Before arriving in Washington less than a decade ago, House Speaker Mike Johnson, a deeply religious Christian, was a legal crusader associated with a fringe evangelical movement called “young Earth creationism,” based on a literal reading of the Bible’s Book of Genesis that posits the Earth is only several thousand years old.
In the mere hours since Johnson was elected speaker Wednesday, he hadn’t had to address his views on creationism and evolution. But his close ties to a leader of the creationist movement and his past legal work — on behalf of the Ark Encounter creationist theme park, where children can learn that dinosaurs were passengers on Noah’s Ark — seem to suggest that he’s also personally aligned with these beliefs.
“The Ark Encounter is one way to bring people to this recognition of the truth, that what we read in the Bible are actual historical events,” Johnson said in a 2021 interview with Ark Encounter founder Ken Ham while guest-hosting the radio show of Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, an evangelical activist group.
Johnson has close personal and professional ties to Ham, the founder and CEO of Answers in Genesis, the Christian group that’s behind Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum, both based in Kentucky. As an attorney, Johnson helped the gigantic ark attraction, which opened in 2016, secure millions in state tourism subsidies while also defending its right to make religious-based hiring decisions.
“Kentucky officials are smart to enthusiastically embrace the Ark Encounter, and the millions of tourists the park will welcome to the area from every viewpoint, race, color, religion and creed,” Johnson wrote in an op-ed that appeared in the Louisville Courier Journal in 2014. “Answers in Genesis aims to encourage critical thought and respectful public debate about the various attractions and ideas that will be presented at its park, and that is the beauty and essence of free speech.”
Johnson wasn’t just the legal muscle for Answers in Genesis, which embraces the belief that the “account of origins presented in Genesis 1-11 is a simple but factual presentation of actual events.” He blogged on the organization’s website and spoke at a conference it hosted in 2022. Johnson and his wife, Kelly, a counselor who is also his podcast collaborator, are slated to appear at another Answers in Genesis conference in April 2024: “Overcoming the War on Women for the Glory of God.”
Johnson has called Ham a “dear friend,” and, when hosting him on his podcast, “Truth Be Told,” Johnson thanked him for his friendship and ministry over the years. Ham returned the kind words at an Answers in Genesis conference in 2021, when he called Johnson one of the few “godly men” in Congress.
Ham’s views are what you would expect for a person who operates a “life-size” Noah’s Ark museum that features dinosaurs catching a ride on a biblically accurate 300-cubits-long ark.
“We can say, 100 percent absolutely for sure, that people lived with dinosaurs!” Ham writes in his 2000 book, “Dinosaurs in Eden.” As a believer in biblical inerrancy, he believes the story of Genesis is both literally true and that its first 11 chapters hold all of the answers about how to live a moral life. He has cited the teaching of evolution as the reason for modern society’s ills and supports waging a culture war to fight back against atheists and materialists.
Johnson’s congressional office did not respond to a request for comment about his views on young Earth theory, whose adherents believe the planet is 6,000 years old and that humans walked the Earth at the same time as dinosaurs. The scientific community regards creationism as pseudoscience and is generally in agreement the Earth is an estimated 4.5 billion years old.
In the limited time that reporters and researchers have had to dig deeply into Johnson’s life — he became a national GOP figure only in the last week and hails from a noncompetitive district in Louisiana — it does not appear Johnson has publicly said anything to suggest he doesn’t accept the theory of evolution. Reporters have, however, uncovered a litany of anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion sentiments in Johnson’s not-so-recent past.
But he has appeared sympathetic to the creationist cause and has fiercely defended its followers on First Amendment grounds.
In a sermon delivered in 2016 at Christian Center Shreveport in Louisiana, Johnson also blamed school shootings on a lack of godliness that he suggested was rooted in teaching children they “evolve from the primordial slime,” according to meidastouch.com.
In addition to his work with Answers in Genesis, Johnson has been associated with the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, which critics say espouses creationist teachings over education about evolution.
The teaching of evolution in public schools has been controversial for more than a century. States began passing laws banning the teaching of evolution in the early 20th century, which led to the infamous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial. But it wasn’t until 1968 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Epperson v. Arkansas that bans on teaching evolution were unconstitutional. Later court decisions prohibited the teaching of creation science (in 1987) and intelligent design (in 2005) in public schools.
Johnson’s critics fear he would try to inject Christian ideology into how he governs the U.S. House as second-in-line for the presidency. They also see young Earth creationism as a tentacle of the Christian nationalist movement, whose goal is to create a Christian theocracy in the U.S.
“His policy agenda appears to be in lockstep with that of a shadow network of Christian nationalist groups in our country or working to preserve traditional power structures and win privilege for conservative Christianity,” said Rachel Laser, the president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
As a state representative in 2015, Johnson came to the defense of a Louisiana public school district under fire for making creationism and Bible study part of its curriculum — and offered to defend the district for free through his “Christian” law firm, Freedom Guard, Slate reported. Johnson has described Freedom Guard as a “public interest law firm.”
“The concern that you’re articulating should be of concern to more than just creationists,” Johnson said in an interview that same year with a creationist activist who described being forced to learn what he called false evolutionary theories in school. “All freedom-loving Americans ought to have grave concerns about these government abuses, regardless of their perspectives on Genesis or even the Christian faith, for that matter.”
William Trollinger, the author of “Righting America at the Creation Museum,” said the Answers in Genesis exhibits, instead of being insulated from politics, are deeply reflective of the nation’s divides. “These are culture war sites,” Trollinger told HuffPost. “Young Earth creationism is very much a part of MAGA culture. There are very few politically moderate young Earth creationists in the United States.”
In September 2022, Johnson and his wife hosted Ham on their “Truth Be Told” podcast, which has been around since March of that year. In their conversation, the Johnsons heavily promoted Ham’s Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky.
“For all of our friends who have not made a visit, it’s hard to describe…. It’s really an awesome experience.”
– House Speaker Mike Johnson on the Creation Museum
“For all of our friends who have not made a visit, it’s hard to describe,” Mike Johnson said. “It’s really an awesome experience.”
During their discussion, Ham blamed the teaching of “atheistic evolution” for corrupting the youth and leading them to turn away from the church. He argued that instead church leaders and parents need to teach children how to defend church doctrine through biblical study and argument so that they will know and be able to properly argue that “the fossil record wasn’t laid down over millions of years, that’s the graveyard of the flood.”
“To teach them all these things — that’s what’s been missing from the church,” Ham said.
“I think that’s right,” Johnson replied.
At the end of their conversation, Johnson again praised Ham’s Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter for “doing maybe the best work right now in our generation of pointing people to the truth.”
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