Honoring Mike Johnson’s - and Everyone’s - Faith
A few days ago, the Los Angeles Times featured a photograph of now-House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) kneeling and praying with a group of colleagues on the floor of the House. It was taken in January of this year when former Speaker Kevin McCarthy was enduring seemingly endless votes concerning his leadership of the House of Representatives.
The accompanying article is pretty even-handed, but the larger point is that while the speaker’s display of devotion to his Lord might seem to his critics anachronistic or even disturbing, it is wholly in keeping with the traditions of American public life.
Every day, looking down on all Members of Congress is a frieze of Moses. Of the many “relief portraits” of political and legal figures from antiquity that are embedded immediately beneath the visitors’ gallery in the House, all face toward the central one — Moses, whose gaze is fixed directly on the chair of the speaker from over the main entrance to the House chamber.
There’s a reason for this: Our country is based on the understanding that the moral law of God is permanent and binding on all people, at all times, including the leaders of our country. This understanding is why every session of both the House and the Senate are opened with prayer, an at least tacit acknowledgment that government is not God and must not seek to supplant Him.
This is wholly in keeping with the speaker’s commitment to prayer, Bible study, and personal devotion to his Savior: He honors privately what, historically, Americans have been encouraged to honor publicly, namely, our Creator, the One Who merits our reverence.
What the speaker’s panicked critics fail to understand (or, in some cases, honestly admit) is that neither he nor those of us who share his understandings of God, human nature, and the very fabric of our republic want to “theonomize” America. Everyone has a faith, from extreme atheist to New Age occultist. When the brilliant mathematician and Christian apologist John Lennox debated the atheist ethicist (an oxymoronic construct if ever there was one) Peter Singer, Singer said that atheism was not a faith. Lennox responded, “I’m sorry, Peter. I was under the impression you believed it.”
In other words, one’s beliefs — whether involving a love for God or a rejection of Him — invariably inform his thoughts, motives, actions, and, in the case of politicians, their legislation and their votes. Deeply-held religious convictions cannot be shrugged-off like an unwanted jacket upon entering a place of public affairs. Compulsory agreement and hostile imposition have nothing to do with the agenda of conservative Christians. Rather, we act on our faith the same as secular progressives do on theirs.
Yet although grounded in the things we believe about ultimate matters, our proposals transcend exclusive reference to biblical sources. Were I to make a public argument about the sanctity of human life in the womb, I would draw attention to the fact that “96 percent of 5,577 biologists from 1,058 academic institutions [have] affirmed that a human’s life begins at fertilization.” I would emphasize the reasonable deduction that the unborn child is not a disease-bearing threat or merely another organ but, based on indisputable scientific evidence, a person distinct from her mother and that what changes at the time of birth is not the humanness of the baby but her place of residence — from life within the womb to life outside of it.
Reason, science, and the witness of history all give testimony to sound, common sense policies. That they can be joined by faith-based conviction makes them no less true, important, and relevant.
Demeaning or deliberately misunderstanding a person’s faith is not just crass but dangerous. In his book “1984,” George Orwell describes a “Ministry of Truth,” a department designed to make history comport with “Big Brother’s” preferences. The laziness which discourages an accurate understanding of another person’s beliefs or deliberate misrepresentation of those beliefs are twin evils with no place in our already fractured public discourse.
Among the others whose legacies are celebrated in the relief portraits overlooking the House chamber is one of William Blackstone. Blackstone, the foremost jurist of his era whose great works of legal scholarship have been a bedrock of Western law for generations, said once in the House of Commons, “I hope I shall never be ashamed in this House to own myself a Christian. When I see all religion made a mockery and jest of, it behooves me to vindicate my God and my King.”
Mike Johnson and other political leaders who are open about their faith, whether Christian, Jewish, or whatever else, have every right to let that faith guide them as they govern. Scoring this bedrock principle is nothing less than un-American.
Rob Schwarzwalder, Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.