The Perverse And Hidden World Of Mike Johnson's Culture War

Mike Johnson

House Speaker Mike Johnson

Mike Johnson

House Speaker Mike Johnson, lately elevated to one of the most important posts in the federal government, is nothing if not a fervent culture warrior. If Johnson had his way, not only would abortion and homosexuality be absolutely outlawed, with severe criminal penalties as punishment for any infraction, but so would contraception and what he calls "no-fault" divorce.

It even seems likely that he would require everyone's children to pray to his deity in schools, where the teaching of evolution also might no longer be permitted, since Johnson says he believes that actual science leads people to devalue life and commit mass shootings. Both his extreme policy views and his absurd ideas about dinosaurs on Noah's Ark and other such superstitions have become notorious since his GOP colleagues unanimously chose him as their leader.

The hermetic world of far-right religion where Johnson has prospered is a very strange place, not well known to most Americans. It is a world where the homosexual behavior he considers "deviant" has often been concealed and protected, even or especially when that conduct involves the exploitation of minors — just so long as the perpetrators are powerful white men. And there is no doubt that Johnson knows all about this sinister sanctimony.

We know that he knows because the new speaker's resume, which traces his rapid ascent from obscurity on a legislative backbench in Louisiana to the pinnacle of congressional leadership, omits a certain telling episode: his brief service as the dean ofa scandal-ridden "Christian law school" that never opened. Envisioned as a competitor to the highly successful (and profitable) Liberty University law school, the Judge Paul Pressler School of Law at Louisiana College was named for a reactionary Texas jurist and far-right activist in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Its first dean was Mike Johnson, then a young lawyer pursuing the culture war in lawsuits against gay rights and marriage equality. He reportedly had been selected for the job with the approval of Pressler himself, who assisted Johnson in raising money for the law school.

Before it could enroll a single student, however, the law school disintegrated under murky circumstances that reportedly involved financial mismanagement, possible corruption, and failure to win accreditation. The college president was fired and Johnson resigned, going on to win election to the state legislature and then, only two years later, a safe Republican seat in Congress.

That was not the end of the Paul Pressler saga, however. In 2017, Pressler was sued in Texas courts in a civil case that eventually came to include allegations of rape and abuse by several men who say he repeatedly assaulted them, with some of the allegations dating back to their childhood. Subsequent revelations in court documents and press reports showed that the allegations against Pressler had emerged as early as 1978, when he was expelled from a Houston church for sexual misconduct. What also emerged was that Pressler's law partner, a Houston attorney who led the Harris County Republican Party for 12 years, had known of harassment and assault allegations against Pressler since 2004 — and had lied publicly to cover up the scandal.

After all, Pressler was not only an eminent figure in the Southern Baptist Convention, where he served as national vice president, but in Texas Republican circles and in the secretive Council for National Policy, which has long functioned as a kind of central committee for the American far right. In other words, he was too important to expose — even after he paid an enormous financial settlement to silence one of his accusers.

As Southern Baptists learned to their dismay a few years ago, during an investigation long resisted by denomination leaders, the kind of abuse that Pressler inflicted on young members of their congregation, both male and female, was far more widespread than anyone had suspected. It grew from the hierarchical, authoritarian, and hypocritical culture at the highest levels of their faith.

The most disturbing aspect of the scandals that have afflicted both the right-wing church and the Republican right is how little Mike Johnson and his ilk have learned from them. They might spend less effort persecuting Americans whose ideas about life and faith differ from theirs, and more time considering what the words of Christ really mean.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

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