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What Kind of Man Is Mike Johnson?

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) emerged from such (relative) obscurity that reporters are still hustling to try to get the measure of the man. And in the first week, there are two themes that keep coming up, over and over.

To start, and to be blunt, he is a religious extremist. Even if Johnson were a garden-variety post-World War II evangelical, that is something we haven't seen in the speakership before. The last half-dozen Republican speakers were all religious enough to be Republican politicians, but not a lot more religious than that. Do you even know what religion, for example, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is? We had to look it up (he's a Baptist). The last half-dozen Democratic speakers, meanwhile, were mostly Catholics who kept/keep their religious practice in private, with the occasional unassuming Methodist thrown in.

But Johnson isn't a garden-variety post-World War II evangelical. Matthew Taylor of the Institute for Islamic, Christian, & Jewish Studies, writing for The Bulwark, has an interesting piece about how there's now a clear divide in the politics of Christian evangelicals. Some of them merely want to work within the democratic process to secure policy victories consistent with their worldview. The others want to forcibly impose their worldview, and if democratic processes have to be shunted aside, then so be it. Johnson is in this second group.

In particular, according to Taylor, the Speaker is closely associated with an extreme far right Christian movement called the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). The NAR believes in, and is responsible for crafting, what is known as the Seven Mountain Mandate. Consistent with the well-worn truism that religious movements WILL FIND scripture to support whatever it is they want to do, the NAR is laser-focused on Revelation 17:9, which reads: "Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits." They couple that with Isaiah 2:2, which reads: "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains."

From this relatively scant bit of scripture, NAR concludes that what God wants is for Christians to position themselves to establish control over seven aspects of society: family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business, and government. Once all of those things are operating in line with hard-right Christian precepts, then the Christian nation (a.k.a. the theocracy) will be realized, and the end days will be near (or, at very least, nearer). NAR leaders, you will not be surprised to learn, played a significant role in whipping many of the 1/6 insurrectionists into a (religious) frenzy.

That brings us to the second theme that keeps coming up in the articles about Johnson: He's disingenuous. Or, if you prefer, duplicitous. Or two-faced. Or slimy, if you don't like typing a bunch of letters. Consider his approach to marriage, which is as far outside the mainstream as that of Mike Pence. What Johnson and his wife entered into is called a "covenant marriage." Basically, they have agreed (with state sanction) that they cannot divorce but for a very limited list of reasons: abuse, abandonment, imprisonment of a spouse, or lengthy separation. That's actually pretty much how divorce worked 250 years ago, so the Johnsons are taking the institution of marriage back to the eighteenth century. Perhaps, if Kelly Johnson is unfaithful, then Mike will skip the divorce (since adultery is not one of the qualifying conditions, anyhow) and go right to burning at the stake.

Officially, the motivation for covenant marriages—which the Johnsons have pushed states to allow, with limited success—is to solve the social issues that allegedly come from divorce, such as children who suffer because of problems in their parents' relationship. However, anyone who knows anything about children and divorce (including the many, many people who have experienced this as children themselves) know that the negative impact on the kids comes from the parental conflict, not from the divorce itself. Indeed, on the whole, kids tend to be happier after a divorce, because the conflict in the household goes way down.

So the "social good" argument for covenant marriages doesn't really fly. And indeed, that argument is just a façade. The real point here is for states to sanction the version of marriage that many evangelical (and, to be fair, many non-evangelical) Christians believe the Bible calls for: "till death do you part." Of course, laws prohibiting, or strongly discouraging, divorce went out the window generations ago, so this cannot be achieved directly. Wrapping it in the guise of "it's for the kiddies" is just a backdoor means of trying to once again make divorce difficult-to-impossible.

And that is just part of the reason we describe Johnson as duplicitous, two-faced, slimy, etc. Like most people, even people who watch politics closely, we were only vaguely familiar with him until last week. And since then, his fundamental disingenuousness keeps coming up, again and again. His marriage operates under one publicly stated notion, but in reality is about something very different. He's a member of the Freedom Caucus... or maybe he isn't. He's actually not formally a part of the NAR; he just pals around with the leaders of the movement, goes to many of their events, and believes what they believe. He's a "nice guy" according to everyone, but one who believes things that leave him squarely in line with Christian fascists like the John Birch Society.

Since there's never been a speaker—or, for that matter, a high-ranking member of the American government—with Johnson's worldview, we haven't the faintest idea how this will play out. We do know that his proposal for military aid "We'll fund Israel now, and get to Ukraine later... for sure!" seems consistent with his less-than-forthright approach to life and to politics. If he keeps that up, he's going to alienate a lot of colleagues, some of whom he needs to get things done. And if he tries to put his "burn it all down if you have to" approach into action, he's going to do a lot of damage to the country and to the Republican Party, probably in that order. (Z)

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