(ANALYSIS) Speaker of the House Mike Johnson has been the subject of considerable media attention following his elevation to the post on Oct. 25, 2023. Since his appointment, news reports have highlighted the fact that he was one of the House leaders against certifying the 2020 election of Joe Biden to the presidency, and that he is known to be stridently anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ+.
Comparing himself to Moses, in a speech at a gala on Dec. 5, 2023, Johnson suggested that God cleared the way for him to be speaker of the House.
In the words of Public Religion Research Institute President Robert Jones, Johnson is “a near-textbook example of white Christian nationalism – the belief that God intended America to be a new promised land for European Christians.”
As historian John Fea has noted, Johnson is “a culture warrior with deep connections to the Christian Right.”
While it might not seem obvious, one of those connections includes his legal work on behalf of Ark Encounter, the massive tourist site in Kentucky run by Answers in Genesis, or AiG, and its CEO, Ken Ham. Ark Encounter and its companion site, the Creation Museum, propagate Young Earth Creationism, or YEC, which is the notion that the Earth is but 6,000 years old and that the geological formations seen today were formed by a global flood that took place around 4,000 years ago.
The state of Kentucky offers tax incentives for large tourist sites. In 2014, two years before Ark Encounter opened, the state determined that the tourist site was ineligible for these tax rebates. A primary reason for rejection was that all Ark Encounter employees are required to affirm a lengthy faith statement, which, according to Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart, “violates the separation of church and state provisions of the Constitution.”
As an attorney for Freedom Guard, a conservative religious legal advocacy law group, Johnson sued on behalf of Ark Encounter, arguing that in denying the tax rebates, the state was discriminating on the basis of religion. Johnson and the Ark prevailed, and Ark Encounter received the state’s tax incentives.
As a scholar of American evangelicalism, I argue that Johnson’s association with Ark Encounter makes much sense, given the very strong connection between Young Earth Creationism and Christian Right politics. And this connection is old.
Answers in Genesis and the Christian Right
In his 2021 book, “Red Dynamite,” historian Carl Weinberg established that for the past century, Young Earth creationists have made the case that evolutionary science makes people behave in “an immoral, ‘beastly’ or ‘animalistic’ way,” especially when it comes to sex and violence.
More than this, Weinberg argues that, for Young Earth creationists, evolution has been understood as the “backbone” of a communist philosophy, a “socialist, Marxist philosophy” that promotes a “spirit of rebellion” in America today.
As rhetorical scholar Susan L. Trollinger and I document in our 2016 book, “Righting America at the Creation Museum,” AiG continues this Christian Right tradition through its extensive online presence, its museum and now Ark Encounter.
According to Ham and AiG, “public schools are churches of secular humanism and … most of the teachers are … imposing an anti-God worldview on generations of students.” Sexual immorality, LGBTQ+ activism and the rejection of patriarchy are, according to AiG, signs of the resultant cultural corruption. Ham claims that a once-Christian America – with Bible-believing founders who had no intention of separating church and state – has, since the 1960s, been dragged downward. In his 2012 book, “The Lie,” Ham asserts that this will eventually “result in the outlawing of Christianity.”
In the past few years, AiG has doubled down on its culture war commitments. For example, in March 2021 the AiG Statement of Faith – signed by all employees and volunteers – was expanded from 29 provisions to 46 provisions. This includes article 29, which requires signers to affirm that “‘social justice’ … as defined in modern terminology” is “anti-biblical and destructive to human flourishing.” Then there is article 32, which says that “gender and biological sex are equivalent and cannot be separated.”
Rejecting the dangers of global warming and the notion that governments should intervene to reverse this trend, AiG’s Ham has asserted that “zealous climate activism is a false religion with false prophets.” According to him, climate activists are misled because they begin with human reason and not the Bible, and because they hold to evolution and an ancient Earth.
In a similar vein, an AiG spokesperson blasted mainstream scientists and others who focused on the dangers of COVID-19, arguing that they were simply generating hysteria “about a virus that doesn’t kill very many people at all.” AiG’s CEO lamented on his social media post that “the COVID-19 situation has been weaponized in many places to use against Christians.”
Mike Johnson and AiG beliefs
Johnson has effusively praised Ark Encounter as “a strategic and really creative … way to bring people to this recognition of the truth that what we read in the Bible are actual historical events.”
Johnson also shares with AiG’s Ham that government should not intervene when it comes to global warming, particularly given that, like Ham, he does not believe “that the climate is changing because we drive SUVs.”
He also shares with the folks at AiG the conviction that belief in evolution results in immoral behavior. For example, Johnson has blamed school shootings on the fact that “we have taught a whole generation … of Americans that there is no right and wrong. It’s all about survival of the fittest, and you evolve from primordial slime,” and so “why is that life of any sacred value?”
In this, Johnson is echoing AiG authors and speakers. For example, in response to the 2007 shooting in a high school in Jokela, Finland, which left nine dead, including the shooter, Bodie Hodge, an AiG researcher and author, asserted: “So long as evolutionism is forced onto children (no God, people are animals, no right and wrong, etc.) and so long as they believe it and reject accountability to their Creator, then we can expect more of these types of gross and inappropriate actions.”
In short, Johnson’s political commitments fit neatly into the politics of AiG and the Young Earth Creationism ecosystem. This matters politically, particularly given that a significant subset of American evangelicals adheres to Young Earth Creationism.
This piece is republished with permission from The Conversation.