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Discussion Forum : General Topics :  Speaker Johnson's close ties to Christian right — both mainstream and fringe NOVEMBER 15, 20235:00

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  Speaker Johnson's close ties to Christian right — both mainstream and fringe NOVEMBER 15, 20235:00

Part Article Npr

Mike Johnson's surprise rise to the speakership after weeks of bitter party infighting was cause for celebration for Pastor Dutch Sheets.

"God has given us a miracle in the election of Congressman Michael Johnson to this position. He's a godly man, raised up for such a time as this," Sheets said in his Oct. 27 "Give Him 15" daily prayer broadcast. "I do not know him, but have several friends who do, who attest to his qualifications, integrity and heart for the Lord."

There's nothing unusual in American politics about religious leaders praying for politicians or holding a fundamental view that God's divine hand is at play in the creation and existence of America.

But Sheets is not a traditional Christian pastor.

"Dutch Sheets did more, in my estimation, than any Christian leader to organize Christians for January 6th," said Matthew D. Taylor, a senior scholar at The Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies. Taylor has a forthcoming book on the role Christian extremism played in efforts to fraudulently overturn the 2020 election and fuel the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Johnson may not know Sheets personally, but they have deep ties to a network of religious leaders who have advocated to end or weaken the separation of church and state, and for Christianity to play a more dominant role governing society. Taken to its extreme — as it was by some adherents on Jan. 6 — it embraces anti-democratic means to achieve their end. Johnson's rapid elevation to the height of power in Washington gives allies of this movement — who also boast close ties with presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump — direct lines to leaders of the Republican Party.

The speaker's office did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Sheets is a leading figure among a faction of once-fringe Christian evangelical and Pentecostal leaders affiliated with the New Apostolic Reformation, or NAR, an ideology that has existed for decades on the fringes of the religious right. Adherents of this ideology have risen in prominence and power since the 2016 election of Donald Trump, in which he became an unlikely hero of the Christian right and cultivated relationships with leaders in the NAR movement.

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NAR apostles and prophets, as NAR leaders often refer to themselves, ultimately want to end or weaken the separation of church and state. Many embrace a concept known as "the Seven Mountains mandate" which says Christians have a duty to God to take control of the seven pillars of society: business, education, entertainment, family, government, media and religion.

The speaker has affiliated himself with some of Sheets' ideological allies in the NAR movement, including Pastor Jim Garlow. He hosts regular World Prayer Network livestreams in which Johnson has been a frequent guest. In an Aug. 9 broadcast, Garlow said Johnson "ranks up there in the top 1 percentile" in Congress and has "worked with us very closely."

Johnson, in turn, praised Garlow. "I'm so grateful for the ministry and your faithfulness. It's a great encouragement to me and others who are serving in these sometimes rocky corners of the Lord's vineyard."

Garlow was part of a group of religious leaders who hosted dozens of online global prayer sessions for "U.S. election integrity" which promoted false claims of election fraud and hosted prominent figures in the effort to overturn the election including Trump's former lawyer Sidney Powell, who pleaded guilty last month in a Georgia court to six counts of conspiracy to commit election interference.

For his part, Johnson's effort to help overturn the election is well documented. A constitutional lawyer by trade, Johnson wrote the supporting brief on behalf of House Republicans asking the Supreme Court to block the Electoral College certification in certain key states Joe Biden won. The court rejected the case. Johnson also voted against certifying the 2020 election in the House.

Johnson's faith could help him govern in today's GOP
The Christian Right has not had as close an ally and evangelist in House leadership since former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a controversial and pugilistic figure who campaigned against a "war on Christianity" and embraced religious activists throughout his political tenure that ended in 2006.

Johnson brings a wholly different persona to the leadership table. "He's a hard person to dislike. I mean, if you don't like Speaker Johnson, you don't like puppy dogs. He's just a charming, affable and kind person. And that's that's a hard target in politics," said Mike Franc, a veteran conservative GOP operative and former House Republican leadership aide.

While Johnson's religious ties will likely bring scrutiny from political opponents and the broader public, it can also be an asset in leadership where many rank-and-file Republicans share Johnson's faith and worldview.

"When there's a strong bond based on religiosity, it creates a level of trust and a kind of trust that extends way beyond issues that fall within, say, the social conservative silo," Franc said. "If his colleagues actually trust his judgment because they share bonds that might be based on religiosity, so much the better for him in his ability to lead and to be able to, more importantly, maybe even ask his colleagues in the Republican conference to take a tough vote here and there."

Timothy Head is the executive director for Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition, a long-established Christian outfit that works to organize and motivate evangelical and faith-based conservative voters. Head told NPR that while Johnson was not a household name, his elevation to speaker would likely soon make him one — particularly in evangelical circles.

"I think that he will excite evangelical voters. Once people learn his full biography and frankly, his personal story," said Head.

Johnson's faith dictates his political views — with limits
Johnson's Southern Baptist faith and activism are central to his political life and rise. Prior to his 2016 election to Congress, Johnson spent much of his earlier professional life as a constitutional lawyer who worked for conservative Christian causes, including the Alliance Defending Freedom, which opposes gay rights.

Johnson speaks openly and comfortably about his faith. "I am a Bible-believing Christian," he told Sean Hannity in his first interview as speaker. "Someone asked me today in the media, they said, 'It's curious. People are curious. What does Mike Johnson think about any issue under the sun?' I said, 'Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it.' That's my worldview. That's what I'm believe."

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