Persecuted Fire Chief Says Mike Johnson Can Take Comfort in What They Both Learned from His Dad
Suddenly, the House speakership doesn’t seem like such a great prize after all. In eight days on the job, Mike Johnson (R-La.) has been compared to mass shooters, the Iranian mullahs, even the Taliban for being a Bible-believing Christian. “Be afraid,” one Washington Post headline read, almost hilariously. But maybe, given this level of hostility, we should be.
How does it feel to be so reviled for your beliefs, Fox News’s Kayleigh McEnany asked Monday? “… I’m not surprised …” Johnson answered. “I mean, it comes with the territory. … I just wish they would get to know me. I’m not trying to establish Christianity as the national religion or something. That’s not what this is about at all. If you truly believe in the Bible’s commands and you seek to follow those, it is impossible to be a hateful person, because the greatest command in the Bible is that you love God with everything you have and you love your neighbor as yourself.”
But that doesn’t mean the attacks don’t bother him. When the Left likened Johnson to terrorists, he couldn’t believe it. “It’s just disgusting,” the new speaker fired back. “I mean, that is absurd. Of course, our religion is based on love and acceptance. So to compare that worldview with the Taliban who seek to destroy their enemies or with, you know, some deranged shooter who murders people, is absolutely outrageous. And I think everyone who follows and believes in a Judeo-Christian worldview should be just terribly offended by that.”
And while Johnson said, “I’m okay, I’ll take the arrows, I understand it comes with leadership,” what he can’t brush past — “what really hurts me” — is that “it really is a statement about everyone who believes in this that the country was built upon. Our Judeo-Christian foundation is the heritage of our country.”
Kelvin Cochran understands a thing or two about being persecuted for his beliefs. The Atlanta fire chief was sacked for authoring a men’s devotional on his own time. “I never imagined that writing a book for a Christian Bible study would actually end my childhood dream come true — [my] fairy-tale career after 34 years of faithful service. But it absolutely did end my career.” Even now, years after winning his case in court, Cochran is still “completely shocked” that in the United States of America, you can be targeted for speaking truth. “So I know firsthand” what the speaker is experiencing, he said on “Washington Watch” Tuesday.
In fact, Kelvin doesn’t just know what Mike Johnson is going through, he knows Mike Johnson. Mike and his family actually lived across the street from the firefighter training facility where Cochran and the future speaker’s dad worked.
“Mike’s dad, Pat Johnson, was [part of] the Shreveport Fire Department. [He was] what we would refer to as a firefighter’s firefighter,” Cochran reflected. “He was a role model to all firefighters. And he was promoted to captain training officer about a year before I was hired in 1981, and he quickly became all of the recruits’ favorite training officer. And for me personally … he made such an impression on me with the way he wore his uniform, his professional demeanor, and just the way that he treated people on the job. And he gave me the aspiration of wanting to be a captain training officer one day.”
As Mike alluded to in his first speech as speaker, his dad was involved in a horrible explosion that killed another training officer and left him badly burned and in pain for the rest of his life. When it was finally time for Pat to retire, Cochran was his successor.
Asked what similarities he sees between Mike and Pat, Kelvin told Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, “There are many. … Pat Johnson was unashamedly Christian. He integrated his faith with his calling as a firefighter, and he integrated his faith with his purpose as a father and as a husband. And he was one of those Christians who connected his role as a firefighter to the biblical principle of being our brother’s keeper, and to the biblical principle of sacrificing or laying down one’s life for another. Pat Johnson was a man of courage and a man of valor — and those same traits exist in his son, Mike Johnson.”
Because of Pat’s witness, Cochran said men like him learned how to outwardly live their beliefs. “He was sharing how faith connected to the career in every aspect of the training of a firefighter. He made sure that we understood as rookie firefighters that there was a divine connection between being a firefighter and being a believer, and also being faithful in our family relationships. And he lived it out.”
Kelvin remembers seeing the Johnson family a lot. “They would come across the street to the training academy from time to time. And I had a chance to see Pat Johnson live out his love for his family and his kids right in front of all of us. And I remember Mike specifically. He was so proud of his dad, and his dad was so very proud of him. And Mike was just a consummate big brother. You could tell that he took seriously his responsibility of being a big brother for his siblings.”
And as hard as this past week has been for Mike, Cochran earnestly believes God has been preparing him for this moment. “You know, having the courage and grace to stand in this cultural moment is so essential for all believers when we are facing the fire.” But when — “not if” — that day comes, all of us need to “realize that you would not be facing the fire and experiencing that moment if God had not determined that he had thoroughly equipped you for it. … Mike Johnson has been thoroughly prepared and thoroughly equipped to deal with the persecution that he is facing, and so [have] all believers been prepared by the Most High God.”
But these are the times in which we live, Kelvin urged. “There are worldly consequences for standing on biblical truth and standing for Christ. … And the truth always sounds like hate to those who hate the truth. So we should expect for them to respond in many cases harsh[ly] and sometimes even violent[ly].”
As for the new speaker, Cochran was optimistic about the young boy he watched grow up. “Because God has predestined Mike Johnson to be the speaker, he cannot fail. He will be successful, because God predestined him to be there. But … Jesus said, whatever you lose standing for me, I will restore it 100-fold in this life.” He smiled, “Tony, I’m living the 100-fold life after having been persecuted for writing a book for a Christian man Bible study. So all believers should be encouraged …”
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.