‘Like Profitable the Lottery’: Mike Johnson’s Ascent Excites Conservative Christians

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Two days after the Supreme Court docket overturned Roe v. Wade final yr, a little-known congressman named Mike Johnson took the stage at Christian Middle Shreveport to have fun.

“This can be a day we’ve been ready on for a half-century,” he instructed the ebullient congregation, including that there was no place he would fairly be than with them.

He beamed as he learn parts of Louisiana’s new legislation punishing abortion suppliers with a minimal of 1 yr in jail and a superb of at the very least $10,000. “They deserve it, brother,” he mentioned with a chuckle. He closed with a prayer that cited scripture and Ronald Reagan.

Mr. Johnson’s sudden ascent final month to speaker of the Home, second in line to the presidency, was a shocking flip in a profession constructed quietly in courtrooms, as a lawyer representing socially conservative causes, and thru the Louisiana Statehouse and the Home of Representatives, to which he was elected in 2017.

Mr. Johnson’s path additionally wound via conservative evangelical church buildings and establishments the place religion mingles virtually inextricably with Republican politics. It’s a world that sees him not as an occasional customer or pleasant supporter, however firmly as one among their very own.

The pastor on the church in Shreveport, Tim Carscadden, had welcomed him to the stage with a joke: “We don’t enable them to go to church right here until they vote for you.”

Now, as Mr. Johnson turns into arguably probably the most highly effective elected Republican politician in America, many in that world are celebrating the sudden triumph of a pacesetter with impeccable conservative evangelical bona fides.

“For Southern Baptists it’s like successful the lottery,” mentioned Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Mr. Johnson and his household have deep ties within the Southern Baptist Conference, which is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and sometimes serves as a bellwether for American evangelicalism. He has attended Baptist church buildings for years, served in a nationwide management function for the denomination, and his brother-in-law is the pastor of a big congregation in Shreveport.

The earlier speaker, Kevin McCarthy, can be a Southern Baptist, however the denomination is much less culturally dominant in his dwelling state of California. Some Southern Baptists mentioned they didn’t even understand that Mr. McCarthy can be Baptist and those that did know considered him as much less tightly embedded within the denomination.

Mr. Mohler is amongst a number of Southern Baptists who emphasised in interviews how acquainted — even strange — Mr. Johnson appeared to them, at the same time as they acknowledged the extraordinary event of his election. Noting Mr. Johnson’s associations via the years with establishments like Concentrate on the Household, which opposes abortion and homosexual marriage, Mr. Mohler mentioned he would describe Mr. Johnson as he would describe himself: “a conservative evangelical Southern Baptist deeply concerned in these points for many years,” and one who’s “completely consultant” of conservative evangelicalism.

Certainly, Mr. Johnson’s pedigree reads like a survey of conservative American evangelical establishments. He has robust ties to the socially conservative lobbying group Household Analysis Council. As a former lawyer for the conservative authorized group now often known as Alliance Defending Freedom, he labored with shoppers including Exodus International, a now-defunct group selling the discredited observe of conversion remedy, geared toward altering an individual’s sexual orientation.

The Southern Baptist Conference is theologically and politically conservative, and it has undergone an identical roiling over its values and identification for the reason that election of Donald Trump because the Republican Celebration has in recent times. Final summer season, delegates on the group’s annual assembly voted to expel two church buildings with feminine pastors, and to amend its structure to develop restrictions on girls in church management.

Mr. Johnson served as a trustee of the Ethics and Spiritual Liberty Fee, his denomination’s public coverage arm, between 2004 and 2012 underneath Richard Land, a patriarch of the non secular proper identified for his opposition to homosexual marriage and abortion, amongst different points.

Mr. Johnson’s household belonged for a few years to First Bossier, a Baptist church close to Shreveport. Its pastor, Brad Jurkovich, is the spokesman for the Conservative Baptist Community, a company based in 2020 on the premise that the denomination is drifting leftward. Mr. Johnson’s particular views on the denomination’s trajectory are unclear, although he has been publicly supportive of the ultraconservatives’ occasions and leaders.

A consultant for Mr. Johnson didn’t reply to a request for an interview.

Mr. Johnson invited Mr. Jurkovich to open the Home of Representatives in prayer in 2018. He additionally recorded a video greeting for attendees at Conservative Baptist Community’s “Pastor, Prophet, Patriot” occasion, held in Georgia per week earlier than the 2020 election.

For some observers, each Mr. Johnson’s résumé, nonetheless mainstream, and his rhetoric, nonetheless mildly delivered, symbolize the alarming rise of a brand new Christian proper that fuses conventional social conservatism and authoritarian instincts. Mr. Johnson has mentioned that the favored self-styled historian David Barton, who has questioned the constitutionality of the separation of church and state, has had a “profound influence” on him.

Mr. Johnson performed a central function in makes an attempt to overturn the outcomes of the 2020 election.

“He was uncomfortable with the violence of Jan. 6, however the targets are aligned,” mentioned Andrew Whitehead, a sociologist at Indiana College-Purdue College Indianapolis. Mr. Whitehead, who has written concerning the rise of Christian nationalism, calls Mr. Johnson a “near-perfect instance” of the phenomena.

Mr. Johnson and his spouse, Kelly, usually share a platform in skilled settings, a observe extra widespread in Christian ministry than in nationwide politics. They file a podcast on politics and tradition, “Reality Be Advised.” They’ve additionally performed seminars collectively at church buildings, addressing questions like, “Can our heritage as a Christian nation be preserved?” in accordance with a cached model of her web site, which has since been taken down.

The couple and their 4 kids are actually members of Cypress Baptist Church, a big church in Benton, La., the place Ms. Johnson sees shoppers in her Christian counseling enterprise.

John Fream, the pastor at Cypress Baptist, mentioned he first acquired to know Mr. Johnson when he invited the congressman to talk at his church at a Sunday service celebrating the Fourth of July and honoring the congregation’s navy members and veterans.

“You speak about a patriot, I don’t know that you could possibly discover a extra patriotic man than Mike Johnson,” Mr. Fream mentioned.

Like lots of Mr. Johnson’s supporters inside Southern Baptist communities, Mr. Fream mentioned he was hopeful that the brand new speaker’s even-keeled temperament will carry a change to a political scene fraught with open hostilities and incivility. “He can comply with disagree and stroll out of the room and nonetheless be cordial,” he mentioned.

Andrew Walker, a professor of Christian ethics on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, mentioned Mr. Johnson “looks like a really robust spokesman for what Christians would need to see offered within the public sq..”

Mr. Johnson’s demeanor, which many Southern Baptists raised as a optimistic, is a departure from Mr. Trump’s brash and aggressive fashion. However Mr. Johnson has additionally ridden together with the celebration’s flip to Trumpism, which noticed many conservative evangelicals embracing their candidate’s election denial and tolerating his crude rhetoric and actions towards girls.

For Mr. Walker, Mr. Johnson’s election as speaker signifies that even in an more and more secular nation, individuals who share his views and communicate his language have a spot within the highest echelons in energy.

“He represents a large constituency for whom his views are very a lot within the mainstream,” Mr. Walker mentioned. “It doesn’t matter what secular America desires to say, we aren’t going wherever.”