another from Time. And “Mike Johnson’s ties to Christian Nationalism revealed,” read yet one more from Newsweek.
But what is Christian nationalism? The term is used by different people to mean different things, but Christian nationalism generally refers to the view that the United States was founded on fundamentally Christian beliefs which continue to be essential to the nation’s character and destiny.
While Johnson has emphasized what he sees as the Christian truths embodied in the nation’s founding documents, including the Declaration of Independence, he does not describe himself as a “Christian nationalist.” During Thursday’s Hannity interview, Johnson simply called himself “a Bible-believing Christian.”
Who is Mike Johnson?
Johnson secured the speaker’s chair with less time in Congress under his belt than any speaker in the last 140 years, according to Axios. This rapid rise to prominence sent journalists, politicos and opposition researchers scrambling to get a sense of the inconspicuous lawmaker’s past.
Johnson is currently a member of the Cypress Baptist Church in Benton, Louisiana, according to the Louisiana Baptist Message, but has ties to several Baptist congregations, Christianity Today reports. These ties were strengthened when Johnson spent several years as a member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission from 2004 to 2012.
During this time, Johnson, who studied constitutional law at Louisiana State University, worked as an attorney litigating religious freedom and conservative policy cases for the Alliance Defending Freedom. In this role, Johnson defended Louisiana’s anti-abortion laws and its ban on same-sex marriage, according to the Dispatch.
“Some people are called to pastoral ministry and others to music ministry, etc. I was called to legal ministry,” Johnson told the Louisiana Baptist Message in 2016 during his first campaign for U.S. Congress. “I’ve been out on the front lines of the ‘culture war’ defending religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and biblical values, including the defense of traditional marriage, and other ideals like these when they’ve been under assault.”
How has Johnson’s faith influenced his voting record?
After serving as a state legislator from 2015-2017, where he proposed a religious freedom bill that sought to protect pastors with traditional views on marriage, Johnson entered the U.S. House of Representatives in 2017.
As a member of Congress, Johnson has co-sponsored bills that would create a national abortion ban with exceptions, according to The Hill, and legislation that would cut funding for schools that teach “sexually-oriented material” to children under a certain age, Politico reported.
Johnson opposed last year’s Respect for Marriage Act which mandated federal recognition for same-sex marriages and included religious freedom protections, according to The New York Times.
In a lengthy social media post last year, Johnson argued that the founders had envisioned a country where religious and moral virtues could be inscribed into law and that the separation of church and state was always intended to prevent the government from influencing religious belief — not the other way around.
“If anyone tries to convince you that your Biblical beliefs or your religious viewpoint must be separated from public affairs, you should politely remind them to review their history,” Johnson said.