Priest Warns of “Red Flag” in Speaker Johnson’s Divine Claims

Source: Flickr/Gage Skidmore

According to Father James Martin, House Speaker Johnson’s recent gala speech referencing divine instruction during his ascent to the role raises concerns. The Jesuit priest and Vatican consultant warns of a “red flag” in Johnson’s telling of a “Moses moment.”

Martin responded to circulating clips of Johnson’s remarks at the National Association of Christian Lawmakers’ December gala after the Louisiana Republican received their “American Patriot Award.” In his 100-word acceptance, Johnson claimed “the Lord told me very clearly” to prepare for an unspecified “red sea moment” in the Speaker race.

Background on House Speaker Johnson’s Criticism

House Speaker Mike Johnson received criticism for his controversial remarks in December at an event hosted by the National Association of Christian Lawmakers (NACL). According to attendees, Johnson compared himself to Moses and claimed God told him the Republican party was approaching a “Red Sea moment.”

Source: Tom Williams

The House Speaker, a Republican from Louisiana, is a polarizing figure due to his ardent religious views and past statements connecting school shootings to the teaching of evolution. At the NACL gala, Johnson received the group’s “American Patriot Award for Christian Honor and Courage.”

The National Association of Christian Lawmakers

The National Association of Christian Lawmakers (NACL) is a conservative organization founded in 2019 to promote legislation aligned with evangelical Christian values. According to the group’s website, NACL’s mission is to “restore America to its Judeo-Christian roots and defend religious freedom.”

Source: National Association of Christian Lawmakers

NACL promotes several controversial positions, including banning abortion, restricting LGBTQ+ rights, and teaching creationism in schools. The group opposes the separation of church and state and believes “biblical values” should guide policymaking. NACL’s founder, former Arkansas State Senator Jason Rapert, sponsored legislation to place a Ten Commandments monument on the state capitol grounds and ban same-sex marriage.

Johnson Elected Speaker After Chaotic Process in the House

The election of Representative Mike Johnson as Speaker of the House came after three tumultuous weeks of voting in which the Republican majority struggled to coalesce around a single candidate. According to reports, the Louisiana Republican believed he received a sign from God to pursue the position.

Source: Kenny Holston

Johnson claimed that God told him “Very clearly to prepare, be ready” for an unspecified challenge. When former Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted from the role, Johnson interpreted this as a sign that he was meant to step forward as a leader in this “Red Sea moment.” Johnson compared himself to the biblical figure Aaron.

Concerns from Catholic leaders

In response to Johnson’s speech, Jesuit Catholic priest Father James Martin warned about the “red flags” in Johnson’s claims of divine revelation. “A good spiritual director will tell you that insights you feel are coming from God, which are usually subtle, must be carefully tested and weighed,” Martin wrote.

Source: Vatican Media

“One red flag for spiritual directors is, ‘Then God said this.’ Not everything that pops into your head during prayer is from God.”. Martin declined to comment further on Johnson personally but said his warning was “more an observation about spiritual practices and dos and don’ts.”

NACL Criticism

NACL is considered an extremist group by civil liberties organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center. Its views and legislation have been called unconstitutional, discriminatory, and contrary to the separation of church and state enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. However, NACL’s supporters counter that “religious freedom” protects their right to legislate based on faith.

Source: christianlawmakers

The National Association of Christian Lawmakers demonstrates the contentious intersection of religion and politics. While a devout base supports NACL’s mission, its hardline stances and rhetoric are seen as threatening by others.

A History of Controversial Views

Johnson has a history of adopting controversial stances, especially on social issues. In January, Johnson spoke at an event organized by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which the SPLC has designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group. Johnson has also promoted young earth creationism, the belief that the earth is only 6,000 years old, and has connected school shootings to the teaching of evolution.

Source: Nicolas Poussin

The implications of Johnson’s new position as House Speaker and how his religious views might impact his leadership remain to be seen. His “Moses moment” speech suggests a worldview at odds with principles of inclusiveness and pluralism. Whether Johnson will govern from this narrow perspective or adopt a more moderate and conciliatory approach as Speaker is a crucial issue facing the nation.

Father James Martin’s Concerns

Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor-at-large of America Magazine, warned that attributing one’s thoughts to God during prayer can be a “red flag.” He stated, “A good spiritual director will tell you that insights you feel are coming from God, which are usually subtle, must be carefully tested and weighed.

Source: James Martin

One red flag for spiritual directors is, ‘Then God said this.’ Not everything that pops into your head during prayer is from God.” Although Martin declined to comment directly on Johnson, he emphasized that his observation was meant as general guidance on spiritual discernment.

Implications for Policymaking

House Speaker Johnson’s remarks regarding divine inspiration for his leadership role raise concerns about the influence of religious beliefs on policymaking. According to Father James Martin, Johnson’s claims that God directly told him to prepare to lead the nation through challenging times are a “red flag” that indicates his policy decisions may be guided more by personal religious convictions than reason or ethics.

Source: Jose Luis Magana

As the leader of the House of Representatives, Johnson wields significant political power and influence over which bills are introduced and make it to the floor for votes. His belief that he has a divine mandate to lead could translate into an unwillingness to consider alternative perspectives or compromise in policy debates.

Questions About Church-State Separation Arise

Some argue Johnson’s comments attributing his political success to God’s direction raise questions about the separation of church and state. If Johnson believes God directly chose and guided him to become Speaker, will he rely on divine guidance in setting legislative priorities and determining policy positions?

Source: First Liberty Institute

However, others counter that politicians referencing their faith or personal relationship with God is not inherently problematic and does not necessarily mean their policy decisions will solely reflect their religious views.

Johnson Should Really Reconsider His Analogies

In his speech, Speaker Johnson likened the turmoil surrounding recent House leadership elections to the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, positioning himself as a divinely chosen leader. While invoking religious themes in political rhetoric is common, Father James Martin and others have argued that equating one’s rise to power with seminal biblical events warrants scrutiny.

Source: Nathan Howard

Johnson’s comments provide insight into how he views his role but also raise questions about the proper relationship between faith and governance. Regardless of one’s political or religious views, Johnson’s remarks illustrate the timeless tendency of leaders to cast their life stories in mythic terms.

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Sally Reed

Written by Sally Reed

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