What does it take to be truly hated by the press in Washington? Just how controversial? Just how corrupt? Just how Christian?
In a matter of days, the speakership of Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) has illuminated the special vitriol reserved for people of faith, causing pundits and personalities favored by elites to reveal what they truly hate and fear: Outspoken Christians in positions of authority.
On October 25, Johnson was elected as the 56th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, overcoming intraparty fractures that had held the Republican conference in gridlock for weeks. After multiple seasoned candidates tried and failed to secure the speakership, Johnson’s election marked a rare moment of consensus and enthusiasm among House Republican lawmakers. Naturally, the press and public are watching to see how the new House speaker will unite his party, fulfill key obligations to colleagues, and navigate some of the same challenges that proved to be a stumbling block for his predecessor, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
Johnson is a conservative Christian with two decades of experience litigating high-profile constitutional law cases (including a stint at Alliance Defending Freedom) before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2016. Since assuming his new role as Speaker of the House, Johnson has faced an onslaught of negative press. The attacks range from hit pieces to vulgar late-night comedy bits to unhinged op-eds, leaving no stone unturned in castigating Johnson for his personal beliefs and his work defending Christian values. One tabloid attacked Johnson’s wife for her work as a Christian counselor. Several outlets have published frivolous scrutiny of his personal finances, charitable donations, and financial disclosures.
Attacks have gone far beyond mere hostility to the Christian point of view, characterizing Johnson as a dangerous figure aligned with religious fundamentalism, Christofascism, and white supremacy. These statements are not coming from obscure, fringe figures, but well-known pundits and commentators, revealing the extent to which vicious slander against Christians is accepted and normalized in the press.
- Salon.com tweeted, “MAGA and Christian nationalism: Bigger threat to America than Hamas could ever be” with a picture of Johnson.
- “If you believe religion and politics shouldn’t mix, then new House Speaker Mike Johnson should worry you,” USA Today columnist Rex Huppke wrote, falsely asserting that Johnson “has parroted views that align with the white supremacist ‘great replacement theory.’”
- “It’s not just his political ideology that should scare us,” said former White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “Johnson is basically a Christian fundamentalist.”
- “The most dangerous movement in American politics today is not Trumpism. It is Christofascism,” wrote David Rothkopf in The Daily Beast. “With the election of [Johnson] as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, the organized effort to impose the extreme religious views of a minority of Americans on the entire country, at the expense of many of our most basic freedoms, took a disturbing step forward.”
- Brian Karem wrote for Salon.com, “While the world burns, Johnson and the MAGA wing of the Republican Party — which seems to have swallowed the evangelical movement while also embracing it… — is embracing the darkest verses of the Bible, apparently pushing for apocalypse with an enthusiasm only rivaled by Saul’s slaughter of Christians before he changed his name to Paul.”
- Stephen Colbert has dragged Johnson’s values and theological beliefs several times (so far) on his late-night show, including numerous quips about Johnson’s wife, describing her as “if possible, just as weird as her husband” because of her work in Christian counseling.
- HBO Host Bill Maher quipped, “I was reading about this horrible shooting in Maine. And, you know, we don’t know much about the guy yet, but apparently he heard voices and I thought, ‘Is he that different than Mike Johnson?’”
Johnson responded to the attacks on his faith and beliefs in an interview with FOX anchor and former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
“I’m OK, I’ll take the arrows. I understand it comes with leadership, and when you step into the fray, that’s what you take,” Johnson said. “What really hurts me is that it really is a statement about everyone who believes in this.”
Realistically, for Johnson, there is little bandwidth for distraction. He is currently navigating the same crucible that paved the way to McCarthy’s ouster just weeks ago. With just over two weeks left to resolve unfinished appropriations bills, Johnson has rolled up his sleeves and championed an aggressive plan to take up single-subject bills before the next budget deadline. Johnson has left the door open to another stopgap measure expiring January 15 or April 15 in order to “ensure the Senate cannot jam the House with a Christmas omnibus.” While a continuing resolution was the beginning of the end for McCarthy, conservative House members have signaled that they are willing to give the new speaker a little more leeway given the unusual circumstances of Johnson making his debut as speaker just weeks ahead of a potential shutdown.
“I think Mike Johnson has a lot more credibility that a bridge would be a bridge to single-subject spending bills, not a bridge to just the old ways of Washington,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who triggered the motion to remove McCarthy.
On Thursday night, the House cleared Johnson’s supplemental appropriations package aimed at making 14.3 billion dollars in aid to Israel available by slashing an equal amount from IRS funding. Johnson has also promised to endorse “enforcement” safeguards that would be required in order to release additional foreign aid. Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus expressed confidence in Johnson’s leadership after a closed-door meeting on Thursday. On the heels of three failed speakership bids by top Republicans—Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), and Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.)—Johnson’s election with the unanimous support of his party signifies an empowerment of the conservative rank-and-file of the Republican conference.
In taking the gavel, the newly-minted Speaker Johnson has assumed one of the most challenging—and influential—jobs in Washington. He has made clear that he approaches the role from a posture of servant leadership, seeking to “use the gifts that God has given us to serve the extraordinary people of this great country… and to ensure that our Republic remains standing as the great beacon of light and hope and freedom in a world that desperately needs it.”
For Johnson’s predecessor, the struggles of the speakership were deeply political. The challenges Johnson is facing as Speaker are exposing a deeper reality of spiritual war. How embattled is the soul of America? Look no further than the media reaction to a believer behind the gavel. In a nation founded by Christian statesmen, there has perhaps never been a more challenging time to be a Christian in power—or a more needful time to pray earnestly for Christian leaders.