The new House speaker has put his faith at the center of his political career, and aligned himself with a newer cohort of conservative Christianity that some describe as Christian nationalism.
In the moments before he was to face a vote on becoming speaker of the House this week, Representative Mike Johnson posted a photograph on social media of the inscription carved into marble atop the chamber’s rostrum: “In God We Trust.”
His colleagues celebrated his candidacy by circulating an image of him on bended knee praying for divine guidance with other lawmakers on the House floor.
And in his first speech from the chamber as speaker, Mr. Johnson cast his ascendance to the position second in line to the presidency in religious terms, saying, “I believe God has ordained and allowed each one of us to be brought here for this specific moment.”
Mr. Johnson, a mild-mannered conservative Republican from Louisiana whose elevation to the speakership on Wednesday followed weeks of chaos, is known for placing his evangelical Christianity at the center of his political life and policy positions. Now, as the most powerful Republican in Washington, he is in a position to inject it squarely into the national political discourse, where he has argued for years that it belongs. ...
[T]he little-known speaker of the House has made clear that his faith is the most important thing to know about him, and in previous interviews, he has said he believes “the founders wanted to protect the church from an encroaching state, not the other way around.”
Over the arc of his career, Mr. Johnson, a lawyer and a member of the Louisiana Legislature before his election to Congress, has been driven by a belief that Christianity is under attack and that Christian faith needs to be elevated in the public discourse, according to a review of his appearances on talk shows and podcasts, as well as legislative speeches and writings over the past two decades.
He refers to the Declaration of Independence as a “creed” and describes it as a “religious statement of faith.” He believes that his generation has been wrongly convinced that a separation of church and state was outlined in the Constitution.
In his first interview as speaker, Mr. Johnson described himself to the Fox News host Sean Hannity as “a Bible-believing Christian” and said that to understand his politics, one only need “pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview.”
After weeks of jockeying in Congress, Republicans voted in the Bible-quoting Louisiana Southern Baptist.
Ffter weeks of turmoil, House Republicans elected Rep. Mike Johnson on Wednesday as the new speaker of the House, an act the Louisiana congressman suggested was ordained by God.
“I believe that Scripture, the Bible, is very clear: that God is the one who raises up those in authority,” Johnson said in his first speech after being elected speaker in a 220–209 vote. “He raised up each of you. All of us.”
Johnson, an evangelical Christian, peppered his remarks with religious references. He recounted the history of how the motto “In God We Trust” was placed in the House chamber—a rebuke of communism, which many associated with atheism—and highlighted the Declaration of Independence’s use of “Creator.” He also noted the presence of Moses on the wall of the House chamber.
“Through adversity, it makes you stronger,” he said, referencing the three-week period in October that it took Republicans to elect a new speaker to replace the ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
In a later speech on the Capitol steps, Johnson framed his leadership goals by citing Romans 5:3–4.
“I was reminded of the Scripture that says ‘Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope,’” he said. “What we need in this country is more hope.”
Johnson has been tied to multiple Baptist churches over the years and currently attends Cypress Baptist Church in Benton, Louisiana, according to the Louisiana Baptist Message. He is also a former lawyer and communications staffer with the Alliance Defense Fund, which later became known as Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal firm.
Johnson vouched for the school — and agreed to serve as its dean — without seeing a key feasibility study, he would ultimately admit.
In February 2012, Mike Johnson sent an aide on an urgent mission at the college where he had been working to open a law school: Locate a study that he believed would provethe project was financially possible.
For more than a year, Johnson — the dean of the not-yet-opened law school — had been telling donors and the public that the institution, which would focus on training Christian attorneys in northwest Louisiana, was not only achievable, but inevitable.
“From a pure feasibility standpoint,” Johnson, then 38, told the local Town Talk newspaper in 2010 after becoming dean, “I’m not sure how this can fail because … it looks like the perfect storm for our law school.”
But he had still not actually seen a feasibility study commissioned by the parent school, Louisiana College,a private Southern Baptist college in Pineville, La., now known as Louisiana Christian University.
The aide soon returned with disturbing news: The study had been buried in a filing cabinet. And it was all but useless.
Six months later, in August 2012, Johnson resigned as dean of the new school, which never opened even though the college spent $5 million to buy and renovate a Shreveport headquarters, among other expenses detailed in local media accounts.
The feasibility study was a “hodgepodge collection of papers,” with “nothing in existence” related to the need for the new law school, market studies, or “funding sources and prospects,” Johnson wrote the following year, describing the episode in what he called a “confidential memorandum” responding to questions from the Louisiana College Board of Trustees.
Johnson’s April 2013 memo, which was obtained by The Washington Post, reveals how he navigated a previous executive management experience as he takes over a much larger organization, the U.S. House of Representatives, and becomes second in line to the presidency. The memo suggests that Johnson encouraged and agreed to lead what he later described as a sparsely researched effort that collapsed soon after he left. ...
The school’s concept was to create an army of Christian legal warriors, as laid out by [Joe Aguillard, the president of Louisiana College], who said at the announcement that the law school would have “a singular focus on Jesus Christ … We will affirm Jesus Christ in every lecture, in every classroom, in every office on every square inch of campus.” ...
Beginning a new law school is a monumental task, requiring the recruitment of faculty, raising funds, creating a curriculum and winning accreditation from the American Bar Association.
The school was to open in 2012 in a Shreveport office building that required extensive renovation, including asbestos removal, a cost borne by Louisiana College. The plan was then to raise at least $20 million and as much as $50 million to support the law school, according to news accounts at the time.
Gabriel Little, who was in charge of the capital campaign, said Johnson led an impressive effort to recruit faculty, create a curriculum, and present a proposal to win certification from the American Bar Association.
“He put together one heck of a presentation for accreditation” by the ABA, Little said.
But as Johnson prepared to do that, he later wrote in his memorandum to trustees, he learned that Louisiana College had run into a roadblock in its own effort to bolster its accreditation statusfrom the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Johnson wrote that the college’s problem with accreditation meant hecould not win ABA approvalfor the law school. ...
On Aug. 15, 2012, Mike Johnson wrote Aguillard a letter of resignation. He said that developments “beyond our control” had affected his ability to run the school, citing the college’s accreditation problems that had made it difficult to raise funds and recruit students and faculty.
“Our hands are currently tied,” Johnson wrote, adding that he needed to look out for his family.
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