While D.C. politicos scramble to figure out who House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is, here at Family Research Council, we needed no introduction. To most of us, the young-looking Louisiana lawyer represents the best the movement has to offer. “He’s a social conservative’s conservative,” Politico pointed out in a lengthy piece about his relationship with FRC. But more than that, he’s a man who deeply loves God and this country. So as senators like Susan Collins (R-Maine) turn to Google to find out who the new speaker is, we can tell you simply: he’s the real deal.
My boss, FRC President Tony Perkins, met Mike more than two decades ago when the future speaker was just an up-and-coming law student at LSU. During Tony’s days in the Louisiana legislature, the two crossed paths a lot, eventually working together on a blockbuster bill that became one of the first abortion clinic regulation laws in the country.
“You mentioned how far back we go,” Johnson said in an interview on “Washington Watch” a couple years ago. “I saw you as a young state legislator, and I remember that your banner and your motto when you ran for office was ‘raising the standard.’ And that resonated with me, because I felt that same call on my life. And in so many ways, Tony, you were a huge influence on my life. I saw that you could do it. … [Other] people that I knew [also] did it right and did it well, and they followed the Lord first. And it showed in all their work and their life and their family. And that was a great encouragement to me.”
As Johnson alluded to in his speech before the House chamber Wednesday, the road to Congress was paved by his God-fearing parents. “I was blessed,” he emphasized to Tony. “I was raised in a Christian household, and my parents — I was actually the conception of a teenage pregnancy my parents’ junior year in high school. And they dropped out, decided to have me, and keep me. And that’s why I’m so pro-life today. I’m a living example of faithfulness. … They just trusted God.”
And made sacrifices. “My dad went to work early. They didn’t finish high school. Then he went back later, got his GED, but I don’t have any memory of not being a Christian,” Mike said. “I got saved when I was seven years old. I got baptized in a horse trough out behind our old country church in northwest Louisiana. And I was just raised to know and understand and believe that faith is very real. And it was just part of the fabric of our family, and who we are.”
But the fabric of that family was tested when Mike was just 12. His dad, an assistant chief for the Shreveport, Louisiana fire department, was a training officer. “And on September 17th, 1984,” he remembers, “he went into work on a hazardous materials leak in a cold storage plant. And the building blew up. He was burned 80% of his body, third-degree burns — and given a 5% chance to live. His co-captain died in the fire, so it was a terrible tragedy. [But] God miraculously saved my dad’s life.”
“He had a long journey back,” Mike said. “He lived another 30 years. And he was in pain every day — but he survived. … I was the oldest of four kids in my family,” he pointed out. “[And I learned that] our faith was real. … God saved my dad’s life … and I just knew that prayer worked. So that’s never left me. It’s been with me my whole life.”
When Tony asked Mike what surprised him most about his time in Congress, he replied that his answer was “kind of a sad one.” “I was surprised to see that many members of Congress are elected to serve, and they don’t truly have a fully formed philosophy of government. Some of them are not even crystal clear on what their worldview is, you know? And so it has an effect on their work and the decisions they make. … If you don’t have a fully formed philosophy of government, if you don’t have your principles set in stone … before you get there, then you’re going to be easy prey for all the influences that are out there.”
That’s why, he says, he’s been trying to encourage his colleagues to think about what it means to be a Christian in public service. “The only seedbed of virtue,” Johnson insisted, “is in religious faith. I mean, men have to understand that they owe an allegiance to a higher power, and they have a judge that is above all others. And that is what has guided our country since its founding. And that’s what’s going to continue to guide it. So we shouldn’t make apology for it. We should go out and live that boldly and encourage others to do the same.”
He owes that strength of conviction to a number of people who encouraged him along the way. “I had a mentor when I was really young, [and he] told me one time — he said, ‘Mike, you know what? Always remember this: What is popular isn’t always right, and what is right isn’t always popular.’ And we have to remember that even in politics, you know, highest levels of elected office in the country, that’s a pretty simple axiom that everybody needs to follow.”
Now, Johnson is passing that advice along to his four children — and all of the young leaders he meets. At the time, his son, Jack, was just starting high school, and he wanted to make sure that his son was firmly rooted in truth. “I said, ‘Listen, I want you to be real intentional about this. You know, the calling of a Christian young man or young woman is that you are not called to be a thermometer. You’re called to be a thermostat. What does that mean, Jack? You know, what does a thermometer do? Well, a thermometer goes into a new environment, takes a temperature, and adjusts to it. That’s not what we do. The Christian young man or woman is called to be an atmosphere changer, to be a thermostat. So you walk in, and you hold that standard, raise the standard.’”
At the end of the day, Mike said, “You live according to that truth that you know, and it will change the atmosphere you’re in. And people will look to you. … [They’re] dying for truth and authenticity. They want to know that there really is an absolute … that there’s a standard.” He pointed to Chronicles 6:9. “The eyes of the Lord range throughout the whole earth, seeking those whose hearts are holy, committed. There’s only a few in every generation, but if you’ll do that, God will give you His blessing. He’ll give you His platform. His promotion principles will set in place, and He’ll give you things that will amaze everyone.”
They were prophetic words for a man whose heart is holy, whose God has just given him that enormous platform he spoke of. And yet, back in January, Mike would have been the last to guess that when he and a handful of Republicans knelt in the House chamber to pray for the speakership, they would ultimately be paving the road to him.
As Tony said in a Newsmax interview Wednesday, America can be proud to have a man of substance at the helm. “That’s why he’s the first speaker, I think since 2011, to have unanimous support from his colleagues on the Republican side. … I’ve known Mike for 25 years, and he is going to be an excellent speaker for the times in which we live.”
Looking back on the arc of their long friendship, he said with pride, “He has a sense of purpose, and that comes from his faith. … And this is what’s important, because in politics this has gotten lost. It’s really about people. And he cares about people,” Tony insisted. “… He told me this morning, I was talking to him as he was working on his speech, and he said, ‘It’s a new day. They’re going to see a new thing in this Congress.’”
And those of us who admire him believe it.
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.
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EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. ©2023 Family Research Council.
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