There are two moments from Mike Johnson’s early days as speaker of the House that almost perfectly encapsulate the broken way that so many Republican evangelicals approach politics.occurred just after the House elected Johnson. ABC’s Rachel Scott started to ask Johnson about his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. But before she could finish, Johnson’s Republican colleagues started to shout her down. Johnson simply shook his head. “Next question,” he said, as if the query wasn’t worth his time. It was the kind of conduct that led Florida Republican Matt Gaetz to dub the new speaker “ .”
The second moment came in his first extended interview as speaker, when Johnson shared the basis of his political philosophy with Sean Hannity of Fox News: “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 quote is less illuminating than many people think. The Bible says a great deal about a great number of subjects, but it is open to interpretation on many and silent on many more. (It says nothing, for example, about the proper level of funding for the I.R.S., Johnson’s first substantive foray into policy as speaker.) I know Democrats who also root their political philosophy in the Bible. I’m a Never Trump evangelical conservative and I, too, look to Scripture to guide my mind and heart.
Mike Johnson and I have such similar religious convictions that we once worked together at the same Christian law firm. We worked in different states and different practice groups (I focused on academic freedom), but we both defended religious liberty, and we’d most likely both say much the same things about, say, the inerrancy of Scripture. Yet we’ve taken very different political paths.
In general, belief in the Bible isn’t a reliable indicator of political philosophy. Take the yawning racial gap among evangelicals: Inconducted just before the election, white evangelicals told pollsters they intended to vote for Donald Trump 73 percent to 18 percent, while Black evangelicals said they would vote for President Biden 69 percent to 19 percent. I’ve spoken to Black evangelicals — many of them members of my own church — who feel their views are often invisible in public debates about faith and politics.
It turns out that the Bible isn’t actually a clear guide to “any issue under the sun.” You can read it from cover to cover, believe every word you read and still not know the “Christian” policy on a vast majority of contested issues. Even when evangelical Christians broadly agree on certain moral principles, such as the idea that marriage is a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman, there is widespread disagreement onshould reflect those evangelical moral beliefs.
Though the Bible isn’t a clear guide for American foreign policy, American economic policy or American constitutional law, it is a much clearer guide for Christian virtue. Here’s one such virtue, for example:.
Which brings us back to Mike Johnson’s refusal to answer a question about the effort to overturn the 2020 election. There is a reason that effort is called the. It was one of the most comprehensively and transparently dishonest political movements in American history. And Mike Johnson was in the middle of it. He helped mobilize Republican support for Texas’ utterly frivolous lawsuit to overturn the Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin elections. According to a on Johnson’s efforts to steal the election, he was a “ubiquitous contact for Trump at key moments” during the plot.
He said there was “a lot of merit” to completely false claims about voting machines being “.” Like most House Republicans, he voted against certifying the election, even after a howling mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. In the same interview in which Johnson called out Dominion, he said that the Georgia election was “set up for the Biden team to win” through “massive fraud and error and irregularity.” By whom? The Republican governor and the Republican secretary of state?
Johnson is a very nice person, and — unlike Trump — he makes his points with a quite reasonable tone of voice. But pleasant-sounding lies are still lies. I know Johnson to be a smart man and a good lawyer, which is why I was gobsmacked to see him promote the same theories as some of the most corruptlawyers in American legal life. Former Representative Liz Cheney “was acting in ways that he knew to be wrong.”
Three days after the House elected Johnson speaker, Mike Pence dropped out of the Republican presidential primary. The most recent Republican vice president had become a polling afterthought, and the reason isn’t hard to discern. He’s every bit as faith-forward as Johnson, he was every bit as loyal to the Trump policy agenda as Johnson, and yet — when push came to shove — he could not participate in the Big Lie. He paid an immediate and permanent price for his honesty, with his approval among G.O.P. votersafter the attack on the Capitol.
This is precisely indicative of the political ruthlessness that’s overtaken evangelical Republicans. They are inflexible about policy positions even when the Bible is silent or vague. They are flexible about morality even when the Bible is clear. One Christian man tells the truth, and it kills his career. Another Christian man helps lead one of the most comprehensively dishonest and dangerous political and legal efforts in American history, and he gets the speaker’s gavel.
Republican evangelicals are putting America under immense strain. Christian commitment to the Big Lie. Evangelicals’ — in spite of several other options — is placing one of the most malignant figures in American politics within striking distance of the presidency, again. And now as Mike Johnson, another man who fully committed himself to overturning the election, has become second in line for the presidency.
This should not be. The Bible that sits on Johnson’s shelf, the one that tells him what to think about “any issue under the sun,” may not tell us how to formulate immigration policy or how much money to send to Ukraine. But it does condemn dishonesty, it does condemn cruelty, and if there is a clear theme that echoes throughout its pages, it’s one that “” and his legion of evangelical supporters should take to heart: The ends do not justify the means.