The Republican Party recently selected Louisiana Representative Mike Johnson as the new Speaker of the House. While he had had little national name recognition before his nomination, Johnson was the candidate who could finally unify the Republican coalition following the rejection of the more moderate Kevin McCarthy and the further right Jim Jordan and Steve Scalise. This has spawned a media frenzy aimed at answering one question: What does Mike Johnson believe?
The answer Johnson provides for himself is surprisingly simple. In a recent interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Johnson commented on the media efforts to uncover his policy positions, saying, “Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview.”
But, of course, that only partially answers the question at hand. It is impossible to distill scripture in a single political worldview, both because of the sheer variety of theological perspectives throughout the various Christian traditions and the simple logistical obstacle that Jesus lived long before the advent of Social Security. So, what does the Bible-based political worldview mean to Mike Johnson?
Scholars Andrew Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry recently published an article in Time Magazine, identifying Johnson as an adherent to the ideology of Christian nationalism. While Johnson has denied that he identifies with the term, Whitehead and Perry prove that the label sticks. Whitehead and Perry break down the Christian nationalist political ideology into four parts: traditionalist social arrangements, authoritarian social control, ethno-racial boundaries and populist conspiracy theorizing. According to his previous policy positions, it’s clear that Johnson embraces all four.
He was a key player in the effort to overturn the 2020 election results and has promoted the “Great Replacement Theory” and a host of election fraud conspiracies. He has supported legislation limiting discussion of racism and the LGBTQ+ community in schools, equivalent to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” and “Stop WOKE” bills. He has introduced legislation that would change the standards for proving fear of persecution in asylum cases, making it harder for immigrants to seek asylum.
Johnson has taken a hard-line stance on abortion, proposing national bans. He has also made the bizarre claim that legalizing abortion is responsible for school shootings (something that I will briefly sacrifice the scholarly aura for because, as someone from Sandy Hook, Conn., I cannot in good conscience put that on paper without calling it out as unforgivably vile and offensive to survivors).
Prior to his political career, Johnson worked as an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated this organization as a hate group as a result of its advocacy for conversion therapy, recriminalizing homosexual activity and state-sanctioned sterilization of transgender individuals. And yet, standing in the middle of all that hate is their slogan: “For Faith. For Justice.”
So when Mike Johnson reads the Bible, that’s what he sees: an endorsement of hate, dehumanization and silencing of democratic discourse in a pluralist society. We’ve seen this hate come to our own campus, with the recent posting of a note to the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies bulletin board claiming that “you are teaching doctrine that goes against the Bible.”
I’m an alumna of Fairfield University, a proud product of a Jesuit education, and that’s surely not what the Jesuits have taught me a Bible-based worldview is supposed to mean.
The Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States describes Ignatian Spirituality as compelling believers to “build a world that is reflective of our God, a God of peace, compassion, mercy and justice,” claiming that “God has given each of us different skills, passions and life experiences that have a role to play in this transformative work.”
The Fairfield University mission statement says of Jesuit education: “The promotion of justice is an absolute requirement.” The university’s description of Jesuit identity proclaims devotion to cura personalis, or “care of the whole person,” saying that Jesuit education is informed by “diversity and inclusion—of peoples, cultures, ideas and traditions.” The Campus Ministry website identifies one of the “guiding principles and values” as “Hospitality: welcoming students to participate in community, valued for who they are.”
Operating on these principles, the university website claims that “Fairfield is committed to providing a safe, affirming and inclusive community” for LGBTQ+ students as a part of its “reverence for the human dignity of every person.” In a recent letter to the editor, the CAS-DEI committee condemned the posted note as “contrary to the University’s Jesuit Mission.” The university’s “Magis Core” curriculum has been recently amended to include requirements for social justice courses that discuss race, gender and intersectionality. This is what Jesuit values look like in the world: social justice, diversity and caring for others.
Has the institution of the Catholic church always reflected ideals? Far from it. Our own campus has frequently struggled to live up to these principles and meet the challenges of living and governing according to the Jesuit worldview. But, Mike Johnson looked to the Bible and saw the hate of Christian nationalism. In a time when his ideas and his prejudices are winning the day in the House of Representatives, I have never been more comforted by the fact that Ignatius of Loyola looked to the same Bible and instead saw Jesuit values.
The Jesuit mission holds us accountable. Work for social justice is our “absolute requirement.” Regardless of how that requirement has translated into your personal politics, it should offend you that Mike Johnson uses the Bible to work against every value the Jesuits hold dear. When we take the values we learn here out into the world, we should never forget to prioritize the acceptance and dignity of others. We should never be afraid to call out those who use religion as a tool for denying the value of those things. It’s a good day to heed the words of Saint Ignatius and “go forth and set the world on fire.” It’s a good day to be Jesuit-educated.