christian nationalism

Mike Johnson’s Old-Time Religion

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Mike Johnson wasn’t a household name before he became Speaker of the House. Most people might struggle to identify the Louisiana Republican in photos even now. Though Johnson hasn’t inspired many headlines until now, he is actually a niche celebrity of sorts. The staunch Evangelical has long-standing ties to major Christian-right figures and organizations, including the Alliance Defending Freedom. Like Donald Trump, his earthly lord and savior, Johnson is the product of an alliance the Christian right struck long ago. His rise is their rise — proof, if anyone needed it, that reactionary forces are on the march.

Since becoming Speaker, Johnson’s views have earned more press and inspired more outrage, with reason. A committed “young Earth creationist,” Johnson believes in a literal reading of the Book of Genesis. He represented the creationist Answers in Genesis organization as an attorney and helped it score lucrative state-tourism subsidies for its Kentucky attraction, the Ark Encounter, which the organization has described as a “full-size” replica of Noah’s ark. In a 2014 editorial for the Louisville Courier Journal, he praised Kentucky officials for their “embrace” of the ark and wrote that Answers in Genesis would “encourage critical thought and respectful public debate about the various attractions and ideas that will be presented at its park,” although it maintained the right to hire on religious grounds. In a 2016 sermon, Johnson blamed school shootings on the teaching of evolution. Public schools, he said, have “taught a whole generation — a couple generations now — of Americans that there’s no right or wrong, that it’s about survival of the fittest, and you evolve from the primordial slime.”

In a 2017 blog for Answers in Genesis, Johnson warned that the legalization of marriage equality would force conservative Christians to “choose between their conscience and conformity.” He urged parents to teach “biblical gender roles,” which, to him, means that men are “leaders, providers, and protectors in the home” and women, in second place, must be “helpers and nurturers.” Johnson’s views on human sexuality had long been extreme. Years before he wrote that blog post, he worked as an attorney for the predecessor of Alliance Defending Freedom. As CNN has reported, Johnson wrote editorials in favor of criminalizing gay sex. “States have many legitimate grounds to proscribe same-sex deviate sexual intercourse,” he argued in 2003 when the Supreme Court was weighing the constitutionality of a Texas anti-sodomy law. Johnson claimed he could not recall the editorials during a recent Fox News interview.

Johnson may hope the public forgets about his old views, but that’s probably not because he’s changed his mind. In 2022, he opposed the Respect for Marriage Act, which repealed the Defense of Marriage Act and federally recognizes same-sex marriages. The same year, Johnson introduced a bill that would have banned the use of federal funds for “any sexually oriented program, event, or literature for children under the age of 10,” Axios reported. The bill defined “sexually oriented” as “any depiction, description, or simulation of sexual activity, any lewd or lascivious depiction or description of human genitals, or any topic involving gender identity, gender dysphoria, transgenderism, sexual orientation, or related subjects.”

On abortion, Johnson is as radical as the Alliance Defending Freedom can wish. He has called abortion “a holocaust” and linked it to the case of Terri Schiavo, a woman in a persistent vegetative state who died after her husband won a legal battle to remove her feeding tube. Schiavo’s story was an important touchstone for the Christian right in the early 2000s. In 2022, Johnson said on Fox News that “there is no right to abortion in the Constitution” and described the overturning of Roe v. Wade as a “joyous occasion.” Once the counsel for Louisiana Right to Life, as a House member he supports a national abortion ban and co-sponsored so-called “heartbeat” legislation, which would ban abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy, well before most women know they are pregnant. In one clip shared by House Judiciary Democrats online, Johnson says that an abortion ban would protect Medicare and Social Security by sending “able-bodied workers into the economy.”

Johnson additionally has ties to David Barton, a Christian-right activist who specializes in a kind of pseudo-history that falsely claims the Founders intended the United States to be a fundamentalist Christian nation with no separation between church and state. NBC News reported on Thursday that Johnson spoke at a 2021 conference hosted by Barton’s nonprofit, where the congressman praised Barton and his work, saying he had “a profound influence on me, and my work, and my life and everything I do.”

At every stage of his career, as an attorney and a state and a federal lawmaker, Johnson has immersed himself more deeply in a world where reality doesn’t matter and any wild belief is plausible. Hate thrives in that world, and so it was a relatively simple matter for it to embrace Trump’s drive to stay in power after he lost the 2020 election. The science denier became an election denier. When Johnson urged fellow House Republicans to oppose the results of the election, he did so in religious terms, Politico reported. “This is a very weighty decision. All of us have prayed for God’s discernment. I know I’ve prayed for each of you individually,” he allegedly told them. That is who Mike Johnson is: a polite extremist, who is no less radical than anyone who stormed the Capitol on January 6. The disciple of Christ is now a disciple of Trump.

Mike Johnson’s Old-Time Religion