‘In God We Trust’

House Speaker Mike Johnson driven by love for God and country

‘In God We Trust’

House Speaker Mike Johnson driven by love for God and country

When Mike Johnson was elected speaker of the House of Representatives in late October after bids by several Republican nominees had failed, the Louisiana congressman stepped up to the rostrum with an unmistakable sense of calling. In the wake of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s ouster and the bureaucratic chaos that had engulfed Congress for weeks, Johnson was resolute.

“I don’t believe there are any coincidences in a [matter] like this,” Johnson said during his Oct. 25 acceptance speech in the House chamber. “I believe that Scripture, the Bible, is very clear that God is the One that raises up those in authority. He raised up each of you, all of us, and I believe that God has ordained and allowed each one of us to be brought here for this specific moment in this time. This is my belief. I believe that each one of us has a huge responsibility today to use the gifts that God has given us to serve the extraordinary people of this great country, and they deserve it, 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.”

During Johnson’s 19-minute speech, which was broadcast live on cable news networks, the 52-year-old father of four thanked his family for their support, especially Kelly, his wife of 25 years, who he said had “spent the last couple of weeks on her knees in prayer to the Lord.” 

The four-term congressman’s path to being second after the vice president in the presidential line of succession has been paved with prayer. A year ago this month, Johnson joined six other congressmen who knelt and prayed together on the House floor to seek divine guidance in selecting a leader from among the fractured Republican majority.

In his first speech as speaker-elect, Johnson, who’s ardently pro-life, also paid tribute to his parents, who both dropped out of high school in the 11th grade when their son was conceived unexpectedly. “I want to thank my faithful mother, Jeanne Johnson, who bore me at the age of 17,” he said. 

Johnson’s father succumbed to cancer three days before his eldest son was elected as a freshman congressman from northwest Louisiana’s 4th District in 2016. But his late father’s memory was on his heart and mind as he addressed the legislative chamber as the 56th speaker of the U.S. House.

“My dad was a firefighter,” Johnson recalled fondly. “He was an assistant chief in the fire department in my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, a little town in northwest Louisiana. On Sept. 17, 1984, when I was 12 years old, he was critically burned and permanently disabled in the line of duty. All I ever wanted to be when I grew up was the chief of the fire department in Shreveport, but after the explosion on that fateful day, he nearly died and it was a long road back; and it’s changed all of our life trajectories.”

Johnson recounted grieving his father’s death late one night in early 2017 as he presided over Congress as speaker pro-tempore. 

“I looked up at the top of the chamber there and I saw the face of Moses staring down, and I just felt in that moment the weight of this place, the history that is revered here and the future that we are called to forge, and I really was just kind of almost overwhelmed with emotion,” he reminisced. 

“I just knew in that moment that my dad … would be proud of me and I felt that he was, and I think all of our parents are proud of what we’re called to do here. I think all the American people at one time had great pride in this institution, but right now that’s in jeopardy, and we have a challenge before us right now to rebuild and restore that trust.”

Johnson acknowledged the nation’s motto, “In God We Trust,” adorned above the rostrum as he reminded his fellow lawmakers in the House that the U.S. adopted the motto in 1956, in large part as a rebuke of the Cold War-era Soviet Union’s atheistic philosophies of Marxism, communism and socialism. 

“We were built on the exact opposite premise, that there is a God and He’s the one that gives us our inalienable rights,” Johnson said in an interview with The Daily Signal. “Where you begin with either of those premises, you lead to very, very different results. And my contention is the same as what the Framers’ was … that the reason we are the extraordinary, exceptional nation that we are is because we begin with the truth. I think we deviate from that at our peril.”

For Johnson, trusting God began as a 7-year-old when he professed his faith in Jesus and was baptized in a horse trough behind an old rural church in Shreveport. “I was just raised to know and understand and believe that faith is very real,” Johnson said in an interview on Family Research Council President Tony Perkins’ Washington Watch broadcast. “And it was just part of the fabric of our family, and who we are.”

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson leads a prayer on Nov. 7 during a bipartisan candlelight vigil for Israeli victims and hostages of the conflict with Hamas. Photo: Sipa USA/Alamy Live News

Johnson’s faith in God and the power of prayer grew immensely during his teenage years in the wake of his dad’s near-fatal tragedy, which happened when an explosion occurred at a cold storage plant while fire department personnel were onsite to contain a hazardous materials leak. The explosion took the life of his dad’s co-captain and left his dad with third-degree burns on 80% of his body and a 5% chance of survival. “But God saved my dad’s life … and I just knew that prayer worked,” Johnson told Perkins. “So that’s never left me. It’s been with me my whole life.”

After graduating from law school at Louisiana State University, Johnson spent nearly 20 years successfully litigating high profile constitutional law cases in district and appellate courts nationwide. In the early to mid-2000s as a religious liberty defense lawyer with First Liberty Institute as well as Alliance Defense Fund, now called Alliance Defending Freedom, Johnson defended states’ laws upholding Biblical marriage. A trustee member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission from 2004 to 2012, Johnson also served in the Louisiana legislature for two years before being elected to Congress.

In The Daily Signal interview, Johnson said that media critics who accuse him of being homophobic and transphobic while having animus for the LGBTQ community don’t understand his Biblical worldview. “It’s impossible, if one follows the commands of the Bible, to be a hateful person, because the greatest commandment in the Bible … is to love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, mind, soul and spirit, everything you have, and then you love your neighbor as yourself. And everything else is wrapped into those commands,” he said.

Consequently, within his first few weeks in Congress in 2017, Johnson authored a document titled, “The Commitment to Civility,” which eventually garnered nearly 200 signatures from representatives in the House. “In their admonitions to us, the founders were very clear that to maintain a republic like ours, to maintain a constitutional republic—a government of, by and for the people—there has to be a consensus on virtue and morality,” Johnson said.

A member of Cypress Baptist Church in Benton, Louisiana, Johnson identifies Psalm 37 as his life’s passage. The 40-verse psalm urges the faithful to “trust in the Lord, and do good” and to “fret not thyself because of evildoers” and promises that God will deliver the righteous “from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him.”

Johnson finds great solace in Psalm 37, so much that one morning when he noticed a large Bible on the altar in the congressional chapel, he opened it to that chapter and left it resting there.

Jesus said “My burden is light,” Johnson told Perkins. “If you’re doing your best, as flawed as you are, to operate in accordance with God’s principles, and to do what is right and good for the people, then God blesses that. And it takes the responsibility, in some measure, off your shoulders. As John Quincy Adams famously said, ‘Duty is ours. Results are God’s.’” ©2023 BGEA

Photo: Michael Brochstein/Zuma Press Wire

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